As he confessed in his 1987 hit, Gregg Allman was “no angel.” Drug addiction, tragic deaths and divorce dented his personal life. Yet it is his musical life as a Southern rock virtuoso that became his legacy.
Allman, lead singer of the Allman Brothers Band and an engineer of the Southern rock style that inspired the likes of Lynyrd Skynyrd and .38 Special, died Saturday at his home in Savannah, Ga, his website announced. He was 69.
"Gregg struggled with many health issues over the past several years," the statement posted on greggallman.com noted. "During that time, Gregg considered being on the road, playing music with his brothers and solo band for his beloved fans, essential medicine for his soul. Playing music lifted him up and kept him going during the toughest of times."
Born Dec. 8, 1947, in Nashville, Allman called music “the fever,” and he came down with it at an early age. He saved money from a paper route to buy his first guitar, and although his older brother, Duane, soon became the more proficient player, Allman found his own voice and concentrated on singing.
The brothers began playing and recording with various bands (the Allman Joys and the Hour Glass) and moved to L.A. Duane managed to escape the Hour Glass’ stifling record contract, but Gregg continued to languish under the label as a solo artist before returning home to the South — and to his brother— to front the Allman Brothers Band in 1969.
The group took up residence in a Macon, Ga., mansion nicknamed “the Big House” (which has now become the Allman Brothers Band Museum) and began cooking up a style that was at once rock, blues, country and jazz. Allman mastered the Hammond B-3 electric organ and added it to the mix.
The seemingly infinite jam sessions that bloomed during the band’s live shows earned them not just fans, but followers, and their breakthrough came in 1971 with the live (and largely improvisational) album At Fillmore East.
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Yet tragedy struck that same year when Duane was killed in motorcycle accident. Still reeling, the band finished its next album, Eat A Peach, which enjoyed commercial success and was the last album to feature Duane. Months after the album’s 1972 release, another motorcycle accident, just blocks away from Duane’s, claimed the life of bassist Berry Oakley.
The band pressed on, achieving commercial success in 1973 with album Brothers and Sisters and one of their best-known hits, Ramblin’ Man. But in subsequent years, the band unraveled, torn apart by substance abuse, personal conflicts and solo careers. Allman was arrested on federal drug charges in 1976 and made himself unpopular by agreeing to testify against the band’s friend and tour manager, John “Scooter” Herring.
Allman was married six times in his life, most memorably to Cher, from 1975 to 1979. The pair was considered an oddity, and the album they recorded together (Two the Hard Way), billed as “Allman and Woman,” was considered a career low for both.
The Allman Brothers band reunited in 1989, three years after Allman’s I’m No Angelsolo album. After Willie Nelson expressed concern about his health during the band’s 1995 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Allman got sober, and he and the band hit the road once again. They toured extensively and started a yearly tradition at Manhattan’s Beacon Theatre — the so-called “Beacon Run”— that had fans making yearly pilgrimages every spring. Although older and wiser, Allman’s past caught up with him; he went public with his Hepatitis C diagnosis in 2007 and underwent a liver transplant in 2010.
Allman leaves behind five children (Devon, Michael Sean, Elijah Blue, Delilah Island and Layla Brooklyn) , several of whom carry on their father’s musical legacy in their own bands.
"The family will release a statement soon, but for now ask for privacy during this very difficult time," the statement on his website advised.
“I never thought I would be making music this long,” he told Gibson Guitars in a 2009 interview. “I never thought I would live this long. The traveling gets harder, but the playing gets better.”
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