Gregg Allman, Southern Rock Pioneer, Dies at 69

Gregg Allman Tour Bus Crash
REX/Shutterstock

Gregg Allman, whose hard-jamming, bluesy sextet the Allman Brothers Band was the pioneering unit in the Southern rock explosion of the ‘70s, died Saturday due to complications from liver cancer, his longtime manager, Michael Lehman, confirmed to Variety. He was 69.

As recently as April 24, reports surfaced claiming Allman was in hospice, although Lehman denied those reports, which Allman then substantiated in a Facebook post. However, he had suffered a number of ailments in recent years — including an irregular heartbeat, a respiratory infection, a hernia and a liver transplant — and cancelled many scheduled tour dates in recent months for health reasons. Lehman said that Allman’s liver cancer recurred around five years ago, but the singer chose to keep the news private.

Allman completed a solo album, “Southern Blood,” that is set for release late this year. Lehman said they received some final mixes for the album on Friday, and Allman listened to them the night before his death. He added that Allman passed away with his family nearby, and was “at peace.”

For his work with the Allman Brothers, the legendary band he cofounded with his late brother Duane, and as a solo artist, Allman is one of the leading lights of Southern Rock. While the group’s greatest work was done before and shortly after Duane’s death in 1971, they stayed together, off and on, over 45 years and remain a singular influence on Southern rock and jam-band musicians. They were a top-drawing touring outfit until October 2014, when the group finally closed the book on their career with a series of dates at their longtime favorite venue, New York’s Beacon Theatre.

Allman’s solo career always played second to that of the band, but he enjoyed solo success with 1973’s “Laid Back” and 1987’s “I’m No Angel,” both of which were certified gold. In 2011 he released an unexpectedly strong album entitled “Low Country Blues” that was produced by T Bone Burnett (Alison Krauss/Robert Plant, Los Lobos, Elvis Costello, “O Brother Where Art Thou?”), who, along with instrumentalists like pianist Dr. John and guitarist Doyle Bramhall II, brought Allman back to his gutsy roots with stellar results.

With his older sibling, guitarist Duane Allman, the singer-keyboardist-guitarist-songwriter led one of the most popular concert attractions of the rock ballroom era; the group’s 1971 set “At Fillmore East,” recorded at Bill Graham’s New York hall, was a commercial breakthrough that showed off the band’s prodigious songcraft and instrumental strengths.

After Duane Allman’s death in a motorcycle accident weeks after the live album’s release, his younger brother led the band through four more stormy decades of playing and recording. The Allman Brothers Band’s latter-day history proved tumultuous, with other fatalities, disbandings, regroupings and very public battles with drugs and alcohol on the part of its surviving namesake.

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Though Gregg Allman’s highly publicized addictions, his tabloid-ready marriage to pop vocalist Cher, and his equally public disputes with co-founding guitarist Dickey Betts came under harsh and sometimes mocking scrutiny over the years, Allman prevailed as the linchpin of an act that maintained popularity over four decades and opened the commercial door for such other Southern acts as Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Marshall Tucker Band.

As a member of the Allman Brothers Band, Allman was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995 and was honored with a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2012.

He was born Gregory LeNoir Allman on Dec. 8, 1947, in Nashville; brother Duane was born 13 months earlier in the same hospital. In 1949, his father was shot to death by a man he offered a ride to in a bar. As their mother was studying accounting to support the family, the brothers were sent to a Tennessee military school at an early age.

The Allmans became attracted to music after seeing a 1960 concert by R&B singer Jackie Wilson in Daytona Beach, FL, where the family had moved the year before. Using money from a paper route (augmented by his mother), Gregg bought a guitar, and taught Duane his first chords. Both played guitar in the bands they founded after returning to the military academy in their teens.

Their pro bands the Escorts and the Allman Joys, which favored R&B, blues and rock covers, found work on the Florida club circuit in the mid-‘60s; Gregg began playing keyboards in the latter unit. The Allman Joys were playing without success in St. Louis when Bill McEuen, manager of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, met them and offered to set them up in Los Angeles.

