Asked to describe the arrival of veteran session legend Jerry Jemmott in his band, Gregg Allman said, “It was like Jerry coming down from heaven.” Actually, it was a completed circle of sorts, as Jemmott recorded regularly with late guitar god Duane Allman before he formed the Allman Brothers. Credit Brothers bassist Oteil Burbridge and radio DJ Jack Devaney for suggesting Jemmott (BP’s 2001 Lifetime Achievement Award recipient) in 2006. Two weeks after they had him sit in at an Allman Brothers concert, Gregg called Jerry to invite him into his group. Now in his fifth year of touring with the 7-piece unit, the recently-married Jemmott has settled into a new home outside of Jackson, Mississippi, thoroughly enjoying what he calls a life and career rebirth.
How do you approach your role with Gregg?
I see myself as a lineman, blocking for everyone and making sure it all goes smoothly. Gregg keeps it loose, and he likes me to fit my style to the songs. We add new tunes every tour; right now we’re doing Gregg’s songs, some Bobby Blue Bland, King Curtis’s “Ridin’ Thumb,” Allman Brothers tunes like “Dreams,” “Melissa,” and “I’m No Angel.” We don’t have any long jams, but I get a little solo feature in “Turn On Your Lovelight.” Gregg has also had us try out some grooves from his upcoming CD, which is all acoustic, with no drums. We’ve been funking those up, so he’s thinking about recording us at shows for the CD.
Has your playing changed over the years?
For sure. I played busier when I first hit the scene full of youthful enthusiasm. Now, I’m able to pace myself and think my parts better; to look ahead and see the shape of the song. Everything I play now is a setup for what’s coming next. Through my educational focus in recent years, I’m more aware of my fingerboard options, and often I’ll pluck with one finger instead of two—it gives me a more direct connection and an even sound. I still have a heavy touch, though.
What do you remember about Duane Allman?
He was such a free spirit when we first met in King Curtis’s band, in 1967; that’s why we connected. We did a host of records together, including Wilson Pickett’s hit version of “Hey Jude.” He had that rare gift to be able to play whatever he heard in his head, and he fashioned a style and sound that people have been copying ever since. The last time I saw him, at the airport after a session, he told me he was going home to form a band with his brother. When I joined Gregg, he told me that Duane had called to lure him back from L.A. to start the band by saying he had found this great bass player with long fingers. When Gregg came home, he asked where this bass player was, and Duane said, Oh, well, he’s up in New York making too much money doing jingles!
HEAR HIM ON
Jerry Jemmott, Bass on the Case [Whacha Gonna Do, 2009]; King Curtis, Live at Fillmore West [Atlantic, 1971]; B.B. King, Completely Well, [MCA, 1969; Aretha Franklin, Aretha Now [Atlantic, 1968]
Basses 1964 Fender Jazz Bass with ’62 Reissue Jazz Bass neck; ’62 Reissue Jazz Bass with Fender Custom Shop neck
Strings Ken Smith Slick Round mediums (.044, .062, .084, .106)
Amp Ampeg SVT-6PRO head and two SVT-15E cabinets