I am saddened, although neither shocked nor stunned, by today’s death of Gregg Allman. In fact, I am somewhat surprised, with all his substance abuse and health problems, he lasted this long. I was moved much more by the death, 46 years ago now, of his brother Duane in a motorcycle accident.
I will admit to not succumbing to the musical expertise of the Allman Brothers until I stumbled upon their second album, Idlewild South, in 1970 and between then and Duane’s death in October, 1971, I tried to see their in-concert performances whenever I could.
I will also admit to liking bits and pieces of the Allmans’s catalog that followed, songs such as Blue Sky, Come and Go Blues, Jessica, Wasted Words (all from 1973), Seven Turns (1990), and especially No One to Run With and Soulshine (1994) as well as much of the 2003 album Hittin’ the Note. But there was nothing to equal that early 1970s output with Duane that included Dreams, Whipping Post, In Memory of Elizabeth Reed, Midnight Rider, Revival, Done Somebody Wrong, Hot ‘Lanta, Statesboro Blues, Stormy Monday, One Way Out and Trouble No More.
In fact what sticks in my memory the most about Gregg is the story about his causing a scene in a restaurant by fainting in a plate a spaghetti during a dinner with then-wife Cher.
But it seemed Gregg was always on a self-destructive path and, as I said earlier, I am mildly surprised he lived until the age of 69. My younger brother, born the year before Gregg and the person responsible for introducing me to the Allman Brothers Band, embarked on a similar life’s journey and died 30 years ago. Allman became addicted to heroin in the early 1970s and was arrested on drug charges in 1976. He avoided jail time by testifying against one of the band’s road managers, who was sentenced to 75 years in prison. That move alienated Gregg from the rest of the band. His alcohol abuse reached its peak in the 1980s, when, while living with friends in Sarasota, Fla., it was reported he was drinking at least a fifth of vodka a day. He was arrested during that time, charged with DUI and spent five days in jail. In the late 1980s he moved to Los Angeles, living at and overdosing at a place called the Riot House. The Allman Brothers Band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995, but Gregg was so inebriated he could not make it through his acceptance speech. He later wrote in his autobiography that he was so mortified when he saw that event on later television broadcast, that he hired two in-home nurses working round-the-clock shifts to help him get over his alcohol and drug addictions.
He was diagnosed with Hepatitis C, which he blamed on a dirty tattoo needle. In 2008, doctors discovered three tumors in his liver and in 2010 he underwent a successful liver transplant. At the beginning of the following year, he released a decent solo album, Low Country Blues, but had to cancel a European promotional tour for the album because of upper respiratory problems. In 2012 he went into rehab because of addictions he developed following medical treatments.
The above video shows the Allman Brothers Band at their best, with Duane on lead guitar and Gregg on vocal and keyboards. I guess the word I will always associate with the Allman Brothers Band and Gregg Allman is "if."