Gregg Allman, who co-founded the Allman Brothers Band with his older brother Duane, died on Saturday at his home in Savannah, Georgia. He was 69.
The Associated Press reported that the cause of death was a reoccurrence of liver cancer. Allman struggled for decades with addiction to drugs and alcohol, finally getting sober in the mid-1990s. In 2010, he received a liver transplant and less than a year later was back on the road, touring as a solo act and with the Allman Brothers Band.
Born in Nashville, TN in 1947, Gregg Allman was only 2 years old when his father, a World War II veteran, was murdered by a fellow vet he had picked up hitchhiking. When he was 12, Gregg’s mother moved the family to Daytona Beach, FL, where he and his brother Duane went to high school. It was during high school that the two brothers formed a band. “The Allman Joys” played in clubs and bars throughout the South with Duane on lead guitar and Gregg playing keyboard and singing. After high school, the brothers moved to Los Angeles to try to break into the music industry. A number of false starts convinced Duane to move back to the South. He lived in Jacksonville, FL and found work at the famed Muscle Shoals recording studio where he was a session guitarist, recording with Aretha Franklin and Wilson Pickett, among others. Duane convinced Gregg to move back a bit later and join him in a band along with future Allman Brothers drummer, Butch Trucks.
In 1969, with other members added, the Allman Brothers Band released their eponymous first album, followed closely by their second release, Idlewild South. The band thrived on spontaneity and improvisation in its music, which incorporated a number of musical styles including acoustic and electric blues, rock & roll, gospel, and jazz. Through constant touring, they quickly developed an ardent following.
In 1971, the Allman Brothers released what is widely considered to be one of the best live albums of all time, Live At The Fillmore East, recorded over a three-night stand at the famous Manhattan club. The double album became the band’s artistic and commercial breakthrough and included a 22-minute version of “Whipping Post,” which Rolling Stone magazine later included in their “500 Greatest Songs of All Time” listing.
Three months after the release of Live At The Fillmore East, Duane Allman was killed in a motorcycle accident in Macon, GA. A year later, another of the group’s founding members, bassist Berry Oakley also died in a motorcycle crash only three blocks from Duane’s accident.
Led by Gregg Allman, the band carried on throughout the 1970s with a steady stream of successful albums and major tours. While the band and its sound helped to form the sub-genre of music labeled, “Southern Rock,” Allman hated the descriptor. Speaking in 2012 on the PBS News Hour about the term his band was often saddled with, he said, “Rock & Roll was born in the South, man. It’s like saying rock-rock.” When asked who created rock & roll, Allman reeled off their names, Southerners all: “Four kings of rock & roll, two white, two black. Elvis Aaron Presley, Tupelo, Mississippi; Jerry Lee Lewis, Ferriday, Louisiana; Little Richard Penniman, Macon, Georgia; Chuck Berry, St. Louis, Missouri.”
Although they broke up and reunited a number of times, the Allman Brothers performed and recorded for over four decades, with a revolving cast of musicians. From 1989 to their final show in 2014, the band appeared for a residency each Spring at the Beacon Theater on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.
In a truly 1970s coupling, Allman married Cher in 1975 and lived in Hollywood. They collaborated on Two the Hard Way, an album attributed to Allman & Woman. It was a critical and commercial flop. When they divorced in 1979, Allman stated he was uncomfortable with Cher’s celebrity lifestyle.
While his solo career was uneven, Allman did score a hit or two. I’m No Angel, released in 1987, included the title track, which played in heavy rotation on MTV.
His seventh solo release, Low Country Blues, was recorded by T-Bone Burnett and released in early 2011, just after Allman’s liver transplant. The collection contained original songs and as well as covers from such blues artists as Sleepy John Estes, Skip James, B.B. King, Muddy Waters and Otis Rush. In his 2012 memoir, My Cross To Bear, written with Alan Light, Allman writes, “When things got real bad, real painful, I would just think about this record and it was kind of a life support system.”