Gregg Allman died aged sixty-nine at his home in Savannah, Georgia, U.S.A. on 27th May 2017, due to complications from liver cancer. His funeral took place at Snow's Memorial Chapel in Macon, Georgia on 3rd June that year and was attended by once-estranged bandmate Dickey Betts, his ex-wife Cher, and former American President Jimmy Carter, among others . He was buried at Rose Hill Cemetery in Macon, beside his brother Duane, and fellow band member Berry Oakley.
Before his death, Gregg recorded his last album, Southern Blood, with producer Don Was at FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. His last concert took place in October 2016, and he continued to cancel concerts citing "serious health issues". In April 2017, he denied reports that he had entered hospice care, but was resting at home on doctor's orders.
Gregg was born Gregory LeNoir Allman on 8th December 1947 in Nashville, Tennessee. His parents had met during World War II and were later married and their first child, Duane, was born in Nashville in 1946. In 1949, his father, an Army lieutenant, was shot and killed in Norfolk, Virginia. His mother moved to Nashville with her two sons, and she never remarried. Lacking money to support her children, she enrolled in college to become a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). As a result, Gregg and his older brother were sent to Castle Heights Military Academy in nearby Lebanon. A young Gregg interpreted these actions as evidence of his mother's dislike for him, though he later came to understand the reality. She was actually sacrificing everything she possibly could. She was working around the clock, getting by just by a hair, so as to not send them to an orphanage.While Duane adapted to his surroundings with a defiant attitude, Gregg felt largely depressed at the school. With little to do, he studied often and developed an interest in medicine. Had he not gone into music, he hoped to become a dentist. The brothers returned to Nashville upon their mother's graduation. Growing up, Gregg continually fought with Duane, though he knew that he loved him and that it was typical of brothers. Duane was a mischievous older child, who constantly played pranks on his younger sibling. The family moved to Daytona Beach, Florida, in 1959. Gregg tended to look forward to his summer breaks, where he spent time with his uncles in Nashville, who he came to view in a fatherly regard. He would later recall two separate events in his life that led to his interest in music. In 1960, the two brothers attended a concert in Nashville with Jackie Wilson headlining alongside Otis Redding, B.B. King, and Patti LaBelle.Gregg was also exposed to music through Jimmy Banes, a mentally handicapped neighbor of his grandmother in Nashville. Banes introduced him to the guitar and the two began spending time on his porch each day as he played music.
Gregg worked as a paperboy to afford a Silvertone guitar, which he purchased at a Sears when he saved up enough funds. He and his brother often fought to play the instrument, though there was "no question that music brought" the two together. In Daytona, they joined a YMCA group called the Y Teens, their first experience performing music with others. He and Duane returned to Castle Heights in their teen years, where they formed a band, the Misfits. Despite this, he still felt "lonesome and out of place", and quit the academy. He returned to Daytona Beach and pursued music further, and the duo formed another band, the Shufflers, in 1963. He attended school at Seabreeze High School, where he graduated in 1965. However, he grew undisciplined in his studies as his interests diverged, between the women and the music, school wasn’t a priority anymore.
They would rehearse every day in the club, go have lunch, rehearse some more, go home and take a shower, then go to the gig. Sometimes they would rehearse after they got home from the gig too, just get out the acoustics and play. The next day, they'd go have breakfast, go rehearse, and do it all over again. They rehearsed constantly.
The two Allman brothers began meeting various musicians in the Daytona Beach area. They later formed their first "real" band, the Escorts, which performed a mix of top 40 and rhythm and blues music at clubs around town. Duane, who took the lead vocal role on early demos, encouraged his younger brother to sing instead. He and Duane often spent all of their money on records as educational material, as they attempted to learn songs from them. The group performed constantly as music became their entire focus. Gregg missed his high school graduation because he was performing that evening. In his autobiography, Gregg recalls listening to Nashville R&B station WLAC at night and discovering artists such as Muddy Waters, which later became central to his musical evolution.
