On a calm and cloudy Saturday over Memorial Day Weekend, I got word that Gregg Allman, founding member of The Allman Brothers Band, had died from complications from liver cancer at the age of 69. I barely even reacted. Southern Rock’s pioneer had left us, and I simply didn’t want it to be true.
There were a lot of things that set the Allman Brothers apart. I’d call it some kind of magic, but one can also look at their 3 platinum records, 9 Grammy nominations, a Lifetime Achievement Award, and a solo win for Gregg with his Best Rock Instrumental Performance for the band’s live recording of “Jessica”; multiple lead guitar players, two drummers; and one hell of a devoted fan base.
The band also endured multiple tragedies. Duane Allman, Gregg’s brother, died only 2 years after the band formed in a motorcycle accident. Shortly thereafter bassist Berry Oakley also died in a motorcycle accident. Earlier this year, founding member and drummer Butch Trucks committed suicide. Needless to say, they’d all been through a lot. And now Gregg.
Derek Trucks, Butch’s nephew and one of the Allmans’ guitarists, commented in an interview with Rolling Stone “Duane was obviously a messiah figure for those guys. And when he died, it left such a massive hole. They kept the idealist part of the music alive the whole way. But that’s part of the beauty and tragedy of that band. The spirit and joy of the music was able to survive.”
I first saw the Allman Brothers when I was a sophomore in high school during their annual “Beacon Run” every Spring. I was instantly wowed, not only by the music, but by the crowd, the tradition, and the venue, where I actually don’t recall spending any time previously despite having grown up nearby. Oh, and the tie-dye, lots of tie-dye. This was a whole new world to me, and I wanted in. So I continued in the tradition and noodled my way through many a show at the Beacon, until their very last on October 28th, 2014 (some shows had been postponed). That last show went on for 4 hours and included 3 sets, an encore, speeches, flowers thrown onstage, and tears all around (including my own). It was their 238th show at the Beacon, a celebration of 45 years of the Allman Brothers, and an incredible night that I’ll never forget. I feel especially fortunate now to have been there.
Gregg told the crowd, “A few years ago, just a few years ago, I was called to come and meet these guys in Jacksonville, Florida. And it was kinda like, a little stiff in the room until one of them handed me a lyric sheet and said “Sing!” And this was about 3:30 in the afternoon in Jacksonville, Florida, March 26th, 1969. Never did we have any idea that it would come to this. We give you a heartfelt ‘thank you.’ And now we’re gonna end on the first song we ever played, that broke the ice.”