Childhood & Early Life
Gregory LeNoir Allman was born on December 8, 1947 in Nashville, Tennessee, to Geraldine Robbins Allman and Willis Turner Allman, a couple who first met each other during the World War II in Raleigh. He had one older brother.
His father, Willis Turner Allman, a former U.S. Army veteran, gave a hitchhiker a ride home and was shot and killed on December 26, 1949. Allman’s mother, Geraldine, moved with him and his brother to Nashville and raised them alone. While in Nashville, he was introduced to music by his grandmother’s mentally handicapped neighbor, Jimmy Banes.
His mother decided to study further and enrolled at a college to become a Certified Public Accountant. According to the rules at that time, she had to live on-campus. Thus, Allman and his brother had to be sent to Castle Heights Military Academy. Allman later realized that his mother had sacrificed so much in order to raise him and his brother single-handedly.
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Gregg Allman worked as a paperboy during his teenage days to buy a Silverstone guitar after he was influenced by Jimmy Banes. He eventually bought one and started learning. He and his brother joined a Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) group named ‘Y Teens’ and began practicing together.
The Allman brothers met Floyd Miles, an American blues guitarist, and the three began jamming together. Their music was heavily influenced by the R&B and blues genres. The three young musicians were inspired by artists like McKinley Morganfield aka Muddy Waters.
The two Allman brothers eventually moved to Macon, Georgia, and formed a group with Dickey Betts, Berry Oakley, Jaimoe, and Butch Trucks. They would spend their time in Rose Hill Cemetery jamming together and using psychedelic drugs. The band thus formed eventually evolved into The Allman Brothers Band.
The band’s eponymous first album, released in 1969, didn’t receive a good response and this forced the musicians to tour and perform in concerts in the ensuing years. These performances earned them a healthy fan following.
Despite acquiring a loyal fan following, the band again failed to enjoy commercial success with their second album ‘Idlewild South.’ Their fortunes finally changed in 1971 when they decided to release a live album.
Their first live album ‘At Fillmore East’ was released in July 1971 and it was certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America. It peaked at number thirteen on the Billboard 200.
Their success, however, brought along with it numerous other issues. Unable to handle their rising fame and the growing pressure from their fans to deliver another hit, the band members developed a heavy drinking habit that was exacerbated by drug abuse.
On October 29, 1971, Duane Allman died in a motorbike accident in Macon. Gregg was shattered by his brother’s death and the other band members too took a lot of time to recover from the tragedy. All this while, their first live album was still gaining popularity.
Several months later, the band got together and released their third studio album which was also part live. The album, ‘Eat a Peach’, was released in April 1972 under the label Capricorn. It was certified platinum by RIAA and peaked at number four on Billboard's albums chart.
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Band member Berry Oakley could never recover from Duane’s death, and incidentally, he too was killed in a motor crash in 1972. The band recruited two people after Oakley’s death: Lamar Williams on bass and Chuck Leavell on piano.
The restructured band released their fourth album ‘Brothers and Sisters’ in August 1973. It topped the Billboard 200 albums chart was certified platinum by the RIAA. The album established ‘The Allman Brothers Band’ as one of the biggest rock bands of the 1970s.
Despite their rising popularity, the band members began fighting continuously among themselves. Gregg Allman’s decision to begin working on his solo album greatly contributed to the tensions within the band. Their next studio album, ‘Win, Lose or Draw’, did not perform as well as their previous ones.
In the mid-1970s, Allman received much attention owing to his relationship with the singer Cher and their subsequent marriage. Their marriage brought them together on the stage too. The couple released a collaborative album named ‘Two the Hard Way’. The album was a major failure. The couple went on a tour to promote the album but even that did not help popularize it.
The failure of their collaborative efforts and the ego clashes between the two musicians put their marriage under great stress. Their relationship deteriorated in the ensuing months and the couple divorced in 1978. After his divorce from Cher, Allman returned to Daytona Beach and started jamming with the blues band ‘the Nighthawks’.
Over the next decades, he struggled with heavy alcohol abuse. Despite this, he continued to release albums frequently. In the 1980s, he released ‘I'm No Angel’ (1987) and ‘Just Before the Bullets Fly’ (1988).
After maintaining a low profile in the 1990s and the 2000s, he returned to his previous glory with a bang in 2011 with his album ‘Low Country Blues.’ It reached No. 1 on the Top Blues Albums chart and was also nominated for the Grammy Award for Best Blues Album in 2011. It was the last album to be released during his lifetime.
Gregg Allman married seven times in his lifetime. His first marriage was with Shelley Kay Jefts in 1971. They divorced a year later and Allman married Janice Blair in 1973; this marriage too lasted a year.
His next marriage was with pop star Cher in 1975; together they had a son named Elijah Blue Allman. The marriage ended in 1978 and Allman married Julie Bindas in 1979. This union lasted about a year and a half. After a few years, he married Danielle Galliano in 1989. The couple split up with a divorce in 1994.
He married Stacey Fountain in 2001. This marriage lasted seven years—his longest one—before the couple ended it with a divorce in 2008. Allman married Shannon Williams in 2017 and they remained together till his death.
Years of drug addiction and alcohol abuse took a toll on Allman’s health. He suffered from various problems, including hepatitis C and atrial fibrillation. He also suffered from liver cancer.
On May 27, 2017, Gregg Allman died of complications caused by his liver cancer at his residence in Richmond Hill, Georgia. His funeral was held in Macon on June 3 and was attended by his friends and ex-wife Cher.