Tuesday, December 12, 2017
Tampa Bay Music & Shows

Fans in Florida and beyond won't forget Gregg Allman

The end can come quickly for those who live fast and live hard, who create worlds with their talent and sometimes come close to throwing them away.

Gregg Allman was a hard-living singer, songwriter, organist and leader of one of the iconic Florida music groups, the Allman Brothers Band. He married often, he drank even more, outlived many of his peers and, along the way, helped give birth to the genre of Southern rock.

After years of fluctuating health, including many canceled gigs, Allman died Saturday at age 69. Media reports said it was from complications of liver cancer; a statement from the band said he died "peacefully at his home" in Savannah, Ga. He is the second member of the Allman Brothers band to die in 2017; drummer Butch Trucks died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound in January.

Allman was a onetime Tampa Bay-area resident, living in Anna Maria Island for about six years.

"I was gone all the time," he told the Tampa Bay Times in 2013. "I'd do a lot of fishing, I'd ride my motorcycles a lot. I have the usual fun that everybody else does."

But Florida coursed throughout Allman's veins. He was most closely associated with Daytona Beach, where he grew up after being born in Nashville; Jacksonville, the city where the Allmans got their start; and in recent years, Live Oak, where he was a partner and frequent headliner in the massive jam-band festival known as Wanee.

He and late brother Duane created the Allman Brothers Band, and like fellow Jacksonvillians Lynyrd Skynyrd, they cultivated a rowdy, raucous style of guitar-driven rock, laced with traces of jazz, soul and high-octane country. This new Southern sound was influential to the likes of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, ZZ Top and an entire generation of jam-banders like Phish and Widespread Panic.

Early albums like Eat a Peach and At Fillmore East defined Southern rock as we know it, as did songs like Midnight Rider, Ramblin' Man and Whipping Post. The sound — Duane's searing slide, Gregg's hazy Hammond B-3, and a band as sprawling as the harmonious jams they relished — shook arenas from coast to coast, yet left a smoke trail that always led back to the deep, winding roads of the deep south.

For his part, Allman never liked that his music was defined purely by geography. To his ears, all rock was Southern rock.

"The way I see it, there are four original basic kings of original rock 'n' roll — and don't confuse that with the crap you hear now," he said in 2013. "Jerry Lee Lewis from Ferriday, La. Little Richard Penniman from Macon, Ga. Elvis Aaron Presley from Tupelo, Miss. I believe that's as South as you can get. And of course there's one on the borderline, St. Louis, and that's Chuck Berry. That's just the way I see it, and it's just my opinion, but it's rock rock, you know? This s- - - was born down in the South, because it stemmed off of the blues."

Nothing about Allman's life came easy. Gregg and Duane's father was shot to death during a robbery; they were raised by their mother. Duane, one of the all-time rock gods, died in a motorcycle accident in 1971. Allman Brothers Band bassist Berry Oakley was killed in another motorcycle crash the next year.

Even more recently, a movie about Allman's life was halted during production when a train accident resulted in several injuries and the death of one crew member. So distraught was Allman over the tragedy that he sued to prevent the film from ever being made. The case was settled out of court.

But when he lived, oh, did Allman live. From the time he rose to fame, the lanky, flaxen-haired singer was one of rock 'n' roll's premiere male pinups, and he played the part to perfection, drinking, drugging and carousing with abandon. He was married seven times, including, famously, to Cher, and spawned a generation of musicians — sons Devon and Elijah and daughter Layla all went into the family business, as did his estranged son Michael in Pasco County.

After years of squabbles, lineup changes and breaks from the road, the Allman Brothers Band reformed in 1989 and played consistently, delivering their final shows at the Beacon Theatre in New York in 2014. During those years, the Allmans found a new, younger fan base and a resurgence in critical acclaim, entering the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995 and winning their first Grammy a year later. Cameron Crowe's 2000 film Almost Famous, a take on '70s arena rock based largely on his experience covering the Allmans for Rolling Stone, won an Oscar.

The group released nearly a dozen studio albums, but their legacy is really in live shows, which some jam fans and tape traders cherished as much as the Grateful Dead's.

During all this time, Allman also continued to play solo, as he had since the '70s — in 1987 he scored a n unexpected hit with I'm No Angel — but after the Allmans broke up, his days as a headliner were numbered. He had been diagnosed with hepatitis C in 2007 and underwent a liver transplant in 2012.

Last fall, he was to headline the Clearwater Jazz Holiday, but canceled because of illness. In March, he canceled all of his gigs in 2017. In April, it was reported he'd entered hospice, though he assured fans he was resting at home in Savannah Ga., and that he was "looking forward to seeing everyone again."

How could he not be optimistic? Allman had come through so much turmoil and hardship and illness and impossible obstacles, time after time after time. He lived life hard. He pushed through it even harder. It shined through in his music. Fans in Florida and beyond won't forget it, no matter how long the songs ramble on.

Contact Jay Cridlin at [email protected] Follow @JayCridlin.

     
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