The Escorts evolved into the Allman Joys, the brothers' first successful band. After a successful summer run locally, they hit the road in fall 1965 for a series of performances throughout the Southeast; their first show outside of Daytona was at the Stork Club in Mobile, Alabama—where they were booked for 22 weeks straight. Afterwards, they were booked at the Sahara Club in nearby Pensacola, Florida, for several weeks. Gregg later regarded Pensacola as "a real turning point in my life", as it was where he learned how to capture audiences and about stage presence. He also received his first Vox keyboard there, and learned how to play it over the ensuing tour. By the following summer, they were able to book time at a studio in Nashville, where they recorded several songs, aided by a plethora of drugs. These recordings were later released as Early Allman in 1973, to Gregg's dismay. He soon grew tired of performing covers and began writing original compositions. They settled in St. Louis for a time, where in the spring of 1967 they began performing alongside Johnny Sandlin and Paul Hornsby, among others, under various names. They considered disbanding, but Bill McEuen, manager of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, convinced the band to relocate to Los Angeles, giving them the funds to do so.He arranged a recording contract with Liberty Records in June 1967, and they began to record an album under the new name the Hour Glass, suggested by their producer, Dallas Smith. At concerts, they declined to play anything off their debut album, released that October, instead opting to play the blues. Such gigs were sparse, however, as Liberty only allowed one performance per month. After some personnel changes, they recorded their second album, Power of Love, released in March 1968. It contained more original songs by Allman, though they still felt constricted by its process. They embarked on a small tour, and recorded some new demos at FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. Liberty disliked the recordings, and the band broke up when Duane explicitly told off executives. They threatened to freeze the band, so they would be unable to record for any other label for seven years. Gregg stayed behind to appease the label, giving them the rights to a solo album. The rest of the band mocked Allman, viewing him as too scared to leave and return to the South.
Meanwhile, Duane Allman had returned to Florida where he met Butch Trucks, a drummer in the band The 31st of February. In October 1968, the 31st of February, aided by Gregg and Duane Allman, recorded several songs. Gregg returned to Los Angeles to fulfill his deal with Liberty, writing more original songs on the Hammond organ at the studio. Duane began doing session work at Fame in Muscle Shoals during this time, where he began putting together a new band. He phoned his brother with the proposition of joining the new band—which would have two guitarists and two drummers. With his deal at Liberty fulfilled, he drove to Jacksonville, Florida, in March 1969 to jam with the new band. Gregg at first thought two drummers would be a tortuous experience, but found himself pleasantly surprised by the successful jam. He called the birth of the group "one of the finer days in my life" He was starting to feel like he belonged to something again.
The Allman Brothers Band moved to Macon, Georgia, and forged a strong brotherhood, spending countless hours rehearsing, consuming psychedelic drugs, and hanging out in Rose Hill Cemetery, where they would write songs—"I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have my way with a lady or two down there", said Gregg. The group remade old blues numbers like "Trouble No More" and "One Way Out", in addition to improvised jams such as "Mountain Jam". Gregg, who had struggled to write in the past, became the band's sole songwriter, composing songs such as "Whipping Post" and "Black-Hearted Woman". The group's self-titled debut album was released in November 1969 through Atco and Capricorn Records, but received a poor commercial response, selling less than 35,000 copies upon initial release. The band played continuously in 1970, performing over 300 dates on the road, which contributed to a larger following. Oakley's wife rented a large Victorian home in Macon and the band moved into what they dubbed "the Big House" in March 1970. Their second record, Idlewild South (named after a farmhouse on a lake outside of Macon they rented), was issued by Atco and Capricorn Records in September 1970, less than a year after their debut.
Gregg's elder brother Duane, who was killed in a motorcycle crash in 1971.
