Gregg Allman, the pioneering blues rock musician and songwriter who co-founded The Allman Brothers Band, has died at the age of 69. No cause of death has been confirmed, but a statement on the singer’s website said that he’d “struggled with many health issues over the past several years.”
Allman rose to prominence with The Allman Brothers Band in the early 1970s alongside his older brother, Duane. Formed in 1965, the band cut their self-titled debut in 1969 before breaking into the mainstream with a freewheeling blend of southern rock, blues, and R&B. They developed a reputation as a captivating live act with a relentless tour schedule, playing over 300 shows in 1970 in support of their second LP, Idlewild South. The record was not an immediate commercial success, but the release of At The Fillmore East in 1971 proved to be the band’s breakthrough.
Their blend of styles coincided with the rise of southern rock at the time. But early tracks like “Whipping Post”, “Don’t Keep Me Wondering,” and “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” demonstrated a unique fusion, propelled by Duane’s improvisational gifts as a guitarist and Gregg’s versatile keyboard style.
The band was marked by tragedy almost from its outset, however. Duane was killed in a motorcycle accident in 1971 at the age of 24. The band resolved to continue in the wake of the elder Allman’s death, returning to the road and releasing Eat a Peach in 1972. Soon after, however—almost precisely a year on from Duane’s death—Berry Oakley, the band’s bassist, died in another motorcycle accident.
By 1974, the band was selling out arena tours and experiencing remarkable critical and commercial successes—their fourth LP, Brothers and Sisters, became their third platinum album—but heroin addiction had begun to afflict the members and their relationships were strained. Allman was mostly living in Los Angeles—and dating Cher—during the sessions for 1975’s Win, Lose, or Draw and the album flopped. The band broke up later that year before Allman married Cher and settled in Hollywood. The couple’s son, Elijah Blue Allman, was born in 1976. Allman and Cher recorded a solo album—1976’s much-derided Two the Hard Way—but the pressure of tabloid interest took its toll. The two divorced in 1978.
The Allman Brothers Band reformed in 1978, but broke up again in 1982. Allman’s dependence on alcohol was at its worst point in the early 1980s and, after moving to Florida, he began to lose control. “There’s that fear of everybody forgetting about you,” he wrote of that period in his autobiography. He reformed his own Gregg Allman Band and toured the country, but couldn’t find his form musically; alcohol continued to play a role.
The Allman Brothers Band reformed again in 1989 for its 20th anniversary, just as the jam music that Allman had helped to inspire was making a resurgence. The band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995 and, after watching the induction back and seeing how inebriated he was onstage, Allman stopped drinking for good.
He was plagued by health concerns in his later years—he was diagnosed hepatitis C in 1999 and received a liver transplant in 2010. But he continued to record and tour, most notably releasing the T Bone Burnett-produced Low Country Blues in 2011, a more traditional, roots-filled record.
Cher appeared to respond the news of Allman’s death on Twitter this afternoon. “I’ve tried,” she wrote. “Words fail me.”
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