For Gregg Allman, Touring and Live Performance Was the "Medicine He Needed"

Gregg Allman Annenberg - H 2014
Donato Sardella/Getty Images for Annenberg Foundation/Courtesy of Annenberg

Gregg Allman Annenberg - H 2014

Allman had ambitious touring plans for 2017, but health problems forced him to cancel the tour.

Southern rock pioneer Gregg Allman, who died Saturday due to complications from liver cancer at age 69, was as gifted as he was unpredictable, leading a life marked by band shakeups, breakups and short-lived marriages. Despite his roller-coaster lifestyle, Allman found sanctity performing for others and his affection for touring was one of the most consistent parts of his life.

Allman and The Allman Brothers Band were most famous for their long-running residency at the Beacon Theatre in New York, performing a dozen-plus shows for diehard fans who scheduled weddings, child births and huge reunions at the venue, which held the entire month of March for the group.

But even after the band went on hiatus in 2014, Allman continued to play special engagements, including an annual residency show in the band's hometown of Macon, Ga., at the Grand Opera House and the Laid Back Festival, which will continue on in 2017.

Allman had ambitious touring plans for 2017, but health problems forced him to cancel the tour late last year, explained agent CJ Strock with WME, who said Allman's death came as a surprise.

"2018 was supposed to be the year he got back in the saddle," explained Strock, who represented Allman since 2000. "We had a bunch of shows planned for 2017 including five more sold-out shows in Macon, but we made a decision in the fall [of 2016] and pulled the plug on 2017 to give him time to recuperate without any commitments."

Strock said Allman fought the cancelations "kicking and screaming." "That was not a conversation any of us enjoyed," he said, adding, "He lives to play music for his fans, and would always say that was the medicine he needed. He wanted to be on the road at all costs, and it was eye-opening for him not to be able to do that."

Allman began touring in 1969 with brother Duane and their eponymous band, playing venues like the Boston Tea Party and Bill Graham's Fillmore East. The band toured the country relentlessly in a Winnebago, often fighting greedy club owners who shorted the band on their promised guarantee.

On April 29, 1970, tour manager Twiggs Lyndon learned that the owner of a Buffalo nightclub, Angelo Aliotta, was trying to short the band $500 (on what had been a $1,000 fee). Lyndon tracked Aliotta down at the club, stabbed him with a 10-inch knife, killing him, and told shocked onlookers, “I stuck him,” and “I don’t care if I get the electric chair. I proved a point.”

Lyndon was arrested and pled temporary insanity, arguing the rock 'n roll lifestyle was to blame for his brief amphetamine-fueled psychosis. The judge agreed, and after 18 months in jail, and six months in a psych ward, Lyndon was back on the road with the band in 1970.

The death of two of the band's founding members — Duane Allman in 1971 and Berry Oakley in 1972 — came as the band was starting to become global superstars. They played with the Grateful Dead at RFK Stadium in 1973 and were making $100,000 per show by 1974, renting out the Starship, a customized Boeing 720B used by Led Zeppelin and The Rolling Stones.

The band toured and partied hard for two more years, playing 41 shows between 1975 and 1976, including a large benefit concert for presidential candidate Jimmy Carter. The band hit a breaking point during a 1976 drug trial when Allman opted to testify against the band's head of security, resulting in a 75-year sentence for cocaine distribution that was later reduced by a presidential pardon from Carter.

The rest of the 1970s and '80s were marked by a number of reunions and breakups, and by the early 1990s, the band was back together and launched their first New York "rite of spring" shows at the Beacon Theatre in 1992, performing 10 concerts in the month of March and launching an annual tradition that would hold until their final show together Oct. 28, 2014.

"The band never issued a press release and we never advertised the concerts as the final shows," explained Strock, who said he was "a true believer in being optimistic" that the band would play together again. 

In his final years, Allman had established the Laid Back Festival, a touring show aimed at an older audience that wanted to spend a day listening to music but didn't want the hassles of walking around a festival site. Laid Back Festival was co-created with Live Nation at New York's Nikon at Jones Beach Theater and included performances by Allman, The Doobie Brothers, Bruce Hornsby & the Noisemakers, Jaimoe's Jasssz Band and City of the Sun.

The festival expanded to five cities in 2016 — New York, Atlanta, Chicago, Nashville and Denver's iconic Red Rocks amphitheater — and will return in 2017 with special guests filling in for Allman, including Lynyrd Skynyrd, Sheryl Crow, Jackson Browne and Steve Winwood.

Allman was also planning a number of residency shows in both Macon and at City Winery in New York, which after a brief run in 2016 had to be rescheduled to 2017.

That final decision to cancel the remainder of the 2016 and 2017 shows weighed heavily on Allman, who often told friends touring was "medicine for my soul."

“Not making a show is a really hard decision for me because I want to play so bad, but it's also hard on my partners and fans who make plans to be with me," Allman said in an announcement for the 2016 cancelations. "I never want to put anybody in a bad spot. I'm so grateful for the people that I work with and for the fans that come to my shows and I want to be at my best for all of them. That means I'm going to have to wait until I'm feeling really good, not just good enough like I have been. Good enough isn’t working for us all."

This story originally appeared on Billboard.