For a man so adored by generations of fans, Gregg Allman could be a pretty private guy. When he was diagnosed with liver cancer, he didn’t make a big public issue of it. He told a few close family members and friends. Then he went right on making music.
But the music he was making did change, at least in message. Those friends said the tracks he laid down back in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, the last of his career recorded where his career began, were a farewell of sorts. Gregg, they said, wanted to resolve some issues, reveal himself and fix some things not healed by time.
Don Was, who produced Southern Blood, the album that will be released in September, put it this way: “It really captures who Gregg is… I think there was a tacit understanding that this album was an attempt to tie up the loose ends of his life.”
Those who recorded with Allman had to know something wasn’t quite right. Those sessions were reportedly fast, songs – no more than two a day – recorded live to be mixed and fixed later. Allman included one song he co-wrote, the first track on the album, called “My Only True Friend.” Reviewers have called it an aching tribute. The co-composer, Scott Sharrard, said the idea for the song came from a dream he had where Gregg was communicating with his brother Duane, who was killed in a motorcycle accident back in October of 1971. When he shared what he wrote with Gregg, Sharrard didn’t say where the idea came from, but he believes Gregg Allman somehow realized it was about his brother.
Other tracks on the album reportedly include Bob Dylan’s “Going, Going, Gone” and Tim Buckley’s “Once I Was.”
Did Allman know how close he was to death? Friends say he approved the final versions of the tracks that would make up the album just the day before he died.
Allman managed to go out on his own terms, a decision that surprised no one. After being diagnosed with recurrent cancer back in 2012 and being told he had, maybe, 18 months, Allman refused radiation treatment, believing it would damage his vocal cords. Eighteen months stretched into years as Allman defied death. He knew, though, the end was coming soon. That realization is revealed right out of the gate, when, on the first track, Allman sings: “I’ve got so much left to give, but I’m running out of time…”
He was dying. He knew it, and he spared his fans the worry. Instead, he left them with a gift.