Their fortunes began to change over the course of 1971, where the band's average earnings doubled. "We realized that the audience was a big part of what we did, which couldn’t be duplicated in a studio. A lightbulb finally went off; we needed to make a live album", said Gregg. At Fillmore East, recorded at the Fillmore East in New York, was released in July 1971 by Capricorn. While previous albums by the band had taken months to hit the charts (often near the bottom of the top 200), the record started to climb the charts after a matter of days. At Fillmore East peaked at number thirteen on Billboard's Top Pop Albums chart, and was certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America that October, becoming their commercial and artistic breakthrough. Although suddenly very wealthy and successful, much of the band and its entourage now struggled with addiction to numerous drugs; they all agreed to quit heroin, but cocaine remained a problem. His last conversation with his brother was an argument over the substance, in which Gregg lied. In his autobiography, Gregg wrote: "I have thought of that lie every day of my life, told him that lie, and he told me that he was sorry and that he loved me.
Shortly after At Fillmore East was certified gold in domestic sales, Duane was killed in a motorcycle accident October 29, 1971 in Macon. At his funeral on Monday, November 1st, 1971, Gregg performed "Melissa", which was his brother's favorite song. After the service, he confided in his bandmates that they should continue. He left for Jamaica to get away from Macon, and was in grief for the following few weeks.
After Duane's death, the band held a meeting on their future; it was clear all wanted to continue, and after a short period, the band returned to the road. They completed their third studio album, Eat a Peach, that winter, which raised each member's spirits: "The music brought life back to us all, and it was simultaneously realized by every one of us. We found strength, vitality, newness, reason, and belonging as we worked on finishing Eat a Peach", said Gregg. Eat a Peach was released the following February, and it became the band's second hit album, shipping gold and peaking at number four on Billboard's Top 200 Pop Albums chart. "We’d been through hell, but somehow we were rolling bigger than ever", Gregg recalled. Lead guitarist Dickey Betts had to convince the band members to tour, since all other members were reluctant. The Allman Brothers Band played 90 shows in 1972 in support of the record. "We were playing for him and that was the way to be closest to him", said Trucks. The band purchased 432 acres of land in Juliette, Georgia for $160,000 and nicknamed it "the Farm"; it soon became a group hangout.
The band unanimously decided to carry on, and enlisted Lamar Williams on bass and Chuck Leavell on piano and began recording Brothers and Sisters, their follow-up album. Meanwhile, after some internal disagreements, Gregg began recording a solo album, which he titled Laid Back. The sessions for both albums often overlapped and its creation caused tension within the rest of the band. Both albums were released in the autumn of 1973, with Brothers and Sisters cementing the Allman Brothers' place among the biggest rock bands of the 1970s. "Everything that we’d done before—the touring, the recording—culminated in that one album", Gregg recalled. "Ramblin' Man", Betts' country-infused number, received interest from radio stations immediately, and it rose to number two on the Billboard Hot 100. The Allman Brothers Band returned to touring, playing larger venues, receiving more profit and dealing with less friendship, miscommunication and spiraling drug problems. This culminated in a backstage brawl when the band played with the Grateful Dead at Washington's RFK Stadium in June 1973, which resulted in the firing of three of the band's longtime roadies. The band played arenas and stadiums almost solely as their drug use escalated. In 1974, the band was regularly making $100,000 per show, and was renting the Starship, a customized Boeing 720B used by Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones.
In between tours, Gregg embarked on another tour to promote Laid Back. He brought along the musicians who helped record the album as his band, and hired a full string orchestra to accompany the group. A live album of material from the tour was released as The Gregg Allman Tour later that year, to help recoup costs for the tour. It went up against Betts' first solo record, Highway Call, prompting some to dub their relationship a rivalry. Their relationships became increasingly frustrated, amplified by heavy drug and alcohol abuse. In January 1975, Gregg began a relationship with pop star Cher, which made him more "famous for being famous than for his music", according to biographer Alan Paul. The sessions that produced 1975's Win, Lose or Draw, the last album by the original Allman Brothers Band, were disjointed and inconsistent. Gregg was spending more time in Los Angeles with Cher. The band's time off from one another the previous fall "only exaggerated the problems between our personalities. With each day there was more and more space between us; the Brotherhood was fraying, and there wasn’t a damn thing any of us could do to stop it. Upon its release, it was considered subpar and sold less than its predecessor; the band later remarked that they were "embarrassed" about the album. From August 1975 to May 1976, the Allman Brothers Band played forty one shows to some of the biggest crowds of their career. Gradually, the members of the band grew apart during these tours, with sound checks and rehearsals becoming a thing of the past. Gregg later pointed to a benefit for presidential candidate Jimmy Carter as the only real "high point" in an otherwise "rough, rough tour". The shows were considered lackluster and the members were excessive in their drug use. The "breaking point" came when Gregg testified in the trial of security man Scooter Herring. Bandmates considered him a "snitch", and he received death threats, leading to law-enforcement protection. Herring was convicted on five counts of conspiracy to distribute cocaine and received a seventy-five year prison sentence; they were later overturned and he received a lesser sentence. For his part, Gregg always maintained that Herring had told him to take the deal and he would take the fall for it, but nevertheless, the band refused to communicate with him. As a result, the band finally broke up; Leavell, Williams, and (drummer) Jaimoe continued playing together in Sea Level, Betts formed Great Southern, and Gregg founded the Gregg Allman Band.
