The Legendary Gregg Allman Dead At 69. The Definition Of A Rock And Roll Legend.
I’ll personally never forget the first time I truly heard The Allman Brothers Band. I’m not talking about the songs on the radio like Ramblin’ Man, Midnight Rider, Jessica, or Melissa. I’m talking about truly hearing what this band was all about. It was the early 1990s, and at that point I naïvely thought they were just a regular southern rock band. Even thought of them as Rednecks, which was even more ridiculous since they were part of an interracial band, even persecuted in their early days for having an African American drummer. It would be a friend of mine in college that would lend me two albums called “Live At The Fillmore East”, and “Eat A Peach” that would change my thinking of this band forever. From that point onward they would become one of my all time favorite bands, and Gregg Allman would become a musical hero to me. Not just for his music, but also as a man. Was he perfect ? No way. Did he make tremendous mistakes ? Yes, he absolutely did. That being said, it would be hard to find another person who has endured the tragedy he has through his whole life, yet he always found a way to move forward.
Today we’ve lost a true American treasure. There are a select few musicians who are so legendary, so influential, and have left a musical blue print so big that they defy any particular genre of music. Gregg Allman was one of those musicians. After years, and years of health issues he’s passed away today at the age of 69 years old, apparently due to liver cancer. Born in Nashville, Tennessee in 1947, he and his older brother Duane would lose their father at an early age when he was killed by a hitchhiker. From that point onward the two boys would be raised by their mother. Years later Gregg, who would become a fan of R&B/Soul music of the late 1950s, early 1960s, would work as a paperboy and save up money to buy his first guitar. Ironically to that point his older brother Duane didn’t really care about the guitar until Gregg had bought one. From that point onward both brothers fought to play it. In the early 1960s, now living in Daytona Beach the two brothers formed their first band called The Escorts playing a mix of top 40 songs, with rhythm and blues music.
It would be his big brother Duane who was always Gregg’s biggest fan in the early days. At first Duane sang lead, but knew Gregg had the better voice, so then encouraged him to sing the songs. Pretty much every penny the two brothers made at the time would go to what they would call “their education” by buying records of other artists and absorbing the music into their very own techniques, and styles. The Escorts would evolve into The Allman Joys, then eventually into the band Hour Glass where the two brothers had their first taste of success, and where Gregg would learn his true calling by acquiring his first Vox Keyboard, not knowing at the time how important that moment would be to Rock And Roll history. This would also be the time big brother Duane would notice something else about Gregg, and that would be his ability to write songs. He had grown tired of performing cover songs, realizing that to truly make it they had to record their own material.
After The Hour Glass fell apart, both brothers separated for awhile. It was at this point where Gregg almost decided to go off to dental school, after plans to make a solo record weren’t going as planned. Little did he know that his big brother Duane was in Florida gathering musicians that would eventually become the legendary lineup to The Allman Brothers Band. Once Duane talked Gregg into returning to Florida the lineup of one of the most influential bands in music history was complete. For the next couple of years The Allman Brothers Band would awe audiences all over the country. Playing not only legendary venues, but also making history each night they performed. Tragedy would strike in October of 1971 when Gregg’s mentor, hero, father figure, and big brother Duane Allman would be killed in a motorcycle accident. For a short time after his death, the band would continue as a five piece, releasing the now legendary “Eat A Peach” album containing the last songs Duane recorded, including the legendary “Mountain Jam”. Just over a year later tragedy would strike again as the band’s bass player Berry Oakley would also be killed as a result of a motorcycle crash.
Pretty much any other band would’ve folded after losing their two leaders, but this would be another time the resolve of Gregg would be tested, as The Allman Brothers would ironically become bigger than ever at this point after releasing the “Brothers And Sisters album in 1973. This would also be the time Gregg would launch his solo career with the excellent album “Laid Back”. In the mid-1970s Gregg would marry Cher, and begin having issues with his band mate Dickey Betts. By this time his drug use was overtaking his music. Constantly in the tabloids for his personal life instead of the work he was creating. The marriage to Cher wouldn’t last long, (from 1975-1979) especially since Cher loved the Hollywood life, while Gregg really wanted nothing to do with it. The Allman Brothers Band would go on hiatus by the late 1970s. This would be a very difficult time in his life as he was both an alcoholic, and drug user, also had taken a beating when he testified at a trial of one of his security people who actually supplied him with drugs. For years Gregg had the reputation of being a “rat”.
