Southern rock music star Gregg Allman dead at 69

May 27 (Reuters) - Gregg Allman, whose soulful vocals made the Allman Brothers Band one of rock's top acts in the 1970s with songs such as "Whipping Post," in a career also marred by tragedy and drug abuse, died on Saturday at the age of 69, his official website said.

"It is with deep sadness that we announce that Gregg Allman, a founding member of The Allman Brothers Band, passed away peacefully at his home in Savannah, Georgia," it said.

Drummer Butch Trucks, another founding member of the band, died aged 60 on Jan. 24.

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Gregg Allman poses during 10th annual "Classic Rock Roll of Honour" awards in Los Angeles, California November 4, 2014. REUTERS/Kevork Djansezian (UNITED STATES - Tags: ENTERTAINMENT)
Musician Gregg Allman performs during the "Love for Levon" charity event at the Izod Center in East Rutherford, New Jersey October 3, 2012. Levon Helms, drummer and frequent lead and backing vocalist for The Band, died of cancer April 17, 2012. Proceeds from the sales of tickets will be used by Helm's estate to maintain ownership of the Levon Helm Studios in Woodstock, New York, where Helm in 2004 launched his Midnight Ramble house concerts, according to the concert's press release. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton (UNITED STATES - Tags: ENTERTAINMENT)
Cablevision Systems Inc. and Madison Square Garden Inc. Chairman James Dolan poses with members of The Allman Brothers Band, Gregg Allman (2nd from L), Jaimoe (C) and Butch Trucks (R) at a news conference to announce a concert run by the band at New York's Beacon Theatre November 22, 2010. The eight concerts will run from March 10 through March 19, 2011. REUTERS/Mike Segar (UNITED STATES - Tags: ENTERTAINMENT BUSINESS)
Gregg Allman performs during the 2007 "Farm Aid" concert in New York September 9, 2007. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson (UNITED STATES)
Singer Gregg Allman arrives at the 54th annual BMI Pop Awards held at the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills, California May 16, 2006. REUTERS/Phil McCarten
Gregg Allman (R) of the Allman Brothers Band poses with band drummer Jaimoe after they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in ceremonies in New York January 12
Gregg Allman performs with Willie Nelson (R) during the 2007 "Farm Aid" concert in New York September 9, 2007. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson (UNITED STATES)
Musician Gregg Allman of The Allman Brothers Band attends a news conference to announce a concert run by his band at New York's Beacon Theatre November 22, 2010. The eight concerts will run from March 10 through March 19, 2011. REUTERS/Mike Segar (UNITED STATES - Tags: ENTERTAINMENT HEADSHOT)
WANTAGH, NY - JULY 23: Gregg Allman performs onstage at the 2016 Laid Back Fest at Nikon at Jones Beach Theater on July 23, 2016 in Wantagh, New York. (Photo by Joel Fried/Getty Images)
WANTAGH, NY - JULY 23: Gregg Allman performs onstage at the 2016 Laid Back Fest at Nikon at Jones Beach Theater on July 23, 2016 in Wantagh, New York. (Photo by Joel Fried/Getty Images)
MIAMI BEACH, FL - FEBRUARY 27: Gregg Allman performs at Meatopia Presented By Creekstone Farms Sponsored By Thrillist Hosted By Michael Symon during 2016 Food Network & Cooking Channel South Beach Wine & Food Festival Presented By FOOD & WINE at Beachside at Delano on February 27, 2016 in Miami Beach, Florida. (Photo by Alexander Tamargo/Getty Images for SOBEWFF�)
MIAMI BEACH, FL - FEBRUARY 27: (L-R) Chef Michael Symon, Musician Gregg Allman and Reverend Run attend the MasterCard Priceless� Preview - Meatopia Presented By Creekstone Farms Sponsored By Thrillist Hosted By Michael Symon during 2016 Food Network & Cooking Channel South Beach Wine & Food Festival Presented By FOOD & WINE at Beachside at Delano on February 27, 2016 in Miami Beach, Florida. (Photo by Neilson Barnard/Getty Images for SOBEWFF�)
NASHVILLE, TN - DECEMBER 11: (Back L-R) Philip Sweet and Jimi Westbrook of Little Big Town, recording artist Chris Stapleton, and musician Taj Mahal, (Front L-R) Karen Fairchild of Little Big Town, Singer Songwriter Gregg Allman, and Kimberly Schlapman of Little Big Town during the Skyville Live & USA TODAY Presents A Salute to Gregg Allman event on December 11, 2015 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Rick Diamond/Getty Images for Skyville)
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The Allman Brothers Band was started in Macon, Georgia, in the late 1960s by Gregg and older brother Duane, who became the band's guiding force and one of rock's most revered guitarists before he was killed in a motorcycle accident at age 24. In its heyday, the band was a staple on radio stations and released albums ranked among the best in rock history.