Gregg married Cher in June 1975, and the two lived in Hollywood during their years together as tabloid favorites. Their marriage produced one son, Elijah Blue Allman, who was born in July 1976. Gregg recorded his second solo album, Playin' Up a Storm, with the Gregg Allman Band, and it was released in May 1977. He also worked on a collaborative album with Cher titled 'Two the Hard Way', which, upon its release, was a massive failure. The couple went to Europe to tour in support of both albums, though the crowd reception was mixed. With a combination of Allman Brothers fans and Cher fans, fights often broke out in venues, which led Cher to cancel the tour. Turmoil began to overwhelm their relationship, and the two divorced in 1978. Gregg returned to Daytona Beach to stay with his mother, spending the majority of his time partying, chasing women, and touring with the Nighthawks, a blues band. In a 2011 interview with WBUR's On Point, Allman told host Tom Ashbrook that he was also uncomfortable with his wife's celebrity lifestyle.
The Allman Brothers Band reunited in 1978, hiring two new members: guitarist Dan Toler and bassist David Goldflies. Betts had approached Allman during his time in Daytona regarding a reunion. Allman remembered that each member had their own reasons for rejoining, though he surmised it was a combination of displeasure with how things ended, missing each other, and a need for money. The band's reunion album, Enlightened Rogues, was released in February 1979 and was a mild commercial success. Betts's lawyer, Steve Massarsky, began managing the group, and led the band to sign with Arista, who pushed the band to "modernize" their sound. Their first Arista effort, Reach for the Sky (1980), was produced by Nashville songwriters Mike Lawler and Johnny Cobb. Drugs remained a problem with the band, particularly among Betts and Gregg. The band again grew apart, replacing Jaimoe with Toler's brother Frankie.
For their second and final album with Arista, Brothers of the Road, they collaborated with a "name producer" (John Ryan, of Styx and the Doobie Brothers), who pushed the band even harder to change their sound. "Straight from the Heart" was the album's single, which became a minor hit but heralded the group's last appearance on the top 40 chart. The band, considering their post-reunion albums "embarrassing", subsequently broke up in 1982 after clashing with Clive Davis, who rejected every producer the band suggested for a possible third album, including Tom Dowd and Johnny Sandlin.
Gregg spent much of the 1980s adrift and living in Sarasota, Florida with friends Marcia and Chuck Boyd. His alcohol abuse was at one of its worst points, with Gregg consuming "a minimum of a fifth of vodka a day." He felt the local police pursued him heavily, due to his tendency to get inebriated and "go jam anywhere". He was arrested and charged with a DUI; as a result, he spent five days in jail and was fined $1,000. While he did not consider himself "washed up", he noted in his autobiography that "there’s that fear of everybody forgetting about you." Southern rock faded from popular culture and electronic music formed much of the pop music of the decade.
