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Sunday, May 28, 2017

Gregg Allman

Upon hearing of the death of Gregg Allman yesterday, my mind flashed back to when I first heard his music.

I was in high school, and The Allman Brothers Band's "Ramblin' Man" was suddenly everywhere on the radio. I went out and bought the album, "Brothers and Sisters," and listened to it over and over, discovering that the single had been written and sung by Dickey Betts, but other tracks featured the growly, bluesy voice that belonged to Gregg. I saved up some money so I could buy two other Allman Brothers albums, "Eat A Peach" and "Live at the Fillmore East." The latter blew me away with its extended jams -- I had never heard a non-classical piece as long as their live version of "Whipping Post" -- and through it all, there was the sound of Gregg's Hammond organ and raspy vocals.

By the time I started my commercial radio career a few years later, other Southern Rock bands had started achieving success, too, from Charlie Daniels to Marshall Tucker to Lynyrd Skynyrd. Like the Allman Brothers, they all got tons of play on album-oriented-rock stations, but to my ear, Gregg's band always seemed head and shoulders above the rest.

In April, 1979, I finally got a chance to see the Allman Brothers live. It was at the Palladium in New York City, on a night when Delbert McClinton opened the show, and John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd showed up in full Blues Brothers attire and sang "Hey, Bartender" with the band. The concert remains one of the best I've ever seen, so I asked Gregg about it when he guested on my radio show in 1997 (click here to read the full transcript of that conversation, complete with the revelation that he'd wanted to be a dental surgeon when he was young).

I had a few other opportunities to talk with Gregg over the years and discuss his early days (when his band was called The Allman Joys), the death of his brother Duane, his alcoholism, and his 4-year marriage to Cher. I was always baffled by that connection. It seemed as odd as Audra McDonald marrying Snoop Dogg, or Gene Simmons marrying Anne Murray, or Joan Jett marrying Michael Bolton. Of course, his personal life was none of my business, but I was disappointed by his professional output during those years, including the couple's album "Two The Hard Way," still considered the dregs of both of their careers.

Today, I'm pushing the lowlights of his life out of the way to remember Gregg Allman's highlights and the great music he leaves behind. Time to go listen to "Live At The Fillmore East" again.

Previously on Harris Online...