The 1980s wouldn’t go much better. By this time both Gregg, and The Allman Brothers were considered yesterday’s news. They couldn’t book big scale tours. At this point Gregg played clubs with his Gregg Allman band. It also didn’t help that he was still a full fledged alcoholic, and couldn’t function without drinking first thing in the morning. The 1980s would be the most difficult period of his career. As the new decade of the 1990s started at first it didn’t seem like Gregg would fare much better. By the mid 1990s though, after the Grunge Revolution the tide began to turn. The Allman Brothers had reunited, and were beginning to see bigger crowds again, including long residencies at the Beacon Theatre in New York City. In 1995 The Allman Brothers were inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, and that’s where Gregg would finally have an awakening. He showed up to the ceremony drunk, which was obvious both in his acceptance speech, and performance. From that point onward Gregg would decide it was time to clean up, and that’s exactly what he did.
By the beginning of the 21st century Gregg was finally able to get clean. He stopped drinking, stopped taking drugs, and even stopped smoking. Gregg was now clean and sober, but when fans heard that the great Dickey Betts had been fired from the band, nobody thought they could legitimately go on. Once again, just as he had many times in the past, Gregg proved his resolve. The band would bring back guitar player Warren Haynes, along with drummer Butch Trucks’ nephew Derek Trucks and record their best album since the 1970s. The album “Hittin’ The Note” gave the band even without Dickey Betts instant credibility. From that point onward Gregg Allman, and The Allman Brothers Band would never be irrelevant again. It also figures at a time that Gregg had finally cleaned himself up that he would face his biggest heath scare. In 2007 he was diagnosed with hepatitis C, which he attributed to a dirty tattoo needle in the early 1970s. Then he also had to have a liver transplant in 2010. He would make a full recovery.
In 2011 Gregg would record his final studio album of his lifetime “Low Country Blues” an absolutely beautiful piece of work, which proved through all his health problems his voice was still stronger than ever. Unfortunately during the tour he would get sick again with a lung infection. After recovering from that he would finally release his long awaited autobiography “My Cross To Bear” easily one of the best books ever written about a life of a musician. I highly recommend it to anyone. In 2015 at the height of their new found popularity The Allman Brothers decided to disband for good. Many people thought they would eventually reunite, but with the death of Butch Trucks earlier this year, now Gregg it will never happen. Soon after that Gregg’s beloved mother Geraldine passed away in 2015 at the age of 95.
Even though Gregg has been dealing with health issues the past couple of years he actually stayed pretty active. He went on the road for a few small tours, even recorded a new studio album that was slated for release later this year. Sadly that will now be a posthumous release. It’s also sad that he wasn’t able to make peace with his former band mate Dickey Betts. It would’ve been nice to see them reunite, even just as friends since together they made magic. A few weeks ago a report was sent out that Gregg was in hospice, thankfully those reports ended up being false. Gregg even sent out a message that he was doing fine. Sadly his body just couldn’t take anymore. It’s a miracle he lived this long.
Thank you for the music Brother Gregg. You are a true definition of what a music legend should be.
Hour Glass (Debut 1967)
Power Of Love (1968)
The Allman Brothers :
The Allman Brothers Band (1969)
Idlewild South (1970)
At Fillmore East (1971)
Eat A Peach (1972)
Brothers And Sisters (1973)
Win Lose Or Draw (1975)
Wipe The Windows, Check The Oil, Dollar Gas (Live 1976)
Enlightened Rogues (1979)
Dreams (Boxset) (1989)
Seven Turns (1990)
Shades Of Two Worlds (1991)
Live At The Ludlow Garage 1970 (1991)
An Evening With The Allman Brothers Set 1 (1992)
Where It All Begins (1994)
An Evening With The Allman Brothers Set 2 (1995)
Peakin’ At The Beacon (2000)
Hittin’ The Note (2003)
American University 12/13/70 (2002)
Live At The Atlanta International Pop Festival July 3&5 1970 (2003)
S.U.N.Y. Stonybrook NY 9/19/71 (2003)
One Way Out (Live 2004)
Boston Common 8/17/71 (2007)
The Fillmore Concerts Boxset (2015)
Live From A&R Studios 1971 (2016)
The Fox Box (2017)
Laid Back (1973)
The Gregg Allman Tour (Live 1974)
Playin’ Up A Storm (1977)
I’m No Angel (1987)
Low Country Blues (2011)