Renamed Hour Glass, the L.A.-based group cut two unsuccessful pop-oriented albums for Liberty Records in 1967-68. Duane chafed at the direction being forced on the combo and fled for Alabama, where he became a prominent session guitarist at FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, AL. Gregg remained in L.A. to fulfill obligations to Liberty, but was summoned to Jacksonville, FL, in 1969 by his brother, who envisioned a new blues-based band with two guitarist and two drummers, featuring members of another local combo, the 31st of February.

Calling themselves the Allman Brothers Band, the new unit – the Allmans, guitarist Betts, bassist Berry Oakley and drummers Butch Trucks and Jai Johanny “Jaimoe” Johanson – was signed by Otis Redding’s former manager Phil Walden for management and as an act on his Macon, GA-based label Capricorn Records. The group moved to Macon, which became its base for the duration.

Neither of the ABB’s first two albums was an enormous success: Its self-titled bow peaked at No. 188 in 1969, while sophomore set “Idlewild South” topped out at No. 38 in 1970. But they established Gregg Allman as a vocal, instrumental and songwriting power: His compositions included such future staples of the band’s live set as “Not My Cross to Bear,” “Dreams,” “Whipping Post” and “Midnight Rider.”

Though problems with hard drug abuse were already surfacing in the band, the Allmans became a huge concert attraction in the South; the enthusiastic sponsorship of promoter Graham led to high-profile gigs at New York’s Filllmore East (where the band attained a rabid following) and San Francisco’s Fillmore.

The Allmans made their commercial mark with “At Fillmore East”: The expansive, Tom Dowd-produced two-record set, recorded during two nights at the venue, shot to No.13 ultimately sold more than 1 million copies and became one of the defining concert recordings of its day. However, Duane Allman’s tragic death at 24 on a Macon street on Oct. 29, 1971, cast a shadow over its success.

The band completed a follow-up two-LP set, “Eat a Peach,” as a quintet, with live numbers featuring Duane filling out the contents. The 1972 package rose to No. 4 nationally and went platinum, but disaster again struck: In a mishap eerily similar to Duane Allman’s fatal crash, hard-drinking bassist Oakley died after driving his bike into the side of a truck that November.

Shaken by the deaths of his brother and Oakley and increasingly incapacitated by heroin, cocaine and alcohol, Gregg Allman ceded much of the band’s songwriting and front man duties to Betts; as he noted in “My Cross to Bear,” his 2012 memoir, “Up until then, we’d never really had a front man; Dickey took it upon himself to create that role.”

The ABB released its only No. 1 album, “Brothers and Sisters,” in 1973; the record was powered to the top by the Betts-penned No. 2 single “Ramblin’ Man,” the group’s only top-10 45.

Allman retreated from the group to cut his solo debut “Laid Back” in 1973; rising to No. 13, it would be his most popular work away from the band for nearly 40 years, and it spawned his only top-20 solo single, a down-tempo remake of “Midnight Rider.”

On the heels of the lugubrious but popular “Win, Lose or Draw” (No. 5, 1975), the group set out on its biggest, and costliest, tour to date. The ABB flew to its dates on a lavishly appointed private jet previously used by the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin; in his book, Allman recalls, “The first time we walked onto the plane, ‘Welcome Allman Brothers’ was spelled out in cocaine on the bar.”

The ABB returned from the 41-date tour with a mere $100,000 in hand, owing to over-the-top spending. This financial catastrophe was compounded by the indictment of the group’s security man (and Allman’s drug bag man) Scooter Herring on cocaine distribution charges; Allman testified against Herring before a grand jury and at his trial, which netted a 75-year prison sentence.

