In the fi­nal year of his life, Gregg All­man did what he loved most

IN THE FI­NAL YEAR OF HIS LIFE, THE SOUTH­ERN ROCK LEG­END DID WHAT HE LOVED MOST: HE PLAYED

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IN 2012, Gregg All­man learned that he had a re­cur­rence of liver can­cer. The news was bleak: The disease was ter­mi­nal. He was told he had 12 to 18 months to live. All­man’s best friend of nearly 50 years, Chank Mid­dle­ton, was puz­zled by All­man’s re­ac­tion. “Gregg didn’t com­plain,” he says. “He didn’t worry. If they had told me that, I would’ve gone into straight shock.”

In­stead, All­man, who founded the All­man Broth­ers Band in 1969 with his brother, Duane, reded­i­cated him­self to what he loved most. “Mu­sic was his life,” says Mid­dle­ton. “It never was about the money. It was al­ways about the mu­sic.” That’s why, when faced with the op­tion of ra­di­a­tion treat­ment, All­man said no. It might have af­fected his vo­cal cords, and there didn’t seem much point in ex­tend­ing his life if he couldn’t sing.

All­man, who died on May 27, out­lived that ini­tial prog­no­sis by five years, enough time to make a fi­nal al­bum. South­ern Blood, re­leased Septem­ber 8, is spir­ited, of­ten mov­ing and rooted in the South­ern rock—a fu­sion of rock, blues, jazz and coun­try—that he and Duane helped pi­o­neer, a sound im­mor­tal­ized on their al­bums Eat a Peach and Broth­ers and Sis­ters. The

new al­bum was recorded at FAME Stu­dios, in Mus­cle Shoals, Alabama, a place that re­minded All­man of his older brother. In the late ’60s, Duane was the pri­mary ses­sion gui­tarist there, record­ing with, among oth­ers, Aretha Franklin, King Cur­tis and Wil­son Pick­ett. (Duane taught “Hey Jude” to Pick­ett, and they recorded it to­gether in 1968.)

South­ern Blood is all cov­ers, ex­cept for one orig­i­nal song by All­man, with Don Was, of Was (Not Was) fame, serv­ing as pro­ducer. The ses­sions, which lasted just a lit­tle more than a week, were a joy­ful af­fair, says Mid­dle­ton, who was con­stantly by All­man’s side. The two be­came close friends in 1969, the year the All­man Broth­ers Band formed. By that time, they had set­tled in Ma­con, Ge­or­gia, to be closer to Capri­corn Records, and Mid­dle­ton was work­ing at a bar­ber­shop next door to the studo. Re­call­ing the broth­ers, he says with his deep Ge­or­gian drawl, “When they go into the stu­dio, they were dogs, all them tails would be wag­gin’.” Mid­dle­ton would go on to be­come, ac­cord­ing to a 2013 pro­file, an All­man “muse, cri­sis re­spon­der, aide-de-camp, valet, wing­man and con­fi­dante.”

Was learned of All­man’s health prob­lems while par­tic­i­pat­ing in a 2014 tribute con­cert in the rocker’s honor. Af­ter over­hear­ing a con­ver­sa­tion that wasn’t in­tended for him, “I got a sense of how se­ri­ous his ill­ness was,” he says. “When we started the record, I was aware that he prob­a­bly wouldn’t be around to do th­ese kinds of [pro­mo­tional] in­ter­views.”

Was re­calls the record­ing process. “It’s weird, man. There was a lot of du­al­ity to it. Clearly, we were do­ing some­thing im­por­tant that had over­tones of grav­i­tas—and a kind of somber [mood]. Even if he’d lived another 20 years, he was very fo­cused on get­ting that sound, and the group of songs that we’d set­tled on was mak­ing the state­ment that he wanted to make as a farewell. But at the same time,” Was adds, “we had a great time mak­ing the record. He was very up­beat.”

Among the high­lights are a gor­geous cover of Bob Dy­lan’s “Go­ing, Go­ing, Gone” and a cathar­tic “My Only True Friend,” an ode to life on the road, co-writ­ten by All­man and gui­tarist Scott Shar­rard. “You and I both know this river will surely flow to an end/keep me in your heart and keep your soul on the mend,” All­man sings, a line that re­calls War­ren Zevon’s wrench­ing farewell bal­lad “Keep Me in Your Heart.” Then, as the acous­tic chords rise, he sings, “I hope you’re haunted by the mu­sic of my soul when I’m gone.”

The song re­minds Mid­dle­ton of Otis Red­ding’s “(Sit­tin’ on) the Dock of the Bay,” which was also re­leased posthu­mously. “It’s like Gregg saw some­thing we didn’t see at that point,” says Mid­dle­ton, his voice heavy with emo­tion. He re­mem­bers hear­ing it in the stu­dio and be­ing unim­pressed. “That song didn’t reg­is­ter un­til he had passed.”

The al­bum’s fi­nal track, a vul­ner­a­ble ren­di­tion of “Song for Adam” by Jack­son Browne, made the deep­est im­pact on Was. Browne, who duets with All­man on the record­ing, wrote the song in mem­ory of a friend who had died. But All­man sang it with his brother, Duane, in mind.

Browne and Gregg were quasi-room­mates in the late ’60s, crash­ing on the floor of the same house in Los An­ge­les. “Song for Adam” ap­peared on Browne’s 1971 de­but al­bum, re­leased a few months af­ter Duane’s fa­tal mo­tor­cy­cle crash, when he was just 25. “Gregg al­ways loved that song,” Was says. “Once Duane passed away, I think it re­ally re­minded him of his brother. He’d al­ways wanted to record it.” Dur­ing the South­ern Blood ses­sions, All­man had a hard time singing it through. “When we got to the third verse, it seemed like he stopped singing in the middle of the song. You can hear it on the record. Gregg got choked up. It was pretty heavy.”

That si­lence re­mains on the al­bum: All­man’s voice grows hoarse and abruptly trails off. The pro­ducer fig­ured he would even­tu­ally sing those two miss­ing lines. “But that time never came,” Was says. “His health de­te­ri­o­rated shortly af­ter that. Gregg stopped singing in the middle of the song lit­er­ally and fig­u­ra­tively. We just left those two lines open.”

It was the last song recorded. All­man’s ill­ness soon pro­gressed, and he never vis­ited the stu­dio again. Coun­try singer and song­writer Buddy Miller, a friend of All­man’s, was even­tu­ally re­cruited to do the har­mony over­dubs that All­man had in­tended to sing.

“All the way up to the very end of his life, Gregg was not afraid of death,” Mid­dle­ton says. “He sat up on the sofa ev­ery day. He never was bedrid­den. He never com­plained. He never did seek any sym­pa­thy from no­body.”

Speak­ing about the record, All­man told Was, “You know what to do. You got it. I trust you to fin­ish this thing.” He was pleased with the fi­nal mixes he heard, some of them on May 26, the night be­fore he died. “Me, him and [his wife], we sat up un­til 3:30, 4 in the morn­ing lis­ten­ing to some cuts,” says Mid­dle­ton. “We lis­tened to ‘Song for Adam’ about three times. He was so proud of it.” All­man was 69 when he died; he’d out­lived his friend Butch Trucks, the orig­i­nal drum­mer for The All­man Broth­ers, by four months.

Mid­dle­ton misses his friend, and he misses the mu­sic. “To me, los­ing Gregg is one thing. Los­ing his mu­sic is twice the hit.”

MID­NIGHT RID­ERS: All­man with pro­ducer Don Was, left, and with his old friend Jack­son Browne, be­low, record­ing “Song for Adam.”

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