American music pioneer Gregg Allman died May 27, nearly 46 years after the death of his brother Duane, with whom he founded the legendary The Allman Brothers Band.
Gregg was the fourth member of the band to die, but the first of natural causes—though his past lifestyle certainly contributed to those causes.
I say American music pioneer because categorizing him in blues, rock, or especially Southern rock is pointless. Allman’s influence goes far beyond Lynyrd Skynyrd and Phish.
The Allman Brothers was made up of only one Allman brother, Gregg, far longer than not, and the group has re-created itself and been reborn at least twice, and very successfully.
But without Gregg, do I want to see something called The Allman Brothers Band touring in the future? Not without that whiskey-drenched, lived-in bluesy VOICE (and no, not even if Derek Trucks comes back to team with Warren Haynes).
Here’s the best I could do at paring the amazing catalog down to a baker’s dozen of songs. I thought about only going with songs where Gregg sang the lead, but then decided that doing so would downgrade his fantastic organ skills on the other songs.
So, RIP, Gregg Allman. It may be the end of the line, but thanks for letting your soul shine, and I’ll stop wastin’ time and get to the music.
12a. “I’m No Angel”
I had to start with Gregg Allman’s greatest single from the Gregg Allman Band. This is not to say it was his only good effort outside The Allman Brothers Band, but if I’m keeping this list to a baker’s dozen of songs in four decades of work…
This slow-cooker blues number is what Gregg claims on one live album was “the only song I brought with me when I came to the band.” That’s probably not true, but you would join up with a guy just from hearing it, for sure.
11. “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed”
The Allmans’ most recorded instrumental jam, this jazz-influenced number showcases Gregg on the Hammond B3 organ. Originally released on their second studio album, Idlewild South, it was made famous on the epic At Fillmore East. The album An Evening with The Allman Brothers Band: 2nd Set features a truly gorgeous take on the song with Haynes and Betts on only acoustic guitars that fans should not miss.
One of the best songs of the band’s revival after the addition of Warren Haynes in the 1990s (and written by him), “Soulshine” has Gregg in Gospel mode, exhorting the listener to follow his daddy’s advice and “Let your soul shine/ It’s better than Sunshine/ better than Moonshine/ damn sure better than the rain.”
9. “Ramblin’ Man”
The band’s most famous — and popular — single, “Ramblin’ Man” debuted on the Eat a Peach album, which was half-finished at the time of Duane Allman’s tragic motorcycle accident. It gave the band a needed boost at a dark time — and expanded their base into country, at least for the moment.
8. “Back Where It All Begins”
This Dickey Betts-penned tribute to their fan base is perhaps The Allman Brothers’ song of the Warren Haynes years that could most make you think it was recorded with Duane and Dickey. It was also Betts’ last hurrah with the band.
The instrumental jam that you don’t have to like instrumental jams to enjoy. This bouncy, hummable number was written mostly by Betts, and the first instrumental the band released after the death of Duane. The great Chuck Leavell plays the piano, Gregg jams on the organ, and the acoustic guitar is provided admirably by studio musician Les Dudek. A later live version on An Evening with The Allman Brothers: 2nd Set actually won a Grammy in 1996.
6. “Statesboro Blues”
Both epic Allman live double albums begin with this great Blind Willie McTell number. Countless guitar geek articles have been written on Duane’s slide work on this song, and the interplay with Betts. Gregg’s vocal is blues heaven.
Of course, At Filmore East is justifiably in the discussion as the greatest live rock album of all time, but do not overlook One Way Out, a superb collection recorded at the Beacon Theatre and the first time both Warren Haynes and Dickie Betts recorded live together.
5. “Blue Sky”
Try, just try not to smile listening to this song. It was one of the last songs Duane recorded with the band, and the guitar interplay is sheer joy.
This is the best Allman Brothers love ballad—bar none. It was a song that Gregg wrote and sold the rights to before the band was founded. Duane loved the song and urged Gregg to get it back and record it, calling it his best. He finally did, but three months after Duane was gone.
3. “Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More”
This song was half-completed at the time of Duane’s death and was originally directed to soldiers returning from Vietnam. It took on a new meaning (and some tweaked lyrics) for Gregg after the death of his brother. Yet another classic on Eat a Peach.
2. “Midnight Rider”
This is the song most likely to get the audience singing along at an Allman Brothers concert. At one show I saw, the band abruptly stopped in the middle of an all acoustic version and the crowd sung on for at least a minute. “You don’t even need us,” Gregg laughed.
1. “Whipping Post”
This song is in the running for best blues rock song of all time—and you can listen to it in almost any length that suits you, from the 5-minute studio version on their debut album, to the epic 22-minute jam on At Fillmore East. Of the others, the best is probably the 9-minute-ish take on One Way Out, but of course, all love to Warren Haynes, he’s not Duane Allman.
Gregg recorded the song on a solo album, Searching for Simplicity, in a jazzier groove also. This epic jam set the standard for such things—and calls for it begin about four songs into an Allman Brothers show (and as a joke at other rock concerts too).
I know it’s long, but just once—or once again—enjoy the full At the Fillmore East jam.