Gregg Allman died a few days ago at the age of 69, passing away peacefully in his own home. And that is an end that few would have predicted.
Gregg lived a hard life. He lost several band mates over the years and one, Butch Trucks, just some months ago. But the one that was the gut punch was losing his brother Duane in a motorcycle accident just as their band was ascending into rock’s upper hierarchy. And the Allmans Brothers Band forever became a story of one step forward and one step back. Deaths, drug abuse, breakups, alcoholism, and narcing on a manager to avoid jail time collided with reunions, countless tours, triumphant stands at the Beacon Theatre in NYC, gold and platinum albums, and song after song that not only defined Southern Rock but transcended that genre in an instant.
Duane Allman formed the band and its sound but his younger brother gave it a voice. Most rock acts stick to the formula, especially if they hang around. But the Allman Brothers Band was sui generis like only a handful of musicians are. To pigeonhole them as southern rock or a jam band was highly inaccurate. Their sound was a synthesis of blues/jazz/gospel/rock/country/soul tossed into a high-speed blender and then poured out in an avalanche of thunder, propelled by two drummers and twin lead guitars. They could turn on a dime like few bands could, improvising like jazz men and capable of stunning dynamics. And no matter where the songs went it usually came back to the voice of Gregg, sitting behind the keys. Other members of the band sang, especially Dickie Betts. But the soul of the unit was Gregg’s blue-drenched roar, soaked in pain and seeking release.
A good portion of rock music, especially the stuff recorded in the 60s and 70s, featured white kids singing blues and R&B. Too often they sounded like white kids singing blues and R&B. But Gregg Allman was the real deal, able to shout, plead, growl, and cajole as well as his influences. There was a Beatles cover from one of Gregg’s solo albums that I’ve posted on this blog before. It’s the psychedelic ballad “Rain”. Gregg took John Lennon’s LSD-drenched dreamscape, rinsed it clean, and took it to church, making the song into a gospel hymn, a plea for forgiveness and redemption. This was something that even Mavis Staples would have been proud of. And such was the artistry of Gregg Allman.
So when you think of the Allman Brothers Band, don’t trip yourself up on yet another airing of Dickie Betts’ tired “Ramblin’ Man”. Dig deeper. Go to The End of the Line.