How Gregg Allman Came to Sing

AllmanThe death of Gregg Allman at 69 Saturday brings to four the number of original members of the Allman Brothers Band now gone.

From the earliest recordings in 1970, his big brother Duane Allman (who died in 1971) might have been the star guitarist of the band, but it was Gregg who handled the craggy blues vocals and everything having to do with the Hammond organ. His was a wild life apropos of his wails; of his five or so wives, one was Cher.

While his fortunes were tied to the Allmans, the brightest stars of Southern Rock, who returned for a triumphant second career this century, Allman also toured and recorded a handful of albums of his own, managing a late career hit of his own in “I’m No Angel” in 1987.

Still, he told me in an interview 20 years ago, that he never expected to be a lead singer when he was starting to play music in the 1960s.

“I happen to have, stashed away in a vault I moved from my mother’s house, a tape of me on the third or fourth night I ever sang — it is the most atrocious thing you ever heard,” Allman said in late 1997. “It sounds like Hank Williams trying to sing James Brown after having three molars pulled.”

“But I wanted to sing, because I wanted to stay in the band, because nobody else sang. And I played this guitar, and there was this other guy who didn’t want to sing but could play guitar.”

“It was pretty cutthroat back then,” he went on. “I was either going to sing or hit the bricks. So I started singing.”

He found his place in bands with his older brother originally in the Allman Joys, which became Hourglass, which became the Allman Brothers Band.

“It took me a while,” Allman said of finding his own voice. “I didn’t notice until about two years ago that it was like different, identifiable.

“It sounded kind of generic to me. Every now and then there’d be a lick that tickled my spine. But now, I guess because I’ve kicked them chemicals, I can hear it.”

At the time, he was on his first solo tour in 23 years, with his first solo album in a decade, “Searching for Simplicity,’ and most importantly,

“sober since the first day of this year.’’

In recent years he recorded “Low Country Blues” with T-Born Burnett in 2011 and most recently has put the finishing touches on “Southern Blood” with Don Was that’s still due out this year.

Allman has suffered through health issues in the last decade. He was diagnosed with hepatitis C (from a dirty tattoo needle) in 2007; he got a liver transplant in 2010. The cause of death was given as heart attack. He was set to start a new tour next Saturday in Macon.


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