I am crediting Richard Behr of Rolling Stone for much of this post:
Greg Allman the singer, musician and songwriter who played an essential role in the invention of Southern rock, has died at the age of 69. Allman’s rep confirmed to Rolling Stone that the artist died Saturday afternoon.
Allman “passed away peacefully at his home in Savannah, Georgia,” a statement on the singer’s website read Saturday. “Gregg struggled with many health issues over the past several years. 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.”
Allman’s longtime manager and close friend Michael Lehman added, “I have lost a dear friend and the world has lost a brilliant pioneer in music. He was a kind and gentle soul with the best laugh I ever heard. His love for his family and bandmates was passionate as was the love he had for his extraordinary fans. Gregg was an incredible partner and an even better friend. We will all miss him.” A cause of death was not immediately revealed, but Allman suffered from chronic liver issues in recent years.
Although Allman claimed the term was redundant, the singer-keyboardist helped create the first great “Southern-rock” group as co-founder of the legendary Allman Brothers Band alongside his older brother, famed guitarist Duane Allman. The Allmans fused country blues with San Francisco-style extended improvisation, with their sound creating a template for countless subsequent jam bands.
Gregg Allman was blessed with one of blues-rock’s great growling voices and, along with his Hammond B-3 organ playing (beholden to Booker T. Jones), had a deep emotional power. Writing in Rolling Stone, ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons said that Allman’s singing and keyboard playing displayed “a dark richness, a soulfulness that added one more color to the Allmans’ rainbow.”
As he recounted in his 2012 memoir My Cross to Bear, Allman also experienced a quintessential, and essentially tragic, rock-star trajectory that included too-sudden fame, admittedly excessive drug use, a high-profile celebrity romance, multiple marriages and a late-life liver transplant.
Gregory LeNoir Allman was born December 8th, 1947, in Nashville, Tennessee, a little more than a year after brother Duane. The boys’ father, U.S. Army Captain Willis Turner Allman, was shot to death by a drinking acquaintance shortly after the family moved to Norfolk, Virginia in 1949. As a child, Gregg saved up money from a paper route and bought a guitar that was soon appropriated by his older brother. The siblings attended Castle Heights Military Academy in Lebanon, Tennessee, before moving to Daytona Beach, Florida.
After playing in bands like the Untils, the Shufflers, the Escorts and the Y-Teens, the brothers took their band Allman Joys on the road in the summer of 1965 following Gregg’s graduation from Seabreeze High School. They often played six sets a night, seven nights a week, and eventually moved to Los Angeles – Gregg having shot himself in the foot to avoid the draft – where they recorded two forgettable albums for Liberty Records as the Hour Glass.
While working as a session man in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, Gregg was summoned to Jacksonville, Florida, in March 1969. There he joined Duane and the other musicians – Dickey Betts (guitar), Berry Oakley (bass), Butch Trucks (drums) and Jai Johanny “Jaimoe” Johanson (drums) – comprising the Allman Brothers Band’s earliest incarnation.
The band enjoyed meteoric success with their albums Live at the Fillmore East (1971) and Eat a Peach (1972). Between those albums, tragically, Duane Allman died in a motorcycle accident, followed a year later by Oakley’s eerily similar demise.
“When it’s all said and done, I’ll go to my grave and my brother will greet me saying, ‘Nice work, little brother – you did all right,'” Allman wrote in the last lines of My Cross to Bear. “I must have said this a million times, but if I died today, I’ve had me a blast. I wouldn’t trade [my life] for nobody’s, but I don’t know if I’d do it again. If somebody offered me a second round, I think I’d have to pass on it.”