The soulful singer who shaped Southern rock
Gregg Allman 1947–2017
Gregg Allman enjoyed the perks of rock ’n’ roll stardom. The singer and keyboardist with the Allman Brothers Band was married six times, including to Cher from 1975 to ’78, and routinely visited four or five women in different hotel rooms after a gig. Allman’s other appetites were just as vast—when he boarded the band’s private jet for a 1972 tour, he was delighted to find the words “Welcome Allman Bros” spelled out in cocaine on the bar. At times, his wild lifestyle threatened to eclipse his prodigious musical talents. With his dusky, bluesy voice and nimble keyboard work, he shaped the sound of Southern rock—a mix of soul, rock, and country that would influence Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Marshall Tucker Band, and others. “I would like to be remembered,” he said, “as somebody who could rock your soul or make you cry with a song.”
Born in Nashville, Allman and his older brother, Duane, were raised by their mother after their father, an Army captain, “was murdered by a hitchhiker in 1949,” said The New York Times. At 13, Gregg bought a Sears guitar, but Duane proved more adept at the instrument, so Gregg focused on keyboards. The duo formed blues-rock group the Allman Joys and in 1969 launched the interracial Allman Brothers Band. Allman would “write some of the band’s most enduring songs,” said The Washington Post, including the moody “Midnight Rider” and the delicate “Melissa.” The band broke through with their 1971 live LP, At Fillmore East, which featured sprawling, electrifying jams. But six months later Duane, then 24, died in a motorcycle accident, and “Allman sank deeper into alcohol and drug abuse.” More hit albums followed, including Eat a Peach (1972) and Brothers and Sisters (1973), before the group split acrimoniously in 1976.
Allman spent most of the ’80s “drunk, stoned, and adrift,” periodically recording solo albums or performing with a re-formed Allman Brothers, said The Daily Telegraph (U.K.). He sobered up in the 1990s but was diagnosed with hepatitis C and had to undergo a liver transplant in 2010. Still, Allman kept touring until this year. “If I died today, I’ve had me a blast,” he wrote in 2012. But “if somebody offered me a second round, I think I’d have to pass.”