I can’t put my finger on when exactly the Allman Brothers Band consciously entered my world. I was born in Kentucky right around when they formed in Florida in 1969. Their music has held a constant position on my life’s soundtrack. Other bands have come and gone, but the Allman Brothers are reliably there year after year.
It’s with sadness that I learned Gregg Allman died May 27 at the age of 69. Liver cancer was given as the cause of death. The legendary “Ramblin’ Man” was laid to rest at Rose Hill Cemetery in Macon, GA, near his guitar slinging older brother Duane, who was killed on October 29, 1971 at the age of 24 after a tragic motorcycle accident, just as the band was becoming famous. Also buried there is original bass guitarist, Berry Oakley, who died on November 11, 1972, also from a motorcycle accident at the age of 24.
To this day no tune is as eminently promiscuous as the opening guitar shuffle on One Way Out. It fades in growing louder, like steps from a man trying to tip down the stairs quietly after getting it on with another man’s woman, to sneak out the back door before getting caught.
Ain’t but one way out baby, Lord I just can’t go out that door
Ain’t but one way out baby, and Lord I just can’t go out that door
‘Cause there’s a man down there, might be your man I don’t know
It’s naughty Southern blues rock, and Gregg Allman, along with his brother Duane, were founding members of that sound. They melded together a gumbo pot of rock, blues, jazz, country and soul – a result of assembling a racially integrated group back when segregation remained a powerful truth if not the law throughout the deep South.
Over a more than 50-year musical career, Gregg Allman endured all manner of drug addiction, tragic deaths, divorces and the other baggage that surrounds a life lived on the road. Allman was married six times, most memorably to Cher from 1975 to 1979. He was diagnosed with hepatitis C in 2007. The following year tumors were discovered on his liver, and he underwent a successful transplant in 2010.
With his grizzled beard and long blonde hair usually pulled back in a ponytail, Allman was an outlaw musician. His whiskey-tinged vocals and rhythmic keyboard were trademarks of the Allman Brothers’ sound.
There were big albums, At Fillmore East (1971), Eat A Peach (1972) and Brothers and Sisters (1973). They broke through and found commercial success on the radio, but what made it all happen was their recognition that the audience was an integral part of bringing out the best in them.
This realization drew the members even tighter together and they pledged an “all for one and one for all” oath to take things to the limit nightly on the road. So The Allman Brothers toured, and toured and kept on touring, and the shows kept getting more successful as their concerts became legend.
The shows stretched to three-plus hours or longer, as the band expanded their songs into experimental concepts, lasting sometimes 20 and 30 minutes each. This was the jam band phenomenon that the Allman Brothers Band helped pioneer.
Starting in 1989, the Allmans began playing multiple night shows at the Beacon Theatre in New York City. In 1992 they played a 10-night stand, and going forward played residencies there of between 8-to-19 sold-out shows each spring for 19 years, excluding 2010 when the venue was unexpectedly booked. The band performed its final show at the Beacon on October 28, 2014. The show was the 238th straight sellout by the Allman Brothers Band at the Beacon.
In 2014, the band retired, with a career that included seven gold and four platinum albums, and an induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995. Rolling Stone ranked the Allman Brothers Band 52nd on its list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time.
Thanks for the music and all the memories – Rest In Peace Mr. Allman.