Singer and musician Gregg Allman led the legendary blues-rock act the Allman Brothers Band for over four decades, during which he helped to create not only the Southern rock and jam band subgenre, but earned a place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on the strength of such soulful compositions as "Whipping Post" and "Midnight Rider." Allman and his brother, guitarist Duane Allman, forged the group in the late 1960s as a bridge between the blues and soul music they loved as children and the heavier, electrified sounds of rock-n-roll. The result was one of the most formidable bands on the scene, capable of stretching songs into rolling, hour-plus-long workouts and concerts into half-day events. The death of Duane Allman and an unfocused period in the 1970s plagued by drugs, bad decisions and rather scandalous union with Cher took Allman out of the spotlight for nearly two decades. By the end of the 1990s, however, the band had revived their profile and reformed to reclaim a whole new audience that had been raised on their music. Allman himself remained the group's patriarch, ever mindful of his brother's contributions of the band, while pushing them to remain relevant in the current market through his shrewd choice of new members, including Gov't Mule's Warren Haynes. As both an artist and a keeper of the Allman Brothers Band flame, Gregg Allman remained one of the few '60s-era performers to preserve his popularity into the 21st century and beyond. His death at the age of 69 on May 27, 2017, following a years-long struggle with Hepatitis C, was met with sorrow from generations of fans and friends around the world.
Born Gregory LeNoir Allman on Dec. 8, 1947 in Nashville, TN, Gregg Allman and his older brother Duane were raised largely in Virginia Beach's Fort Story, outside of Northfolk, VA, by his father, Willis Turner Allman and his wife, Geraldine. A hitchhiker murdered Allman's father shortly after returning from active duty in Korea, leaving Geraldine to raise her sons on her own. She subsequently shipped them off to Castle Heights Military Academy in Lebanon, TN, while training to work as an accountant. Both brothers hated the experience, which helped to install in them a long-running streak of anti-authoritarian attitude. Both Allmans developed a deep-seated love for blues and roots music at an early age, which in turn spawned an interest in playing instruments. Though the organ captivated Gregg after seeing the Hammond player in B.B. King's band, he first gravitated towards the guitar. However, it soon became evident that Duane Allman was the superior guitarist, which spurred his brother to take up keyboards.
The brothers soon became staples on the Southeastern club circuit as members of the Escorts and later the Allman Joys, which delivered a searing mix of rock-n-roll and R&B with a distinct Southern flavor. The Allmans headed west to Los Angeles at the end of the 1960s, signing with Liberty Records, which redubbed them The Hour Glass. The label wielded an iron fist in regard to the band's musical direction, forcing them to play a more psychedelic-tinged blues/rock along the lines of Cream or Iron Butterfly than their established, groove-heavy material. The experience proved a bitter one for both Allmans, who soon returned to the South to join a new group, 31 February, which featured Butch Trucks as its drummer.
To supplement their income, Duane Allman became a well-regarded session player at the Muscle Shoals recording studio in Alabama. There, he met other players, including guitarist Dickie Betts, bassist Berry Oakley and drummer Jai Johanny "Jaimoe" Johanson, with whom he and Trucks decided to form a band. In 1969, Duane severed his last ties to Liberty Records and contacted Gregg to join him in Florida as part of the Allman Brothers Band. Allman's gruff but soulful vocals made him the ideal candidate for the band's lead singer, and he quickly brought himself up to speed on the Hammond B-3 organ to lend an undercurrent of Stax-style soul to the band's signature sound, which featured a twin guitar/drum attack on traditional blues that often stretched songs into 40-plus minute jam sessions.
Though their 1969 eponymous debut sold poorly, the Allman Brothers Band soon established a faithful cult following on the strength of their live performances, which culled elements of gospel and jazz into extended workouts of songs like Gregg's "Whipping Post." By 1971, they were among the most popular live acts on the rock scene, as evidenced by their titanic live album, At Filmore East, which showcased the group's talent at the height of its power. Though most of their songs were penned by Dickey Betts, Gregg soon developed into a solid composer in his own right, as evidenced by the moody "Midnight Rider," which first surfaced on their sophomore studio release, Idlewild South.
But at the height of the Allman Brothers' popularity, unthinkable tragedy struck when Duane Allman was killed in a motorcycle accident in late 1971. Though devastated, Gregg decided to carry on with the band, which was soon reconfigured as a five-piece act with Dickey Betts taking over lead guitar. A year later, Berry Oakley also died from head injuries suffered in a motorcycle accident. Their losses preceded a lengthy fallow period for the Allman Brothers band; though still a top concert draw, personal and creative issues within the band had began to fray the close working relationship between members, with Betts and new member Chuck Leavell fighting to claim dominance over the group.
