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Can’t take it with you, everybody knows: Gregg Allman sings Don Johnson?!


A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away … the music box set was created. I’m not exactly sure what the first box set was. A very lazy and short search on the internet leads me to lots of dead ends to find out the year and artist as the rightful claim to the throne. For good or ill I will rely on my memory.

I can remember in the late ’80s and early ’90s a handful of box sets released that stand out in my mind: Bruce Springsteen – Live 75-85 (3 CDs) (1990), The Rolling Stones – The Singles Collection (1989), Led Zepplin (1990) and Eric Clapton – Crossroads (1990).

I bought all of these at the time. They were all standard fare: oversized box consisting of a large career spanding booklet with lots of interesting filler, 3 or 4 CDs and maybe a poster. Most of the early box sets were single artist focused. The focus of the music was often a repackaged, grandiose version of a greatest hits collection. This was usually splayed out in chronologic fashion with disc 2 or 3 representing the sweet spot in the artists career arc. 

Often these sets added just enough new material, e.g. alternate versions, to entice you to buy a collection of music that you pretty much already owned on the original albums or it was missing just enough essential material from classic albums that you had to go and buy albums from the artist’s back catalogue.  I usually, willingly, fell for these traps and bought up as much as possible. 

There was one box set that came out during that gold rush, record label cash grab period that slightly broke the mold: The Allman Brothers – Dreams (1989). This set followed that chronologic pattern, but it certainly wasn’t a greatest hits collection; this set had lots of warts as well as nuggets. It tells the story of the band within the music selections.

It starts off with material from pre-Allmans outfits consisting of Gregg and Duane and a mish-mash of future Allman Brother original members: The Hourglass, The Allman Joys, The 31st of February and The Second Coming. It ends with material from solo projects, complete with one cut from Allman and Woman – that “woman” being Cher. The set also showcases a healthy mix of studio and live cuts. Live material is a huge part of the Allman’s history and it was good to see it well represented. Check out this version of John Lee Hooker’s Dimples, originally released on Live at Ludlow Garage

The Dreams box covers legendary twin guitar work between Duane Allman and Dickey Betts and ends with relatively lacking guitar work between Dickey Betts and “Dangerous” Dan Toller. Not to take anything away from Toller, but this changing of guitar guards is a quite a tale in and of itself. The range of music in this set is equally fascinating for it’s lows as it is it’s highs. Check out that Allman and Woman track as a prime example:


Like all good stories, this one has a few strange twists. One of which is the relationship between Dickey Betts and Don Johnson. Here, Betts tells of how they met:

I met him back when I was living back on the Allman Brothers farm. I needed some milk and some eggs from the store. And you know, we were way, way back in the woods. And they had picked our driveway to film a scene in [a movie] Return to Macon County. (Laughs) So they came in there about daylight to start shooting, and I didn’t even know they was making a movie. So I’m heading down the driveway. The damn driveway was a mile long. They had two cars there, and he and Nick Nolte were in a fist fight over the hood of a car. 

Now I know enough about movies to know when they say ‘cut,’ they aren’t filming. So as soon as they hit the clacker, I drove my car around through the ditch, and got through the cameras and got to the store. On the way back, Don stopped me and said ‘you ain’t too impressed with us movie stars, are you?’ (Laughs) He said most people stop and start asking questions. I told him it wasn’t that I was not impressed, but that I lived back up in there and just had to go to the store. So he started talking and asked me who I was, and I told him and he said , “No way.” But that’s how we met. He said, “You’re kiddin’ me. I heard the Allman Brothers had a farm around here.” But we’be been friends ever since then. 

 They became fast friends after that and wrote a few songs together. A couple of those songs found their way on the Dreams box set. One of which is called “Can’t Take it With You”.  This originally appeared on the Allman’s 1979 album, “Enlightened Rogues”. The song, like the much of the album, wasn’t first rate, but it was solid effort from a band trying to strike those old sparks again.

I like the song for a couple reasons: it has an inspired, hard-charger tempo and has one of the best vocal performances from Gregg of that period. He is tearing into this song with fervor and fire and growl and grit. His voice is back to being an instrument in the song. 

The lyrics are about as deep as a plastic kiddie pool: “hot wire a fast car, just to take a ride”. What gives them any validation at all is the conviction Gregg sings them with. I was going to say that he put a lot of effort into the vocal, but that isn’t correct. It is the fact that it seems effortless that gives the performance impact.

This song is on CD for of the Dreams box set. CD 4 on box sets can be a throw-away collection of remixes, “current” hits and misses and highs and lows. Technically you could say this about CD4 of Dreams, but these misfits feel right at home in the story of band of full of highs and lows. 

Put Can’t Take it With You in your ear and enjoy a burning vocal from Gregg. Don Johnson sure knows how to inspire, doesn’t he? (you should have seen my outfit for my junior prom: white suit, turquoise t-shirt and pink cumber bun)

For all you Rdio users, use this embed and add it too your overflowing collections:

The song that follows Can’t Take it With You on CD4 is Just Ain’t Easy. This is a live cut and has another great Gregg vocal. Enjoy.

Box sets have evolved quite a bit. They aren’t just borring retrospectives anymore. They have lots of advances as far as content (video and web) and packaging.  Shit, look at what Neil Young did with the Archives!

If you are looking for cool one-offs and rarities with killer cool packaging, check out Rhino Handmades. The recent Tim Buckley and Percy Sledge sets look like great.

6 Comments Post a comment
  1. Judd Marcello #

    I was duped by Grooveshark. Serves me right for trusting w/o listening. Wrong song is playing in the embed. Nothing wrong with a bit of Marshall Tucker, but that wasn’t the point. Fixing now…

  2. Judd Marcello #

    All better now. The embed for “Can’t Take it With You” now plays that song. Have at it. Thanks to @jmbuckingham for pointing that out.

  3. toofarnorth2 #

    Don Johnson – who knew. Well obviously you did . . fun read ! .. and I like the Can’t song.

  4. Judd Marcello #

    .@toofarnorth2 I knew of that because of an odd Dickey Betts encounter in Sarasota, FL where he lives. My buddies live down there. They were partying down there one night and ended up at Dickey Betts house via some guy they met at a bar. While they were there they saw a pic of Betts & Johnson on the wall. Good song -the album is good, too – just not Allmans “great”

  5. toofarnorth2 #

    Wow, how cool is that! Thanks for sharing the backstory. And I will check out rest of album.

  6. horring #

    Classic music yarn! I was always attreacted by the surprises that lay within a box-set. If I knew what was inside I rarely made the investment, but not knowing made the unwrapping and foldling of the goods all the more special. Can’t Take it With You — what a gem!


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