SAVANNAH, Ga. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Music legend Gregg Allman, whose bluesy vocals and soulful touch on the Hammond B-3 organ helped propel the Allman Brothers Band to superstardom and spawn Southern rock, died Saturday, a publicist said. He was 69.
Allman died Saturday at his home in Savannah, Georgia, publicist Ken Weinstein said.READ MORE: Times Square Shooting: Intense Manhunt Continues; Sources Say Shooter Known To Police For Illegal Vending In Area
“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,” Weinstein said in a statement.
Allman had cancelled some 2016 tour dates, announcing on Aug. 5 that he was “under his doctor’s care at the Mayo Clinic” due to “serious health issues.” Later that year, he canceled more dates citing a throat injury. And in March 2017, he canceled performances for the rest of the year.
“I have lost a dear friend and the world has lost a brilliant pioneer in music. He was a kind and gentle soul with the best laugh I ever heard. His love for his family and bandmates was passionate as was the love he had for his extraordinary fans. Gregg was an incredible partner and an even better friend. We will all miss him,” manager Michael Lehman said in a statement.
Born in Nashville, Tennessee, the rock star known for his long blond hair was raised in Florida by a single mother after his father was shot to death. Allman idolized his older brother, Duane, eventually joining a series of bands with him. Together they formed the nucleus of The Allman Brothers Band.
The original band featured extended jams, tight guitar harmonies by Duane Allman and Dickey Betts, rhythms from a pair of drummers and the smoky blues inflected voice of Gregg Allman. Songs such as “Whipping Post,” ”Ramblin’ Man” and “Midnight Rider,” helped define what came to be known as Southern rock and opened the doors for such stars as Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Marshall Tucker Band.
“He was one of those rare voices that just gives you a sense of wonder. It’s just so powerful and so rich, so deeply textured,” music journalist and editor of NJArts.net Jay Lustig told WCBS 880’s Kelly Waldron.
The Allman Brothers Band was not only among the first to create a live album that captured the excitement of a first-rate rock show, but one that helped invent the Southern rock genre.
“With mixed blues, and rock, and country music in a way that it hadn’t been mixed before,” Lustig said.
Lustig had the pleasure of interviewing Allman, who he described as a thoughtful, shy guy but one whose songs will be played for years to come.
In his 2012 memoir, “My Cross to Bear,” Allman described how Duane was a central figure in his life in the years after their father was murdered by a man he met in a bar. The two boys endured a spell in a military school before being swept up in rock music in their teens. Although Gregg was the first to pick up a guitar, it was Duane who excelled at it. So Gregg later switched to the organ.
They failed to crack success until they formed The Allman Brothers Band in 1969. Based in Macon, Georgia, the group featured Betts, drummers Jai Johanny “Jaimoe” Johanson and Butch Trucks and bassist Berry Oakley. They partied to excess while defining a sound that still excites millions.
Their self-titled debut album came out in 1969, but it was their seminal live album “At Fillmore East” in 1971 that catapulted the band to stardom.
Duane Allman had quickly ascended to the pantheon of guitar heroes, not just from his contributions to the Allman band, but from his session work with Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett and with Eric Clapton on the classic “Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs” album. But he was killed in a motorcycle accident in October 1971, just months after recording the Fillmore shows. Another motorcycle accident the following year claimed Oakley’s life.
In a 2012 interview with The Associated Press, Gregg Allman said Duane remained on his mind every day. Once in a while, he could even feel his presence.READ MORE: Mother's Day Bliss: Moms Enjoy A Day Of Pampering, Family And Fine Foods At Various NYC Restaurants
“I can tell when he’s there, man,” Allman said. “I’m not going to get all cosmic on you. But listen, he’s there.”
The 1970s brought more highly publicized turmoil: Allman was compelled to testify in a drug case against a former road manager for the band and his marriage to the actress and singer Cher was short-lived even by show business standards.
In 1975, Cher and Allman married three days after she divorced her husband and singing partner, Sonny Bono. Their marriage was tumultuous from the start; Cher requested a divorce just nine days after their Las Vegas wedding, although she dismissed the suit a month later.
Together they released a widely panned duets album under the name “Allman and Woman.” They had one child together, Elijah Blue, and Cher filed for legal separation in 1977.
The Allman Brothers Band likewise split up in the 1980s and then re-formed several times over the years. A changing cast of players has included Derek Trucks, nephew of original drummer Butch Trucks, as well as guitarist Warren Haynes.
Starting in 1990, more than 20 years after its founding, the reunited band began releasing new music and found a new audience. In 1995 the band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and won a Grammy Award for best rock instrumental performance for “Jessica” the following year.
In 2000, Betts was ousted from the band via fax for alleged substance abuse and poor performance and he hasn’t played with the band since.
Butch Trucks died in January 2017. Authorities said he shot himself in front of his wife at their Florida home.
In his memoir, Allman said he spent years overindulging in women, drugs and alcohol before getting sober in the mid-1990s. He said that after getting sober, he felt “brand new” at the age of 50.
“I never believed in God until this,” he said in an interview with The Associated Press in 1998. “I asked him to bring me out of this or let me die before all the innings have been played. Now I have started taking on some spiritualism.”
However, after all the years of unhealthy living he ended up with hepatitis C which severely damaged his liver. He underwent a liver transplant in 2010.
After the surgery, he turned music to help him recover and released his first solo album in 14 years “Low Country Blues” in 2011.
“I think it’s because you’re doing something you love,” Allman said in a 2011 interview with The Associated Press. “I think it just creates a diversion from the pain itself. You’ve been swallowed up by something you love, you know, and you’re just totally engulfed.”
The band was honored with a lifetime achievement Grammy in 2012.
Allman is survived by his wife, Shannon Allman, his children, Devon, Elijah Blue, Delilah Island Kurtom and Layla Brooklyn Allman; 3 grandchildren, his niece, Galadrielle Allman, lifelong friend Chank Middleton, and a large extended family, according to his website.MORE NEWS: Cyberattack Prompts Major Pipeline Operator To Halt Operations; What Will It Potentially Mean For Gas Prices?
(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)