BY MELISSA RUGGIERI/AJC Music Scene
(This story was originally posted at 3:40 p.m. May 27, 2017.)
A seminal voice of Southern rock is gone.
Gregg Allman, leader of The Allman Brothers Band, died Saturday at his home in Savannah from complications due to liver cancer. He was 69.
“It’s a sad passing,” said Peter Conlon, president of Live Nation Atlanta, who knew and worked with Allman for decades. “It’s not only the end of Gregg Allman, but between him and Butch (Trucks) gone, the end of The Allman Brothers.”
Guitar legend Peter Frampton, who toured with Allman in summer 2016, called Allman, “a gentle man – a very soft-spoken, nice human being,” in a recent interview with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “The man couldn’t have any more soul…I don’t know where he stuffs it.”
The musician was born Gregory LeNoir Allman on Dec. 8, 1947 in Nashville, Tenn., slightly more than a year after brother Duane. About two decades later, the pair would form the backbone of one of the most revered bands in history and pioneers of the country-blues-rock fusion tagged as “Southern rock.”
Heartbreak entered Allman’s life early, as the boys’ father, Willis Turner Allman, was shot and killed by a hitchhiker in 1949, leaving their mother Geraldine Robbins Allman to support the family. The brood moved to Daytona Beach, Fla., in 1959, but it was during a visit to an uncle in Nashville a year later that the brothers Allman experienced their first concert – a bill featuring Jackie Wilson, Otis Redding, B.B. King and Patti LaBelle.
Allman’s illustrious musical career, which began when he and Duane formed the Allman Joys in the mid-‘60s, produced 18 albums and a 2012 Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award with their next incarnation – the Allman Brothers Band.
The band, which settled in Macon, home to their Capricorn Records label, crafted dozens of now-classic staples on rock radio – “Ramblin’ Man,” “Mountain Jam” and the Allman-penned “Melissa,” “Midnight Rider” and “Whipping Post.”
Veteran concert promoter Conlon first encountered Allman in 1969, during the band’s famous impromptu performance at Piedmont Park.
“When the Allmans were trying to get established, (Gregg) told the guys to find the biggest park in Atlanta and go play, so they set up on the steps at Piedmont,” Conlon said prior to inducting Allman into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame in September 2015 (Allman didn’t attend the ceremony because of a leg injury).
The pair forged a congenial working relationship for 40-plus years, which included the Allman Brothers returning to Piedmont Park in 2007 to play a benefit concert to expand the park and Allman performing a solo gig at Music Midtown in 2014.
Tragedy struck Allman’s life again in 1971 when Duane was killed in a motorcycle accident at the age of 24, months after the successful release of the Allman Brothers Band’s double album, “At Fillmore East.”
In a notable passage in his 2012 autobiography, “My Cross to Bear,” Allman revealed that after Duane’s fatal accident, he relived his brother’s death every day for the first 10 years. He also carried the guilt of his last conversation with Duane: a lie he told his brother about stealing some of his cocaine.
In 1995, the Allman Brothers Band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. A movie about Allman’s life, “Midnight Rider,” was optioned from his book. But the project was scrapped after the tragic death of camera assistant Sarah Jones during an on-set accident shortly after filming began in Wayne County, Georgia, in 2014.
Allman’s life was fraught with challenges, including the health issues he endured for years.
He spoke frankly of his diagnosis of hepatitis C – which he thinks he got from a tattoo needle – in his book, as well as in an interview with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 2011, a year after receiving a liver transplant as a result of the disease going untreated for too long.
“It is a blood disease and I had it since I was 20 and didn’t know it until 1999. Everybody needs to get checked for this diabolical disease. If I hadn’t had a liver transplant, I wouldn’t be talking to you right now,” he said in the interview.
Allman also dealt with various medical challenges following the transplant – lung surgery and heart problems among them.
Although Macon was the Allman Brothers’ musical mecca, in 2000, Allman moved to a house about 20 miles south of Savannah near Richmond Hill.
Allman told Southern Living magazine in 2007 that he became captivated by Savannah as a young boy during his family’s travels.
“I remember going down a road with oaks meeting overhead,” he said. “I thought that was the hippest thing I’d ever seen.”
Allman’s Georgia ties ran deep, and his affinity for Atlanta stretches back to 1974, when The Gregg Allman Band performed at the Fox Theatre as part of an effort to save the gilded structure from the wrecking ball.
“We played the Fox a couple of times over the years to keep it from getting torn down,” Allman told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in January 2014. “You know, people rise up in Atlanta. People love that place and they should. It’s so perfectly tuned. It’s a magical place.”
On Jan. 10, 2014, musical love was returned to Allman in the form of a tribute concert at the Fox. “All My Friends: Celebrating the Songs and Voice of Gregg Allman” featured genre-spanning artists including Jackson Browne, Eric Church, Sam Moore, Trace Adkins and Taj Mahal hailing the musical icon, who also performed with the Allman Brothers Band.
Later that year, after guitarists Derek Trucks and Warren Haynes expressed a desire to leave, the Allman Brothers Band played their final shows with a special run at the Beacon Theatre, the band’s longtime ritualistic musical home.
Conlon reminded that Allman’s career, while often eclipsed by the band that bore his name, included plenty of solo accomplishments, including six studio albums and three live albums. The most recent entries arrived in 2014 with “All My Friends: Celebrating the Songs and Voice of Gregg Allman,” recorded at his Fox tribute concert earlier that year and 2015’s “Live: Back to Macon, GA.”
“His ‘Laid Back’ album (from 1973) is still a great album,” Conlon said. “You have to look at him besides being a founder of the Allmans. He’s got 100 songs with (music licensing organization) BMI. He’s a very talented guy.”
Allman’s most recent solo studio effort, “Low Country Blues,” arrived in 2011 and was nominated for a Grammy the following year. Ironically, Allman lost to Tedeschi Trucks Band, the outfit that includes Derek Trucks, the longtime Allmans guitarist and nephew of original Allman Brothers Band drummer Butch Trucks.
His chart appearances were scarce, with only “Anything Goes” and “I’m No Angel,” the title track of his 1987 album, landing on the Billboard rock charts.
Allman’s tempestuous three-year marriage to Cher produced “Two the Hard Way,” a release billed to “Allman and Woman.” The album was considered a flop at the time with sales of more than half a million.
In a 2013 interview with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Allman noted that he hoped to “get the buzz back in the studio” with a “bucket list” album. “I want to call it ‘All Compositions By…’,” Allman said. “But I have to get the damn songs written.”
That album, “Southern Blood,” is expected to be released in September.
Allman is survived by his wife, Shannon Allman, his children, Devon, Elijah Blue, Delilah Island Kurtom and Layla Brooklyn Allman; three grandchildren, his niece, Galadrielle Allman, lifelong friend Chank Middleton, and a large extended family.