In the midst of this turmoil, Allman launched his solo career with 1973's Laid Back, which featured a groove-heavy remake of "Midnight Rider" and an altogether gentler sound than the barnstorming sonic force of the Allman Brothers Band. The new "Midnight Rider" was a Top 20 hit for Allman, who soon launched a solo tour to considerable acclaim. But his own personal life was in a state of near-collapse due to heavy drug use, which contributed to the on-again, off-again state of his marriage to singer Cher from 1975 to 1979. During their fabled union, the couple had a son, Elijah Blue Allman. When the troubled singer reunited with the Allman Brothers Band in 1975 for Win, Lose or Draw, the individual group members were barely on speaking terms. The final straw for the original incarnation of the Allman Brothers Band came the following year when Allman was arrested on federal drug charges, but secured his freedom by agreeing to testify against the band's tour manager, John "Scooter" Herring. Leavell, Johanson and other group members soon left the act to form Sea Level while vowing to never work with Allman again.
Allman returned to his solo career for a while, generating solid reviews for his sophomore effort, Playin' Up a Storm (1977). It would be his last album to chart for nearly a decade, as its follow-up, a collaboration with Cher called Two the Hard Way (1977) and billed as "Allman and Woman," was a dismal failure. He spent the next few years playing small clubs with the Gregg Allman Band until 1986, when the surviving members of the Allman Brothers Band settled their differences for a concert to benefit promoter Bill Graham. The following year, he surprised many by scoring a hit with the rough-hewn title track to I'm No Angel for Epic Records, which had also signed Dickey Betts to its roster. By 1989, the Allman and Betts camps had forged a new version of the Allman Brothers Band, which built its signature sound around a trio of new players, including the formidable guitarist Warren Haynes and bassist Allen Woody, who abetted the original members.
The newly reconstituted Allman Brothers Band reclaimed their status as one of the most popular touring acts in the country on the strength of their industrial-sized concert jams, which showed that the band had lost none of its endurance or improvisational skills during their fallow period. Allman continued to support his solo musical career while exercising an interest in acting, most notably in "Rush" (1991), which earned him critical acclaim for his turn as a powerful drug lord. But the Allman Brothers Band remained his most popular showcase. The band returned to recording new material with 1990's Seven Turns, and won a Grammy or Best Rock Instrumental Performance in 1996 for a live take on the Dickey Betts number "Jessica." Their long, tumultuous career finally earned the respect it was due by their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995.
Allman's solo career was represented mainly by archival anthologies for much of the 1990s and 2000s. He devoted more time to his health during this period, which had taken a turn for the worse in 2007 after he was diagnosed with Hepatitis C and consequently had a liver transplant in 2010. He survived both, and subsequently enjoyed critical praise with Low Country Blues (2011), a collection of traditional blues songs which earned a Grammy nomination that same year. In 2012, the Allman Brothers Band receive the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, while Allman released his autobiography, My Cross To Bear, which featured moving recollections of his brother Duane, as well as his many personal issues and a detailed account of life with Cher. A promotional jaunt was briefly postponed due to medical concerns over cardiac issues related to surgery for a hernia, but he was soon cleared to begin the book tour in May 2012. However, health issues continued to dog Allman for the rest of his life, and he maintained a much slower work schedule. After the 2015 release of the live album Back to Macon GA, Allman recorded one final studio album, Southern Blood, with producer Don Was at Muscle Shoals' FAME Studios. The album was released posthumously following Allman's death from complications of liver cancer and Hepatitis C on May 27, 2017. He was 69 years old.
By Paul Gaita
Cast (Feature Film)
Music (Feature Film)
Misc. Crew (Feature Film)
The Allman Brothers Band formed in Florida, released self-titled debut
Band released its second studio release, <i>Idlewild South</i>, featuring Gregg's moody "Midnight Rider"
Duane Allman died in motorcycle accident; Allman Brothers band reconfigured as a five-piece act with Dickey Betts on lead guitar.
The Allman Brothers Band's live album, <i>At Filmore East</i>, showcased the group's power as live performers
Allman Brothers Band member Berry Oakley also died as result of motorcyle accident; band began to unravel
Gregg Allman launched solo career with <i>Laid Back</i>, featuring a groove-heavy remake of "Midnight Rider" and a gentler sound than The Allman Brothers Band
Gregg reunited with The Allman Brothers Band for album <i>Win, Lose or Draw</i>, but members were barely on speaking terms, and the band fell apart amid drug-related scandals
Allman and Cher form "Allman and Woman" duo and release <i>Two the Hard Way</i>, but the act was a dismal failure
Gregg returned to solo career with <i>Playin' Up a Storm</i>
The Allman Brothers Band reunited for a benefit concert for promoter Bill Graham
Formation of newly reconstituted Allman Brothers band, including Allman, Betts, guitarist Warren Haynes and bassist Allen Woody
Allman Brothers Band released new EP, <i>Seven Turns</i>
Allman Brothers Band inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
Allman released the solo blues collection <i>Low Country Blues</i>, which earned a Grammy nomination
Allman Brothers Band received Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award
Allman penned autobiography, <i>My Cross to Bear</i>
Allman released live album <i>Back to Macon GA</i>
Allman's final studio album, <i>Southern Blood</i>, released posthumously following his death from complications of liver cancer and Hepatitis C