Addicted to heroin and embroiled in inter-band conflict with Betts, Allman began spending more time in Los Angeles with Cher, whom he had wed in June 1975. The incongruous couple was followed avidly by gossip columnists. In the wake of an unsuccessful 1977 solo album, “Playin’ Up a Storm” (No. 42), Allman and Cher released their only duo album, “Two the Hard Way”; embarrassingly credited to “Allman and Woman,” the set failed to chart, and its accompanying tour witnessed scuffles between hostile camps of fans in the audiences. Allman and Cher divorced in 1978.

Membership in the ABB rotated repeatedly for the remainder of the group’s career, which saw ever-diminishing contributions from writer Allman. He authored just one song for the group’s final Capricorn album, “Enlightened Rogues” (No. 27, 1979); the financially unstable imprint crashed within a year of its release. Allman was also a minor contributor to a pair of slick, poorly received albums for Arista Records in 1980-81.

During the band’s protracted hiatus of the ‘80s, Allman issued a pair of solo sets; the more popular of the two, 1987’s “I’m No Angel” (No. 30, 1987), spawned the titular radio hit.

Encouraged by airplay on the burgeoning “classic rock” radio format, the ABB reconvened for a 1989 tour. In 1990, the group recorded “Seven Turns” (No. 53) with “Fillmore East” producer Tom Dowd; the group also began multi-night residencies at New York’s Beacon Theatre, which became an annual tradition. They issued four commercially unrewarding albums – two studio sets and two concert releases – between 1991 and 1995.

Following a drunken appearance at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony in New York in January 1995, onetime junkie Allman, after 11 stints in rehab, finally stopped drinking on his own, under the 24-hour watch of two nurses.

Following the exit of longtime guitarist Warren Haynes and bassist Allen Woody and the recruitment of Butch Trucks’ young nephew Derek Trucks on guitar, the ABB cut the live “Peakin’ at the Beacon” in 2000. Tension within the band had reached the breaking point, and, following a severely worded fax to Betts from the other members and subsequent legal arbitration, the Allman Brothers Band’s other founding guitarist made his exit.

The front line of Allman, Haynes and Derek Trucks and the group’s founding drummers were heard on the Allman Brothers Band’s studio collection “Hittin’ the Note” (No. 37, 2003) and the live “One Way Out” (No. 190, 2004). After 45 years in business, the band was formally dissolved after an October 2014 show at the Beacon.

Allman’s old habits caught up with him in the ‘00s. Diagnosed with hepatitis C – a disease common to intravenous drug users – in 2007, he learned that he was suffering from liver cancer in 2008. He underwent successful liver transplant surgery at the Mayo Clinic in 2010.

Before his surgery, Allman entered the studio to record his first solo album in 13 years. “Low Country Blues,” a striking and powerful recital of old blues songs, augmented by one Allman-Haynes original and produced by T Bone Burnett (Alison Krauss/Robert Plant, Los Lobos, Elvis Costello, “O Brother Where Art Thou?”), garnered the best reviews of his career, collected a Grammy Award nomination and became his highest-charting solo release, reaching No. 5 in early 2011.

However, health problems and catastrophe continued to dog him. He cut short a 2011 European tour because of respiratory issues, which ultimately mandated lung surgery. He faced a drug relapse spurred by painkillers, and did a stint in rehab. In 2014, a film based on his 2012 memoir, “Midnight Rider,” ceased production after a camera assistant on director Randall Miller’s feature was killed by a freight train on the first day of shooting.

Allman’s last concert took place on October 29, 2016 in Atlanta, a headlining set at his own Laid Back Festival.

Married and divorced six times, Allman is survived by three sons and two daughters, all by different mothers. Four of the children are professional musicians.

Allman will be buried at Rose Hill Cemetery in Macon, Georgia, next to Duane and former Allmans bassist Berry Oakley (who died a year after Duane), Lehman said. Their mother’s ashes, currently in Gregg’s home, will be buried there as well.

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    1. bobbi says:

      Will never forget Elizabeth Reed.

