Classic Rock Bottom

Michael Ochs Archives, Getty ImagesMichael Ochs Archives, Getty Images

Gregg Allman, the smoky-voiced B-3-playing Southern rock legend who soldiered on after his sibling’s motorcycle crash nearly derailed the Allman Brothers Band, has died. Allman battled sometimes unspecified health issues for several years, leading to a string of missed concert dates. He was 69.

The news has been confirmed by Billboard. The official cause of death is unknown as of press time.

Late in life, Allman acknowledged his own role in these mounting physical maladies. “My generation, we were all just such heavy drug takers,” he told Stuff in 2011. “We didn’t know no different. We didn’t know no other way. It was what we did. And that’s going to come back and hit ya – and it got me.”

But not before Gregg Allman helped to redraw the landscape of classic rock.

Born on Dec. 8, 1947, Gregg actually started out on the guitar, before his older brother Duane Allman‘s sweeping talent became apparent. He had an interest in dentistry, if music hadn’t worked out – and, for a very long time, it seemed as if it wouldn’t. Their first band together, called the Escorts, evolved into the Allman Joys by the mid-’60s. In short order, they moved to Los Angeles, renamed the group Hour Glass and signed with Liberty Records. The duo appeared to be on their way. Instead, however, they’d toil in relative obscurity until the early ’70s.

“I mean, a couple of times I got real discouraged and thought, ‘Man, why don’t I just go back to med school and just say it was fun while it lasted,'” Allman told Clash in 2011. “Chalk it up to experience, you know? And I just couldn’t quite bring myself to do it, because I wanted to play.”

After both Hour Glass albums flopped, Duane Allman left to pursue a career back in Alabama as a sessions guitarist at Muscle Shoals. Gregg spent an unhappy period alone in California, still contractually obligated to Liberty. About a year later, they reunited to cut another demo together – this time with a group that included future Allman Brothers Band stalwart Butch Trucks on drums. Second drummer Jai Johanny Johanson and bassist Berry Oakley, who Duane met doing sideman work, later joined – followed by Oakley’s friend Dickey Betts. The Allmans’ classic lineup was set.

Gregg served as principal songwriter for their first album, 1969’s The Allman Brothers Band. The project set a template for their heady mixture of rock, blues, jazz and country, but fizzled at No. 188 on the Billboard charts. Over time, however, their tireless work ethic helped build belated momentum. The group’s 1970 follow up, Idlewild South, managed to just nudge into the Top 40 – even as it introduced Betts as a songwriting force.

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More sad news. RIP.

Knew he was sick with many issues but was still surprised when I saw this news.


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