MACON, GA. - Southern rocker Gregg Allman was laid to rest Saturday near his older brother Duane in the same cemetery where they used to write songs among the tombstones, not far from US Highway 41.
Thousands of fans lined the streets of Macon to honor Allman, who was carried into Rose Hill Cemetery as a bagpiper played a somber tune. Family and friends, including musicians who played in The Allman Brothers Band over the years, gathered next to his grave and on a nearby hillside shaded by huge oak trees. Toward the end of the service, a freight train rolled in and stopped alongside the cemetery, reminding some mourners of Allman’s lyrics to “Melissa.”
Music and memories
Along the funeral route, many shared memories of concerts, and some blared the band’s songs from their cars and trucks. One carried a sign saying “You made our soul shine. We’ll miss you brother Gregg.”
“I wouldn’t have missed this if I lived in China,” said Kelli Jo Hickman, who drove in from Murphy, N.C. She said her mom, Dixie, introduced her to the band in the 1970s, and she’s listened to their music ever since.
The funeral service was private, with room for about 100 people inside the small chapel. Allman’s ex-wife Cher and his band mates, including the drummer Jaimoe and guitarist Dickey Betts, who wrote and sang “Ramblin Man,” also attended.
Some slipped into the chapel through a back entrance. Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter had said he would attend, honoring the keyboardist who drew large crowds to campaign events during his 1976 presidential race.
Southern rock trail blazers
Allman, who blazed a trail for many Southern rock groups, died May 27 at the age of 69 at his home near Savannah, Georgia, said Michael Lehman, the rock star’s manager. He blamed liver cancer.
With Gregg at the organ and Duane playing guitar, the band began its rise to fame in the central Georgia city 90 miles south of Atlanta about five decades ago. They used to write songs while hanging out in the cemetery, Alan Paul wrote in “One Way Out: The Inside History of the Allman Brothers Band.”
“He’s somebody who has been in my life first as an artist and later as a real person since I was about 8 years old, and so it’s shocking to think of the world without him,” said Paul, 50, who interviewed Allman many times for his book.
Music was medicine
Born in Nashville, Tennessee, Allman was raised in Florida by a single mother. Allman idolized his older brother, Duane, eventually joining a series of bands with him. Together they formed the heart of The Allman Brothers Band before Duane died in a motorcycle crash in 1971, just as they were reaching stardom.
In his 2012 memoir, “My Cross to Bear,” Allman said he finally felt “brand new” in the 1990s after years of overindulging in women, drugs and alcohol. But hepatitis C had ruined his liver, and after getting a transplant, it was music that helped him recover. Allman felt that being on the road playing music for his fans was “essential medicine for his soul,” according to a statement from the Big House, the Macon museum dedicated to the band.
Lehman said he spoke with Allman the night before he died.
“He said the last few days he was just, you know, tired,” Lehman said.
The night before he passed away, Allman was able to listen to some of the tracks being produced for his final record, “Southern Blood,” Lehman said. The album is scheduled to be released in the fall.
“He was looking forward to sharing it with the world and that dream is going to be realized,” Lehman said. “I told him that his legacy is going to be protected, and the gift that he gave to the music world will continue to live on forever.”