    2. Skip Newton says:

      I was there as a teenager in the late 60’s early 70’s to discover this fantastic band.Sitting outside a local 7/11 listening to them on a.m. radio was still a treat.That night waiting for some dude to buy us young punks some beer will always be special .Time stood still for a moment when this killer new sound from the South tinged the stock a.m. radio.Didn’t matter.We were on to the greatest Southern Rock Band ever.It still is sweet to remember.
      R.I.P. Gregg Allman/Brother

    3. Gregg Allman was a thug! I remember well of his days in Macon, Ga. If fact our neighborhood pharmacist went to prison for a staged burglary to supply him and his gang drugs. Nothing honorable about this guy.

    4. The Allman Brothers Will Always B Awesome In My Book!!! Thanks For Leaving Behind Such A Great Repertoire of Music Greg! You, & The Allman Brothers Band, Will Surely Be Missed! xxs<3

    5. Red says:

      I always liked the Allman Brothers, but never really became a big fan. Their music was background music to me with no remarkable traits other than one of the first rock bands to play a 30 minute song…one of the original versions of a “jamb band”. The Allman Brothers made music that pretty much would not offend anyone, yet they were not Pop, they were southern rock without the hard drawl of the south, they were the album you could put on during a party that everyone would tap a foot or sway to for hours and be able to have a conversation…then put on Lynyrd Skynyrd to wake everyone back up.

      Life in America would not be the same had the Allman Brothers never existed. I know this and I’m not a huge fan.

      One of the spinoffs from the Allman Brothers, is a band I DO carry on my regular playlist; “Government Mule”, with Warren Haynes, who was a member of the Allman Brothers for some time. If you are an Allman Bro’s fan and haven’t checked out Warren Hayne’s work…or even if you just love this genre of music, you should check it out.

      I read some comments here about living life in excess consumption causing an “early death” at 69. These are sad people, for they know not when their own days will end. Their life could end tomorrow suddenly from a heart attack, stroke or other catastrophic event…and if so, what reason would they have for dying? We see perfectly healthy people who eat well, exorcise and go to church regularly who die “so-called” “young”. To me, someone like Gregg Allman has lived MORE than one life already compared to those of us who leave far less of a mark on people, a nation, and a planet.

      Life is about the living days and how they were lived, not how many days. I would rather eat, drink and be merry…and die young, than live a long boring, laborious or miserable life to 100. I’ll take Gregg Allman’s 69 years…and feel lucky…

    6. DByrd says:

      The article incorrectly attributes that the cause of liver cancer and related hepatitis to careless intravenous drug use. Gregg attributed the hepatitis to a poor cleanliness standards at a tattoo shop in his earlier years. He may have used “hard drugs” however that does not necessarily indicate that he was incompetent in the aseptic application of these drugs. He was quite intelligent and detail oriented. What a wonderful talent. Check out his autobiography…well worth the read.

    7. Mike Acker says:

      Can you imagine the Jam Session in Heaven when Gregg arrived…. I’m positive Duane greeted him along with Berry and Butch – tears of Joy and Love.
      And the Good Lord smiled with the return of His imperfect yet brilliant creation….
      We’ll all miss him even though he’ll always be with us through his recorded works.
      This former Hourglass roadie will cherish the memories and good times. Rest in Peace my Brother

      • Dino Cavalli says:

        Jam session in heaven? Those guys are in heaven? People who lived a hedonistic, self-serving life? What Bible are you reading?

        • Red says:

          So you know/knew all of these people personally?

          Just because someone is/was an entertainer doesn’t mean they were bad people.

          Bad people judge others. I’m agnostic, but I do know the Bible covers all of this. Not only is a soul redeemable to the personas last breath in Christianity, but no human has the room to judge for they are all sinners. To judge is to sin. “Judge not, lest ye be judged”. “Let he without sin cast the first stone”.

          Usually those who cast aspersions are the worst among us. You might want to consider some time looking in the mirror.

