Billboard reports that Gregg Allman has died. A multiple-time Grammy winner, Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame inductee, and the author of Southern rock hits like “Melissa” and “Midnight Rider,” Allman had been suffering from health problems for some time; he was diagnosed with hepatitis C in 2007, and received a liver transplant in 2010. Long-haired and enduring, Allman was a paragon of ’70s rock, surviving addictions, numerous break-ups, and a string of lethal tragedies that dotted the course of his entire life.
Born in 1947, Gregg was a year younger than his brother Duane, his eventual musical partner. After their father was murdered in 1949, the pair grew up with their mother, who was eventually forced to send the boys to military school while she worked to get her CPA. Bonding together, the duo fell into music early on, squabbling over who would get to play the Sears guitar Gregg bought with his paper route money. After high school (and an incident in which Gregg shot himself in the foot to get out of military service) they began to get seriously involved with the Daytona Beach music scene, forming their first moderately successful band, the Allman Joys, in the mid-’60s.
But it wasn’t until they hooked up with guitarist Dicky Betts—after a failed stint on a couple of different labels—that The Allman Brothers Band took on its more familiar form. Propelled by strong live performances, including Allman’s famed jam song “Whipping Post,” the band was just getting its first taste of stardom when Duane Allman died in a motorcycle accident in 1971. After a brief period of mourning, the rest of the band threw themselves back into recording and touring, with the hit album Eat A Peach the result. Opening with Allman’s tribute to his late brother, “Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More,” the album answered questions about whether The Allman Brothers Band could persist without Duane Allman‘s influence.
Unfortunately, the next decade was no less contentious for Allman; a year after his brother’s death, bassist Berry Oakley died under very similar circumstances; meanwhile, the band’s rising fortunes coincided with increasingly extreme drug use. Tensions also erupted between the bands’ members, as Betts took on a more prominent leadership role in the wake of Duane’s death. Things came to a head with the release of the band’s biggest hit, Brothers And Sisters, which featured two massive Betts-penned hits, “Jessica” and “Ramblin’ Man.” Already pushing at a solo career, Allman left the band that bore his name, touring as The Greg Allman Band instead.
The Allman Brothers Band would reunited and break up again a number of times over the following decades, coming together to tour and release the occasional album, and then smashing apart again as interpersonal tensions and drug use brought old problems to light. The group finally found something like stability in the 1990s, establishing an annual spring residency of sold-out shows at New York’s Beacon Theatre. Betts would leave the band for good in 2000, but the group would continue its “rite of spring” until 2014, when it broke up for good.
Allman’s personal life was no less contentious than his musical one. In 1975, he married Cher, becoming part of a somewhat improbable musical power couple. The duo attempted to blend their styles for the massively reviled Two The Hard Way; a European tour for the album apparently incited fights in the audience, as Allman Brothers Band fans and Cher fans failed to mesh together. The couple divorced in 1978.
Gregg Allman lived the kind of life that VH1’s Behind The Music was built to chronicle; a seemingly endless cycle of musical devotion, interpersonal strife, and chemical excess. Through it all, he kept playing from behind his keyboard or with a guitar in his hand, whether in the Southern rock drought of the ’80s, or the more receptive era of the decades that followed. He recounted his life story in his well-regarded autobiography My Cross To Bear, but not even that warm, self-effacing prose was free of tragedy. A film adaptation of the book, titled Midnight Rider, was shuttered in 2014 after a crew member was killed on the set.
Still, it’s worth revisiting Allman’s words today, in the wake of his death. Writing about the process of surviving Duane’s death, Allman reflected on his life and grief: “When I got over being angry, I prayed to him to forgive me, and I realized that my brother had a blast. […] Not that I got over it—I still ain’t gotten over it. I don’t know what getting over it means, really. I don’t stand around crying anymore, but I think about him every day of my life. […] Maybe a lot of learning how to grieve was that I had to grow up a little bit and realize that death is part of life. Now I can talk to my brother in the morning, and he answers me at night. I’ve opened myself to his death and accepted it, and I think that’s the grieving process at work.”
Allman was 69.