Larry Barker will never forget the time Gregg Allman walked into his Richmond Hill insurance office in the early 2000s.
“I had a secretary whose name was Melissa and she was young and cute and that really caught Gregg’s eye,” Barker told the Bryan County News Saturday evening, just hours after word broke that Allman, 69, had passed away at his Richmond Hill residence.
“He introduced himself and she said, ‘hello, I’m Melissa,’ and he said ‘You certainly are,’” Barker recalled fondly. “She had no idea who he was.”
The song “Melissa” was just one of many popular tunes on the 1972 album “Eat a Peach” by the Allman Brothers Band, released shortly after the death of Gregg’s brother and band co-founder Duane Allman in a motorcycle accident.
Barker and his wife Linda, who were involved with securing entertainment at the time for the annual Great Ogeechee Seafood Festival, eventually got the idea to try to get Allman to play at the gig.
“Linda sent him four letters over the course of a few months and never heard back,” Barker said. “On the fourth one she wrote in capital letters ‘FOURTH REQUEST’ followed by a lot of exclamation points.”
When Allman finally called, Barker remembers him telling Linda: “You’re the most persistent damn woman I ever met.”
Allman would play the GOSF in 2002, which has allowed the festival to pursue nationally known talent every year. Other performers over the years have included Charlie Daniels, Survivor, Collective Soul, Little River Band, Eddie Money and Blues Traveler.
“That really put us on the map,” Barker said. “And he didn’t charge us a dime. We had to pay his band, of course, but not him. He did it gratis. He was very gracious and professional.”
Barker recalls that was the first year the GOSF also had a major fireworks production, and they were set off just as Allman was finishing “Midnight Rider,” a popular song from the Allman Brothers Band’s 1970 album “Idlewild South.”
Barker said the crowd went crazy.
“It caught everyone by surprise and they loved it,” he said.
Barker also recalls talking with a group of insurance agents from the Macon area a few years ago about their efforts to bring that city more recognition. It had been the adopted home of the Allman Brothers Band in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
“I suggested that they should get Mercer University to give him an honorary doctorate of music,” said Barker, himself a professional musician.
The school did just that in May 2016 with President Jimmy Carter, a member of Mercer’s Board of Trustees, leading the presentation.
“Gregg was nonplussed,” Barker said. “He was very shy in his personal life.”
In a 2013 interview with the Bryan County News, Allman said his favorite part about living in the Richmond Hill area was the “peace and solitude.” He said he told his real estate agent at the time that he wanted “a place that’s just the opposite of Times Square” and that “That’s just what I found here.”
Long-time residents say Allman enjoyed the area because of how people treated him.
Tim Proffitt, chairman of the 2016 GOSF — which had to be called off in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew — called Allman’s death the end of an era.
“The music world certainly lost an icon,” he said. “I grew up listening to his music and then to live in the same town was pretty neat.”
Many people who have lived in Richmond Hill long enough have their own story about seeing Allman around town.
“He was Richmond Hill’s most well-known celebrity but everyone treated him like a regular guy,” said City Councilman Russ Carpenter, a native and Richmond Hill High School teacher. “People enjoyed telling their friends they ran into him.”
Bonnie Proctor, who has also been involved with the GOSF and other community organizations for many years, summed it up this way: “He was a star, but to us he was just a neighbor.”