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Gregg Allman - 1947-2017

  by Carl Bookstein

published: 30 / 6 / 2017

Gregg Allman - 1947-2017


Carl Bookstein pays tribute to Gregg Allman of the Southern Rock band the Allman Brothers, who died in May at the age of 69.

Kicking back on our New England Literature Program professor’s cottage porch, in the rolling green countryside of Vermont, my friend introduced me to the music of the Allman Brothers Band. It was not a high fidelity cassette player, but the sweet sounds of the double album “Eat A Peach” were instantly evocative. “Crossroads seem to come and go, yeah. The gypsy flies from coast to coast,” Gregg Allman sang on 'Melissa' with the earthbound tones of an age old blues singer- calming to the soul. Exactly 35 years later, on the night of Gregg Allman’s passing, that same old college friend played a commemorative concert, again out on a green tree lined porch, this time in West Bloomfield, Michigan. This was a rare live 1971 New York show, a kindred to the famed “At Fillmore East,” the Allman Brothers Band’s live 1971 classic. The music again evocative, as we felt the deep loss. I was blessed and honored to review three Gregg Allman CDs and a live Gregg Allman Detroit concert, all for Pennyblack. Gregg Allman died on May 27th at the age of 69. Gregg was a founding member of the Southern Rock jam band giants, the Allman Brothers Band, known for an improvisational fusion of blues, rock, jazz and country. The whole genre of Southern Rock sprung up behind them in the 1970s. Gregg was lead vocalist and primary songwriter as well as adept player of the Hammond B3 organ. Gregg’s vocals were down home and emotive, heavily influenced by blues singers from Elmore James to Bobby Bland to Little Milton. Early Gregg Allman songwriter compositions included 'Dreams' and 'Whipping Post'. Later stellar songwriting turns included 'Midnight Rider' and 'Melissa'. Gregg formed the Allman Brothers Band with electric lead and slide guitar virtuoso Duane Allman, his brother and the band’s original leader and figurehead. Duane died in a tragic motorcycle accident at age 24, within six months of the release of 'At Fillmore East'. Gregg died reportedly of complications from liver cancer. Gregory Lenoir Allman was born on December 8, 1947 in Nashville. Gregg’s mother moved the family to Daytona Beach, Florida in 1959. Gregg and Duane played together in the South, including as the Allman Joys circa high school and then in Los Angeles as the Hour Glass for a time in the late 1960s. Gregg and his older brother Duane founded the Allman Brothers Band in Macon, Georgia in 1969. Gregg was on organ and lead vocals, Duane and Dickey Betts were on guitar, Berry Oakley was on bass with Butch Trucks and Jaimoe Johanson was on drums. Career high point Allman Brothers albums included 'At Fillmore East' (1971), 'Eat a Peach' (1972) and 'Brothers and Sisters' (1973). The Allman Brothers Band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995. In addition to being architects of Southern Rock, they were precursors to a generation of jam bands from Widespread Panic to Phish. Gregg Allman enjoyed a parallel solo career as well. The album “Laid Back” (1974) is a rich, soulful epiphany and is the first album I went to put on upon hearing the sad news of his passing. My first live Allman Brothers concert experience was in 1994 at Detroit’s then State Theater (now the Fillmore Detroit). I had just reviewed the great new Allman Brothers Band “Back Where It All Begins” album for the Wayne State college newspaper, where I was then in a journalism course that jump started my career. The live guitar tandem of Dickey Betts and Warren Haynes blew my mind, nobly carrying on Duane’s guitar mantle. Gregg Allman’s vocals, too, knocked me out, quelling my soul. I followed the State show a short while later with a road trip to Chicago to see the Allman Brothers again, a second remarkable performance, still hot on the back of the “Back Where It All Begins” album. With this album and tour, the band was engaged in a latter career renaissance that was really quite out of sight. The 2013 Motor City Soundboard solo Gregg Allman show I reviewed for Pennyblack was a great one, too- a solid impressive set. It would be the last time I would ever see Gregg Allman. His was a remarkable life and musical journey, one fully lived. Gregg Allman will be forever remembered.

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live reviews

Sound Board, Detroit, 23/10/2013
Gregg Allman - Sound Board, Detroit, 23/10/2013
Carl Bookstein watches Allman Brothers Band and Southern Rock legend play an inspiring and intimate gig at the Sound Board in Detroit

digital downloads


No Stranger to the Dark: The Best of Gregg Allman (2016)
First-rate 'Best of' solo collection from legendary Southern blues rock vocalist and Allman Brothers Band co-founder, Gregg Allman
Low Country Blues (2011)

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