Gregg Allman, one of the two brothers from legendary rock band the Allman Brothers Band, has died. He was 69.
Allman was born on Dec. 8, 1978, in Nashville. He was also born a ramblin’ man, if his band’s 1973 classic rock hit was any indication. He, along with his brother Duane, helped to create one of the most successful classic rock bands of all time. With that came not just music, but drugs, women and ― at times ― tragedy, including the early death of Duane.
In his later years, Allman developed hepatitis C, and suffered from an irregular heartbeat and a respiratory infection and had to have a liver transplant. In 2017, he canceled a planned summer tour, sparking worries about his health.
Allman was born to Willis Allman, a WWII veteran who stormed Normandy Beach, came back to his bride after the war, and had two sons. His father’s life was cut short when Gregg was just 2 years old. After Willis Allman offered a stranger a ride home from a bar one night, the man fatally shot him in the back.
Neither Gregg nor Duane showed any interest in emulating their father’s military career. The boys hated the military school their mother sent them to, but found their footing in music while there, according to Rolling Stone.
“I learned to play mostly from black people,” Allman told The Guardian in 2015. “We used to listen to a station that called itself ‘The black spot on your dial.’ It played Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf, and it hit Duane and me like spaghetti hitting a wall.”
By the time the Allman Brothers Band was formed in 1969, Gregg and Duane were legitimate country hippies ― long-haired, drug-smoking free-loving spirits. Duane played guitar, with Gregg on vocals. Other founding members of the band included drummers “Butch” Trucks and Jai “Jaimoe” Johnny Johnson, along with “Dickey” Betts on guitar and Berry Oakley on bass.
The Allman Brothers Band blended country, jazz, blues and Southern rock in such seamless riffs, pounding drums and twangy vocals that it earned them a place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995, and a Lifetime Achievement award at the Grammys in 2012. The movie “Almost Famous” was also, in part, inspired by the band.
The Allman Brothers Band produced their biggest hits in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, including “Ramblin’ Man,” “Midnight Rider” and “Whipping Post.” During this time, the band experimented heavily with drugs and attracted many groupies on tour.
“Gregg was just a pretty boy,” drummer Butch Trucks told Rolling Stone in 1999. “He had blond hair, and the girls were hanging all over him.”
In his book My Cross To Bear, Gregg bragged about his sexual exploits.
“I would have women in four or five different rooms,” Allman wrote about staying in hotels while on tour. “Mind you, I wouldn’t lie to anybody; I’d just say, ‘I’ll be right back.’”
During those earlier years, he and his bandmates were also experimenting with drugs, including (but not limited to) PCP, cocaine and speed. The band loved psychedelic mushrooms so much, they made them their unofficial logo and tattooed a mushroom on each of their calves, according to Rolling Stone.
In 1971, just as the band found itself being propelled into stardom, Duane Allman died in a motorcycle accident. He was 24.
“Duane was the king of laughter, always making jokes,” Gregg Allman told The Guardian in 2015. “You’ve got to keep laughing. It was what Duane would have done, and wanted us to do.”
At Duane’s funeral, Gregg played songs on his older brother’s antique guitar.
“This is a very old guitar, a very beautiful piece,” he said to a crowd of 300. “It was made in 1920 and I’m very proud to have it. And I’m very proud that you all came.”
In 1975, Allman married singer Cher in Las Vegas. The marriage lasted nin days, ending after Allman allegedly pulled a knife on her while trying to score heroin. They reconciled after learning Cher was pregnant with their son, Elijah Blue.
In 1977, Cher divorced Allman for good. The final straw was reportedly at an awards show, when Allman passed out face-first in a plate of spaghetti.
“Every now and then,” Allman wrote in his 2012 memoir, “I’ll think of all the hell I caused other people over the years.”
Allman eventually embraced sobriety.
“I’m doing great,” Allman told the Savannah Morning News in 2013. “I’ve been clean and sober for 19 years. I just came off one of best the tours I’ve ever done, and I feel good every day.”
In “Ramblin’ Man,” Allman croons: “And when it’s time for leavin, I hope you’ll understand / That I was born a ramblin’ man.”
We understand, midnight rider.
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