By 1986, Gregg felt tired of having little funds, and teamed up with former bandmate Betts for several performances together. It led to two Allman Brothers reunion performances that summer. Eventually, tension would arise and they would spend time apart again. After recording several demos in Los Angeles, Gregg was offered a recording contract by Epic Records. He recorded his third solo release, I'm No Angel, at Criteria in Miami. Released in 1987, the title track became a surprise hit on radio. Gregg released another solo album the following year, Just Before the Bullets Fly, though it did not sell as well as its predecessor. His alcohol abuse continued in the late 1980s, as he moved to Los Angeles and lived at the Riot House. He married Danielle Galliano in a midlife crisis wherein he felt he would one day be too "old and ugly" to get married. The marriage began with Allman overdosing at the Riot House—"so our marriage started off with a bang", he said. He dabbled in acting for the first time, taking a small part in the film Rush Week (1989), and he sang the opening track to the film Black Rain (1989).
The Allman Brothers Band celebrated its twentieth anniversary in 1989, and the band reunited for a summer tour, with Jaimoe once again on drums. In addition, they featured guitarist Warren Haynes and pianist Johnny Neel, both from the Dickey Betts Band, and bassist Allen Woody, who was hired after open auditions held at Trucks's Florida studio. ] The classic rock radio format had given the band's catalog songs new relevance, as did a multi-CD retrospective box set, Dreams. Epic, who had worked with Gregg on his solo career, signed the band. Danny Goldberg became the band's manager; he had previously worked with acts such as Led Zeppelin and Bonnie Raitt. The group were initially reluctant to tour, but found they performed solidly; in addition, former roadies such as "Red Dog" returned. The band returned to the studio with longtime producer Tom Dowd for 1990's Seven Turns, which was considered a return to form. "Good Clean Fun" and "Seven Turns" each became big hits on the Mainstream Rock Tracks chart. The addition of Haynes and Woody had "reenergized" the ensemble. Neel left the group in 1990 and the band added percussionist Marc Quiñones, formerly of Spyro Gyra, the following year
The band began touring heavily, which helped build a new fan base: "We had to build a fan base all over again, but as word of mouth spread about how good the music was, more and more people took notice. It felt great, man, and that really helped the music", Allman recalled. Their next studio effort, Shades of Two Worlds (1992), produced the crowd favorite "Nobody Knows". Allman took his second and final acting role, as a drug dealer, in Rush (1991), a crime drama. Allman greatly enjoyed the experience: "It was a different facet of the entertainment industry, and I wanted to see how those people worked together." The band grew contentious over a 1993 tour, in which Betts was arrested when he shoved two police officers. Despite the growing tension, Haynes remained a member and Betts returned. Their third post-reunion record, Where It All Begins (1994), was the eleventh studio album by the Allman Brothers Band. "No One to Run With" obtained the greatest amount of album-oriented rock airplay, while "Soulshine", written by Warren Haynes, gained success as a concert and fan favorite. The band continued to tour with greater frequency, attracting younger generations with their headlining of the H.O.R.D.E. Festival. Gregg's daughter, Island, came to live with him in Los Angeles, and despite early struggles, they eventually grew very close. "Island is the love of my life, she really is", he would later write.
For much of the 1990s, Allman lived in Marin County, California, spending his free time with close friends and riding his motorcycle. The band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in January 1995; Gregg was severely inebriated and could not make it through his acceptance speech. Seeing the ceremony broadcast on television later, Gregg was mortified, providing a catalyst for his final, successful attempt to quit alcohol and substance abuse. He hired two in-home nurses that switched twelve-hour shifts to help him through the process. He was immensely happy to finally quit alcohol, writing later in his autobiography: "Did I get any positive anything out of all that? And you’ve got to admit to yourself, no, I didn’t. You can see what happened and that by the grace of God, you finally quit before it killed you." Gregg recorded a fifth solo album, Searching for Simplicity, which was quietly released on 550 Music. Despite positive developments in his personal life, things began declining among the band members. During their 1996 run at the Beacon, turmoil came to a breaking point between Gregg and Betts, nearly causing a cancellation of a show and causing another band breakup. Haynes and Woody left to focus on Gov't Mule, feeling as though a break was imminent with the Allman Brothers Band.
