passing: Greg Allman

Gregg Allman, the last vestige of the Allman Bros Band is gone, and with him goes a massive history. Rock Photographer Jim Marshall told me they were the best he’d ever seen and he’d seen them all.

“Southern Rock” was philosophically different than the rest of the genre. It was harsh but always melodic and to technical perfection. Other exponents, The Charlie Daniels Band, The Outlaws and The Marshall Tucker band had a southern flavor but were more countrified. Molly Hatchet claimed to be a Southern band but their aura could be more compared to Black Oak Arkansas. The Allman Bros really stood alone. They were legends at the Fillmore East.

My sister was a scrub nurse at what was then the Macon Medical Center when Duane Allman was brought to the operating room after a motorcycle crash in which he was injured trying to pass a truck that made an unexpected left turn. It was 1971 and no one knew who he was, just another disheveled, long haired hippie. The woods were full of ‘em. SO he got no “real” attending surgeon. He was relegated to the surgical chief resident’s service. On opening his abdomen, an un-fixable liver injury was found and he of massive bleeding. I often wonder if we could have saved him in 2017 at UPMC had we got the chance.

I saw Gregg when he came to Athens for a one night stand at a local bar, I believe it was early 1972. He was stoned insensible, really unable to play and actually fell off the stool. I saw an interview with him in the 80s where he tearfully said he never really got over Duane’s death. But the Allman Brothers did survive and persist with Dickie Betts at the helm, an authentic wild man fond of trashing hotel rooms (“takin care of business”), marrying women, writing songs about them, then dumping them (“Blue Skies”). The reconstituted Allmans finally had enough and fired him (notified him by sending him a fax) in 2000. For those with an interest, Dickie played an authentic 1957 Gibson Les Paul Gold Top.

Duane Allman’s response to an interviewer’s question: “How are you helping the (anti-war) revolution?” Allman replied, “There ain’t no revolution, only evolution, but every time I’m in Georgia I ‘eat a peach’ for peace.b The post-Duane album “Eat a Peach” (1972) did well, much like the post-Bon Scott AC/DC album “Back in Black”, indicating that the magic was still more or less there. ” The Allmans went on starring Gregg on piano and organ, Derek Trucks on slide and guitarist Warren Haynes, both stellar talents who jelled well with the Allman Bros vibe. I think Warren Haynes is one of the top five most talented guitarists alive today. He’s the only player I’ve ever heard that could approach Duane Allman, although the vibe is a little dated now.

Duane Allman’s original ’59 Gibson Les Paul is enshrined at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. I broke the rules and actually touched it, hoping a spark would pass through it to me. Unfortunately it didn’t. I’m still a mediocre player.

Duane and bass player Berry Oakley (killed in a similar motorcycle accident a few blocks from where Duane was killed year after Duane) are buried together in the Rose Hill Cemetery in Macon, Ga. The same cemetery they used to hang out, the inspiration for the song “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed”- spotted on one of the head stones).

Gregg was a serviceable keyboard player and an excellent voice, but Duane was a true virtuoso. Like many artists, some of their best work was never popular enough to get on the radio. If you want to hear a totally awesome song featuring Duane on lead guitar, listen to the brief (truncated by me) live performance in a small club MP3 I am providing on this missive. Listen to the incredible subtlety and the touch that made Duane a legend.

The end of an era. A complex life well lived, all factors considered.

It’s difficult to find a good video of the original Allman Bros band in 1970. Try this one from the Fillmore East in 1970.

Also, this one:

Originally and masterfully performed by Sam Cook in 1964, a classic. It’s beautiful, listen to it here:

And BTW, a fascinating biography of Bill Graham and the Fillmores is here at:

David Crippen, MD, FCCM
Professor Emeritus
University of Pittsburgh (Ret)

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