        • mike says:

          The one that features forgiveness maybe?

        • justafan says:

          Hey Dino…relax

    8. SLIDING says:

      finally , GREGG AND RONNIE CAN COLLABORATE , AND WE , THOSE WITH THE TRUE LOVE, CANT WAIT TO HEAR THE RESULTS

    9. sliding says:

      WIN LOSE OR DRAW ….LOVE RULES…GREG LOVED AND IS LOVED , AND LOVE IS WHO HE IS WITH

    10. Dr. Ray Tims says:

      It’s so hard when you lose such an iconic Southern singer. I opened for him a couple of times and will say he was “all of the above.” However, he was such a soulful singer and quite a B3 player. We lost one of the best singers in the Southern Brotherhood today. Greg will never be duplicated or replaced.

    11. Tommy says:

      Gregg – thank you for you incredible talent and dedication. Time to be rejoined with Duane and Berry. Our loss is the Lord’s gain. RIP Gregg Allman.

    12. I listened to Low Country Blues everyday during my long drive to work for several years when it first came out, and I still love it. RIP dear sir, and thank you for your wonderful music.

    13. Anna says:

      “A sunbeam’s shinin’ through his hair,
      fear not to have a care”

      It’s as if the wood of the Hammond B3 was crafted just for him.
      Rest In Peace, Mr Allman, no more crosses to bear.

    14. Final ride for Midnight Rider!

    15. Marcel Paris says:

      Love. Played some of your stuff…it was a total gas….R.I.P

    16. Snake Pliskin says:

      R.I.P.

    17. Peggy Garza says:

      Im sorry to hear about the passing of gregg ive been a fan since i first heard their music and listen to him all the time and that wont change ever im 5 yrs younger but love listening to all kinds of music. RIP

    18. Wow. Listened to ABB countless times back in the day. They were my band, for sure. The Allmans had it rough; the story alludes to the very tragic death of their dad, who was an Army recruiter. Duane was the genius and after his death they were never the same; think the Chicago Bulls without Jordan. Only Dickie and Jaimoe survive. I’m glad I found Christ when I did. I think of these guys and their boozing ways and their sad lives. Come to Jesus while you can, my friends. Life is a vapor. Every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is lord.

      • I hope and pray that Gregg (and everyone else) knows that no one comes to the Father except through the Son.
        Come to Jesus while you can, my friends. Life is a vapor. Every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is lord.

    19. Albert Day says:

      Spent many hours listening to “Laid Back” in 73 and 74. Very soothing to my soul. God rest this man’s soul.

    20. CharterOakie says:

      Very sad news. Duane and Berry were already gone when I first heard the band via the newly released “Eat A Peach” while in high school. Loved that album; still do. The ABB was at the center of my life in those years. Saw them at the Phila Spectrum (’73 or ’74) and then a couple years later at the old Boston Gahden.

      “…in his deepest dreams the gypsy flies…with sweet Melissa.”

      RIP Gregg Allman. Thanks for the music and the memories.

    21. Robert mullinax says:

      Saw many of the famous ABB shows at the Beacon theatre in NYC. Incredible!! Greg was a true musician and the crowd always left the shows feelin’ pretty damn good. We all crowded into the local bars always wanting more ABB music and hunting for any place with Southern food! RIP Greg, and I hope you reunite with your brothers Duane and Berry in heaven!!!

    22. Shirl says:

      This is the saddest day. I will miss you Gregg. There will never be another band like the Allman Brothers .

    23. Jody says:

      Very sad day here as I found out Gregg
      Allman passed away. Turned on to him
      In 1971, when a friend gave my “Live at
      Fillmore East” at my 14th birthday party..
      Saw him live in concert so many times
      For years in the Boston area..they were
      Magical, even when Gregg was in a very
      Dark spot.. Love & bless, and keep the music in front of you..RIP, Gregg

    24. Joe P says:

      A very sad day for music enthusiasts, a sad day for rock and roll, and southern rock … This was my all time favorite band.

