Gregg Allman Biography

Songwriter, Singer (1947–2017)
Musician Gregg Allman was a pioneer of Southern rock and a co-founder of the enduringly popular group the Allman Brothers Band.

Synopsis

Born in 1947, Gregg Allman started performing as a teenager. He had several groups with his older brother, Duane, before the pair helped create the Allman Brothers Band in 1969. Known for their bluesy, improvisational style, the Allman Brothers Band achieved commercial success via hits like "Midnight Rider." Allman also enjoyed critical acclaim as a solo artist, though he continued to record and tour with the Allman Brothers for much of his later career. After battling a series of health issues, including Hepatitis C, the legendary rocker died from liver cancer complications at age 69 on May 27, 2017. 

Early Life

With his older brother, Duane, Gregg Allman helped break new ground in rock music. The Allman Brothers Band spearheaded the 1970s Southern rock sound, drawing heavily from both country and blues influences. In addition to his work with the Allman Brothers Band, he also enjoyed some success as a solo artist.

Born in Nashville, Tennessee, Gregg's early life was marked by tragedy. His father was murdered by a hitchhiker when he was only 2 years old. Allman later moved with his mother and brother to Daytona Beach, Florida. Around the age of 12, he and his brother attended a concert, with a bill that included R&B singer Jackie Wilson and legendary blues guitarist B. B. King, that profoundly influenced the two boys. Allman soon saved up to buy a guitar, and even taught his brother a few chords. Before long, however, Duane had surpassed him as a guitarist, and Gregg turned his focus to the keyboard and vocals.

As a teenager, Allman performed in local bands in the Daytona Beach area. He and his brother formed the Allman Joys in 1965. Two years later, they tried again as the Hourglass in Los Angeles. The group recorded two albums for Liberty Records, which went nowhere. After this, Gregg attempted to fulfill contractual requirements for Liberty, while his brother found his footing as a popular session musician back in the South.

The Allman Brothers Band

The Allman Brothers Band formed in 1969 with a lineup of Gregg Allman on vocals and keyboards; Duane Allman and Dickey Betts both on lead guitar; Jai Johanny "Jaimoe" Johanson and Butch Trucks on dueling drum kits; and Berry Oakley on bass. Their blues-infused rock greatly benefited from the instrumental lineup, and the group soon developed a following with their powerful, jam-filled live shows. They released their self-titled debut album that same year. Featuring such Gregg Allman-penned songs as "Dreams" and "Whipping Post," The Allman Brothers Band earned some favorable reviews despite lackluster sales. Gregg also contributed several tracks for the next record, 1971's Idlewild South, including the now-classic "Midnight Rider."

The rising stars of Southern rock then put out what is considered to be one of the best live albums of all time, 1971's At Fillmore East. However, just as the band was beginning to taste commercial success, they were nearly derailed by tragedy when Duane Allman died following a motorcycle accident in Macon, Georgia, that October. "Duane was the father of the band," Gregg Allman later told Guitar Player magazine. "Somehow he had this real magic about him that would lock us all in, and we'd take off." Despite the loss of the group's driving force, the band decided to continue without replacing Duane. They released one of their most commercially successful albums, Eat a Peach, in 1972.

That same year, Allman lost another bandmate in eerily familiar circumstances: Bassist Berry Oakley died in a motorcycle crash only a short distance from where Duane Allman had lost his life in Macon, Georgia. Still, the band pressed on, reaching the top of the charts in 1973 with the album Brothers and Sisters. Around this time, Betts assumed more of a leadership role within the group, sparking tensions with Allman.

The band's follow-up album, 1975's Win, Lose or Draw, was considered a drop-off from Brothers and Sisters. Meanwhile, Allman was struggling with the demons of drug addiction. In 1976, he wound up in the middle of a federal investigation that had ensnared his road manager, Scooter Herring, for dealing illicit substances. To avoid jail, Allman agreed to testify, leading to a 75-year prison sentence (later commuted) for Herring. However, Allman's testimony was seen as a betrayal by his bandmates, who swore that they would never work with him again.

The hard feelings gradually thawed, and a few years later the Allman Brothers reformulated for a new album, Enlightened Rogues (1979). They split again after two more albums, but reunited and resumed touring in 1989, to mark the group's 20th anniversary. Energized by a new lineup that included guitarist Warren Haynes, they put out the successful studio effort Seven Turns in 1990.

The Allman Brothers Band continued touring throughout the decade, finding receptive audiences for their classic anthems and new material. They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995, an occasion marked by Allman being too inebriated to deliver much of an acceptance speech. In 2003 the group delivered its 12th and final studio album, Hittin' the Note.

Solo Career

In 1973, Allman released his first solo album, Laid Back, which was well-received by critics. He followed with the live The Gregg Allman Tour (1974) and then Playin' Up a Storm (1977); however, an album recorded with Cher, called Two the Hard Way (1977), was panned by critics and fans alike. At the time, the two were enduring a rocky relationship; married in July 1975, Cher had attempted to dissolve the union after just nine days, due in part to Allman's drug and alcohol problems. The couple had son Elijah Blue before divorcing in 1979, and Allman ultimately fathered five children through several marriages.

The musician returned to the studio for I'm No Angel (1987), its title track surging to No. 1 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock chart. He followed with Just Before the Bullets Fly in 1988, but with the Allman Brothers reuniting shortly afterward, it would be nearly another decade until Allman found time for another solo project, 1997's Searching for Simplicity.

Later Years and Death

In 2007, Allman was diagnosed with Hepatitis C. The condition "was laying dormant for awhile and just kind of crept up on me. I was worn out. I had to sleep 10 or 11 hours a day to two or three [hours]," he explained to Billboard. He had a liver transplant in 2010 and returned to making music. He released his next solo album, Low Country Blues, the following year.

Allman and the rest of the Allman Brothers Band were honored with the special Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award in 2012. That March, he had to drop out of a number of Allman Brothers Band concerts in New York City because of a problem with a bulging disc in his back. 

Also in 2012, Allman decided to share his struggles and triumphs with others in his memoir, My Cross to Bear. "When I got out of high school, I thought, 'I'll take a year or two off and play the clubs, get this out of my system, and then go to med school,'" he explained in a statement. "More than 40 years later, I figure it's finally time to write about this crazy journey that's taken me around the world and back."

After his crazy journey of making trailblazing music, Allman died from liver cancer complications on May 27, 2017, at his home in Savannah, Georgia. He was 69. The legendary musician, reportedly working on a new album at the time of his death, was remembered as a pioneer of Southern rock.

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