May 28, 2017

Gregg Allman — The Brothers Are Finally Reunited Again

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Given the recent health issues, it was not a shock to hear that Gregg Allman died on Saturday May 27th. It was, however, very sad news. There had rumors of him being so ill that he had been admitted to a hospice. The family denied the rumor and only said that he died peacefully at his home in Savanah, Georgia.

It was as recent as the end of 2014 that it was announced that The Allman Brothers Band had officially disbanded forever. Many held out hope that they would make yet another comeback as they had before, but this time it was really the end.

The first impression one got when meeting Gregg Allman for the first time was just how quiet and laid back he was. In my encounter with him back stage at the WYSP be-in, he barely spoke above a whisper. Like so many performers who are basically shy his personality completely changed once he was on stage. What you saw and heard was a man that became completely transformed by his playing and singing the music with uncommon passion.

That passion was formed at a very early age when Gregg and his one year older brother Duane started bands together in high school. That led to a group called The Allman Joys and left their home in Daytona, Beach, Florida. They recorded under both that name and The Hour Glass. In both cases the records showed that the brothers were not ready for prime time.

At that point they the brothers separated for a year. Gregg stayed in Hollywood where Liberty Records thought he might have a solo career with his soulful voice. Duane went off to FAME studios in muscle Shoals, Alabama and became well known for his studio work on guitar.

It wasn’t very long before Duane became frustrated playing other people’s music and he left to start his own band in Jacksonville, Florida in February of 1969. The birth of The Allman Brothers began shortly thereafter. Duane invited another session musician drummer that he met at FAME, Jai Johanny Johanson, to join up with a bass player Barry Oakley that he met in a bar in Macon, Georgia. Before long another drummer, Butch Trucks and Dicky Betts were added as part of a vision for a new direction in Rock. They would feature two dueling guitars and two drummers.

There was still a piece missing from the puzzle. That piece was Gregg’s soulful voice. While Duane Allman’s brilliant guitar work got the attention of the world, it was Gregg’s voice that sustained The Allman Brothers long after Duane's tragic death.

After Duane was able to coax his brother to leave Los Angeles, the newly minted group moved to Atlanta, Georgia where with were signed to a record contract with Capricorn Records. Despite getting great reviews for their live performances, the group was hardly able to make enough money to stay alive. They depended on people who really believed in them and gave them meal money and housing.

When their first record was less that a sparking success, they turned to the man who they wanted as their producer in the first place, Tom Dowd. Tom was not available for the debut Allman’s recording, but was very interested in doing their live album that was scheduled to be done at the Fillmore East in New York City. It was Tom Dowd that made that album one of the best Rock records of all time. The band listened and learned from him and they were off and running. Unfortunately success was something that all the band members didn’t handle very well and drugs almost destroyed them completely. It is apparently hard to go from poverty to being a millionaire over night for many and the group pulled out all stops.

It turned out to be a short run for Duane. On October 29, 1971, just one day after being released from a rehab clinic, Duane was killed a motorcycle accident in Macon, Georgia. Ironically bassist Barry Oakley was also killed a year later in almost the very same place. One of many tragic events that plagued the band.

Gregg was left to pick the pieces. Still, he was not without his own foolishness. Besides excesses with drugs and drink, he also had a very odd and very short run marriage with Cher. Despite it all, his voice became the signature for the band. It could have been a band that exploded like a super nova, but Gregg kept the ball rolling for many years to the joy of millions.

Unfortunately, in his later years Gregg paid the price of his youthful wild years. He was forced off the road because of health problems and finally needed a new liver. After the surgery that saved his life, Gregg had a renewed spirit. He not only toured with the Allman Brothers, but made solo records and toured as a solo act. Recently that all ended. His 2016 tour ended suddenly and it was announced in March that his 2017 summer tour was postponed While there was hope for a full recovery, it was not meant to be and we have lost yet another great Hall of Fame rocker.

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