The group recruited Oteil Burbridge of the Aquarium Rescue Unit to replace Woody on bass, and Jack Pearson on guitar. Concerns arose over the increasing loudness of Allman Brothers shows, which were largely centered on Betts. Pearson, struggling with tinnitus, left as a result following the 1999 Beacon run. Trucks phoned his nephew, Derek Trucks, to join the band for their thirtieth anniversary tour. The Beacon run in 2000, captured on Peakin' at the Beacon, was ironically considered among the band's worst performances; an eight-show spring tour led to even more strained relations in the group. "It had ceased to be a band—everything had to be based around what Dickey was playing", said Gregg. Anger boiled over within the group towards Betts, which led to all original members sending him a letter, informing him of their intentions to tour without him for the summer. All involved contend that the break was temporary, but Betts responded by hiring a lawyer and suing the group, which led to a permanent divorce. That August, Woody was found dead in a hotel room in New York, which hit Gregg particularly hard. In 2001, Haynes rejoined the band for their Beacon run, setting the stage for over a decade of stability within the group.
Gregg moved to Richmond Hill, Georgia, in 2000, purchasing five acres on the Belfast River. The last incarnation of the Allman Brothers Band was well-regarded among fans and the general public, and remained stable and productive. The band released their final studio recording, Hittin' the Note (2003), to critical acclaim. Gregg co-wrote many songs on the record with Haynes, and he regarded it as his favorite album by the group since their earliest days. The band continued to tour throughout the 2000s, remaining a top touring act, regularly attracting more than 20,000 fans. The decade closed with a successful run at the Beacon Theater, in celebration of the band's fortieth anniversary. "That [2009 run] was the most fun I've ever had in that building", said Gregg, and it was universally regarded within the band as a career highlight. The run featured numerous special guests, including Eric Clapton, whom all in the band regarded as the most "special" guest, due to his association with Duane.
Gregg was diagnosed with hepatitis C in 2007—which he attributed to a dirty tattoo needle. By the next year, they had discovered three tumors within his liver, and he was recommended to the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville by a Savannah doctor for a liver transplant. He went on a waiting list and after five months, he underwent a successful liver transplant in 2010. Gregg was reluctant to pursue a new solo album after the death of longtime producer Tom Dowd in 2002, but eventually recorded with producer T-Bone Burnett on his seventh release, Low Country Blues. He was initially reluctant to Burnett's suggestion to not bring his normal band, but he eventually became very positive about the recording, later calling it "a true highlight of my career". It went unreleased during his health problems, and during that time, it became something of a confidence booster: "When things got real bad, real painful, I would just think about this record and it was kind of a life support system." Upon its release in January 2011, it represented Gregg's highest-ever chart peak in the United States, debuting at number five.
Gregg promoted the album heavily in Europe, until he had to cancel the rest of the trip due to an upper respiratory condition. This infection led to a lung surgery later in 2011. He went to rehab in 2012 for addiction following his medical treatments. That year, Gregg released his memoir, My Cross to Bear, which was thirty years in the making. It eventually got optioned to be turned into a feature film—titled Midnight Rider—that was eventually cancelled after a train accident on set caused the death of a member of the crew. In 2014, a tribute concert was held celebrating Allman's career; it was later released as All My Friends: Celebrating The Songs & Voice Of Gregg Allman. The same year, the Allman Brothers Band performed their final concerts, as Haynes and Derek Trucks desired to depart the group.
After the dissolution of the Allman Brothers, Gregg kept busy performing music with his band, releasing the live album Gregg Allman Live: Back to Macon, GA in 2015. In 2016, he received an honorary doctorate from Mercer University in Macon, presented by former President Jimmy Carter. However, his health problems remained; he had atrial fibrillation, and though he kept it private, his liver cancer had returned. "He kept it very private because he wanted to continue to play music until he couldn't", his manager Michael Lehman said. Gregg attempted to grow healthier, switching to a gluten-free vegan diet. He also tried to keep a light schedule at the advice of doctors, who warned that too many performances might amplify his conditions.
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Song: Whipping Post' by Gregg Allman