    25. Getty Bill says:

      RIP Gregg. Gonna miss you. You have always been my favorite singer. Saw Gregg open up for SRV in ’85 at pier 84 in NYC. I was a senior in HS. I went by myself because all my friends were into the hair banding crap. I only went to see Gregg. I believe Jaimo was playing drums. I picked up a guitar at 14 y/o because of Duane. Saw ABB in Saratoga around ’08. I could see Gregg was tired. The Allman Brother’s music have always been a major influence in my life. Still listen to them every day. God Speed.

    26. MrSingner says:

      Won’t be missed.

    27. Geo Rubik says:

      The best live album ever is “The Allman Brothers Band at Fillmore East””

    28. O. Driftwood says:

      And Keith Richards miraculously keeps on ticking. Amazing!

    29. Vox Veritas says:

      He was born a ramblin’ man who’s not gonna let ’em catch the midnight rider.

    30. Jay Tree says:

      I was very sad to hear of Greg’s passing today.Going to High school in Atlanta during 1972- 1976 the Allman Bros were one of my favorite bands. Eat a Peach and Live @ the Fillmore lived on my turntable. From my perspective as Rock Blues singers go Greg Allman had probably the most recognizable and smoothest delivery going. Thank you Greg for the great music.

    31. Marcus says:

      The lesson: if you drink to excess and do drugs your entire life, you will die an early, painful death.

    32. hillbilly4 says:

      Gregg Allman’s evocative deliverance of the song, “I’ll Be Holding On,” from the movie soundtrack of “Black Rain” is STILL a great example of a singer at his best.

    33. John says:

      RIP Gregg, we loved your work. Thank-you

    34. cowgirldiva says:

      R.I.P. Southern Good Bad Boy/ Southern Bad Good Boy…!! A BIG REBEL YELL for you..!! You and your music will be missed…!!

    35. Biff Mifflin says:

      The Allmans introduced many of us poor mass white boys to the beauty of Soul and Blues. Their music always stirs passion, makes you feel. If any young ones out there haven’t heard more than Midnight Ride or Ramblin’ Man take some time, listen to other songs. Their music was real, never about a show, but substance. Rest well, sir, a job well done.

    36. Honestly, its a wonder he lived this long. Well, Cher, that’s #2 my darling…

    37. Jim Boren says:

      RIP Gregg. Go jam with Duane, Butch, and Berry.

    38. John Walker says:

      Certainly there is a seat at the table for Gregg among the pantheon of legendary musicians! I would love to hear what Duane has been working on in anticipation of the day he and little brother reunite.

    39. It was Castle Heights Military Academy l. Honor Scholl with distinction.

    40. Paul Wyatt says:

      Greg and Duane’s music inspired my run at being a musician. I may not have succeeded like they did, but it, and they, make for some of my fondest memories. Ride on, Brothers. Godspeed.

    41. TAK says:

      The Allmans were a part of my life from the Piedmont Park days. I have dreaded this day for several years. RIP Gregg.

    42. MikeMarkCA says:

      Loved their music, read his book. By his own account I would think he would think himself lucky to have made it to 69.

      Let’s just hope Cher doesn’t show up and make it all about her.

    43. doug161 says:

      Thanks for all the great music Greg! Truly one of the greats.
      RIP
      Condolences to the family

    44. PatrickJT says:

      A true legend, Greg will be sorely missed, as is Dwayne. Rock on forever!

    45. Sparky Mills says:

      When they still made “music”.

    46. Jean Ketten says:

      You were the greatest.

    47. Steve Stone says:

      An entire article about this great musician and not one mention of Melissa. Perhaps the sweetest tune of the 70’s. A true classic

    48. smartyjones1 says:

      This was quite the retrospective and let me thank you for it. Wow, incredible effort and I’m listening to that 2011 LP now.

      Thank you so much!

    49. dwayne says:

      bummer

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