Gregg Allman, a founding member of the influential Southern rock band the Allman Brothers, passed away quietly at his home on Saturday. The Allman Brothers have been shaping and driving rock and roll since 1969, and Gregg’s songwriting and music were pivotal to the band’s success. The Allman Brothers band pioneered the sounds that define Southern and jam rock, and without Gregg’s songwriting and influence the band and genre would never have become so popular.
Allman has left a powerful legacy, from his family to his lifetime of music. His father was killed in 1949 when Gregg was only two years old, and his mother had to send him and his older brother, Duane, away to school while she went to college. It didn’t take long for music to become a refuge for him from the instability in his family life.
Gregg traced his love of music to two things: a concert he went to with his brother featuring some of the greats of the early ‘60s, from B.B. King and Patti LaBelle to Jackie Wilson and Otis Redding, as well as a neighbor who listened to music with him and started him on the guitar.
Early musical groups he and his brother formed had limited success, but that changed after they realized their best strength was the connections they forged with fans. The brothers changed tactics, and made a live album. “At Fillmore East” brought them widespread attention and well-deserved fame, but their commercial success corresponded with drug problems. To experience their sound, you can listen to that album here.
Duane died in a motorcycle accident in 1971. While mourning, the rest of the band recorded another album and toured Duane’s memory. Shortly after, another original member of the band, Berry Oakley, passed away in a motorcycle accident. That album, “Eat a Peach,” is a soulful goodbye to a brother and friend. Ultimately, the Allman Brothers released 18 albums and major live recordings, with another coming out later this year.
Gregg Allman’s musical career changed and evolved over his decades of time with the Allman Brothers Band, and so did his solo career. Gregg had five children, four of them professional musicians. All of his children had different mothers, including Cher. His death came after years of quiet health problems, many stemming from hepatitis and liver cancer. He successfully quit drugs and alcohol in 1995, and his sobriety brought him calm, even when the band broke up and reformed with different members.
Gregg wanted to be remembered for his music, and listening to his songs is a fitting way to remember one of rock ‘n roll’s greats. Gregg described his feelings about his life when he said: “Music is my life’s blood. I love music, I love to play good music, and I love to play music for people who appreciate it. And when it’s all said and done, I’ll go to my grave and my brother will greet me, saying, ‘Nice work, little brother—you did all right.’ I must have said this a million times, but if I died today, I have had me a blast.”