Gregg was the band's lead singer, keyboardist and a key songwriter as it put out a string of hits. He wrote several of them - "It's Not My Cross to Bear," "Midnight Rider," "Ain't Wastin' Time No More" and "Melissa" - while others were renditions of old blues songs, including "One Way Out" and "Statesboro Blues."

The band was an early progenitor of what became known as Southern rock. In addition to blues, the band also was known for its crystal guitar harmonies between Duane and Dickey Betts, jazz influences and a free-wheeling approach that sometimes led to 20-minute songs. Rising above it all was Gregg's voice.

"My southern-rock heart is breaking," music star Melissa Etheridge said on her Twitter feed.

Country music great Charlie Daniels said on Twitter: "Gregg Allman had a feeling for the blues very few ever have, hard to believe that magnificent voice is stilled forever."

$20 GUITAR

Gregg and Duane spent their early childhood in their birthplace, Nashville, Tennessee, listening to a blues radio station. After their father was killed by a hitchhiker, their mother moved them to Daytona Beach, Florida.

The brothers showed little interest in school but were passionate about music and often fought over the $20 guitar that Gregg had bought at Sears.

"Duane and I caught it like an illness," Gregg told Southern Living magazine. "We didn't eat, we didn't sleep, we didn't think about anything except music."

As teenagers, they began playing a series of bands, including racially integrated ones, a rarity at the time in the South. When they first went on the road in 1965 with a band named the Allman Joys, the name was borrowed from a popular candy bar called Almond Joy.

After unfulfilling experiences with the music industry in Los Angeles, Gregg and Duane ended up in Macon, Georgia - hometown of Little Richard and Otis Redding - in 1969 and brought together the Allman Brothers Band.

They were a scruffy-looking, denim-clad assemblage and Gregg stood out with his long golden-blond hair. The band members developed a family-style relationship, bonding while hanging out at Macon's Rose Hill cemetery, with Duane in what Gregg said was the father role.

The band's first three albums - including "At Fillmore East," considered a ground-breaking live recording at the time - made them stars, but shortly after that, Duane had his fatal motorcycle crash in Macon in 1971.

The rest of the band was stricken but carried on and put out another well-regarded album, "Eat a Peach." Then 13 months after Duane's death, bassist Berry Oakley was killed in a similar motorcycle accident only a few blocks from where Duane had been killed. They were buried next to each other in Rose Hill.

COCAINE ON A BAR

The band carried on but fell into the trap of rock star excess. Drugs became so prevalent that the first time they entered their new private plane, they were greeted by the words "Welcome Allman Brothers" spelled out in cocaine on the bar, Gregg wrote in his memoir, "My Cross to Bear."

By the mid-'70s the cloud over the band grew darker as Gregg became a heroin addict and Betts assumed leadership. When Allman's valet, Scooter Herring, was arrested for drug dealing in 1976, Allman, then married to singer-actress Cher, accepted immunity and testified to a grand jury against the man who acquired drugs for him.

What had once been a familial group split up over what was seen as Allman's betrayal. He would go on to a solo career, as well as taking part in reformations of the Allman Brothers before bringing down the curtain on the group in 2014 with a four-hour show in New York that included original members Butch Trucks and Jai Johanny Johanson.

The band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995 but Allman said in his book that he was too drunk to enjoy it.



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