Allman Brothers Band’s Gregg Allman Dies at 69

Founding Member Dies at Home in Georgia

Gregg Allman, founding member of the Allman Brothers Band and long-time solo artist, has died at his home in Savannah, Georgia. He was 69.

A statement on his official website says, “Gregg struggled with many health issues over the past several years. During that time, Gregg considered being on the road playing music with his brothers and solo band for his beloved fans, essential medicine for his soul. Playing music lifted him up and kept him going during the toughest of times.”

Later in his life, Allman experienced a series of alcohol and drug related illnesses that often led to show and tour cancellations. According to Billboard, he was diagnosed with hepatitis C in 1999 and underwent a liver transplant in 2010.

Born Gregory LeNoir Allman in Nashville Dec. 8, 1947, Allman and his older brother, Duane, were raised by a single mother after their father, Willis Allman, a captain in the U. S. Army was killed by a hitchhiker in 1949.

While studying for her nursing degree, Allman’s mother enrolled her two sons in Castle Heights Military Academy in Lebanon, Tenn., near Nashville. Neither boy liked nor flourished in the rigid environment. Ultimately, Allman graduated from a Florida high school in 1965.

Allman traced his interest in music back to two main sources: attending a Jackie Wilson concert in 1960, at which Otis Redding, B. B. King and Patti LaBelle also performed, and learning the rudiments of guitar playing from one of his grandmother’s neighbors. It was Duane, however, who became an ace guitarist while Gregg served their various bands as keyboardist and vocalist.

In their formative years, the Allmans formed the band Allman Joys and Hour Glass before rolling out as the Allman Brothers Band in Macon, Georgia, in 1969. Besides the brothers, the original band featured Dickey Betts on guitar, Berry Oakley on bass and Butch Trucks and Jai Johnny Johanson on drums.

Signed to Capricorn Records, ABB released three albums The Allman Brothers Band (1969), Idlewild South (1970) and At Fillmore East (1971) before Duane was killed in a motorcycle accident on Oct. 29, 1971.

Gregg would helm the band in its subsequent incarnations but would often work as a solo act or leader of his eponymously named group. Despite ABB’s popularity as a performing band, that popularity did not translate into radio airplay. In its first 10 years of recording the Allman Brothers Band had only one radio hit, Bett’s “Ramblin’ Man,” which rose to No. 2 on the pop charts in 1973.

That same year, Allman recorded his first solo album — Laid Back — contemporaneously with the Allman Brothers Band recording its fourth studio album, Brothers and Sisters. The band experienced great commercial and touring success throughout the 1970s but was routinely shaken by internal dissension and massive drug use.

The inter-band turbulence was magnified when Allman testified against one of the band’s roadies in a drug case, resulting in the roadie being sentenced to a 75-year prison term, which was later overturned. Allman thus became an outcast in his own band.

In 1975, the original Allman Brothers Band recorded its last album, Win, Lose or Draw. Allman, who had been dating the pop star Cher, married her in June 1975 and began spending most of his time with her in Hollywood. The union lasted for two years, producing a son, a disastrous joint tour and a barrage of tabloid headlines.

The Allman Brothers Band reunited in 1978 and after one more album for Capricorn switched to Arista Records. Despite changes in producers and management, the band never quite hit its stride and broke up again in 1982. Heavy drug use was again cited as a big part of the troubles.
Allman spent most of the 1980s living with friends in Sarasota, Florida, doing little musically and consuming up to a fifth of vodka a day. “No two ways about it, the ’80s were rough,” he told an interviewer. “It was seven years of going, ‘What do I do?'”

He and Betts teamed up to perform together in 1986. They also re-united the Allman Brothers Band for two concerts that year, but tension among the members continued, cutting the reunion short. Late in the decade, Allman recorded two solo albums for Epic Records, the first producing the radio hit, “I’m No Angel.”

Coming together again in 1989 for its 20th anniversary, the Allman Brothers Band would continue to tour and record intermittently until 2014. During this period, Allman tried his hand at acting, appearing in the movie Rush Week in 1989 and the crime drama Rush in 1991.

The Allman Brothers Band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995. Allman was so drunk during the ceremony he could not complete his acceptance speech. After seeing a tape of his actions, he felt so humiliated he vowed to quit drinking and drugging. In this he succeeded by hiring around-the-clock nurses to help him through his withdrawal.

Still health problems continued to plague him. He underwent a liver transplant in 2010 and was forced to cancel several concerts in 2011 and 2016. He released his sixth studio album, Low Country Blues, in 2011 and his second live album, Live: Back to Macon Georgia in 2015. His next album, Southern Blood, was scheduled for release this year.

Edward Morris is a veteran of country music journalism. He lives in Nashville, Tennessee, and is a frequent contributor to CMT.com.