Obituary: Gregg Allman, the musician behind the Top Gear theme

As Gregg Allman neared the end of his life, he tried to maintain some privacy about what was coming.

In this May 16, 2016 photo, Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Gregg Allman performs during Mercer University's Commencement Saturday at Hawkins Arena in Macon, Ga. Allman received an honorary Doctor of Humanities degree. On Saturday, May 27, 2017, his manager said the musician has died. He was 69. (Jason Vorhees/The Macon Telegraph via AP)

“He kept it very private because he wanted to continue to play music until he couldn’t,” said Michael Lehman, the rock star’s manager.

Allman, whose bluesy vocals and soulful touch on the Hammond B-3 organ helped propel The Allman Brothers Band to superstardom, died on Saturday at his home near Savannah, Georgia, at age 69, Lehman said.

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Allman died peacefully and surrounded by loved ones Lehman added. He blamed liver cancer for Allman’s death.

It was announced in August last year that Allman was “under his doctor’s care at the Mayo Clinic” due to “serious health issues,” and he canceled all shows for the year. In March he canceled performances for the rest of 2017.

Lehman said Allman would be buried alongside his late brother, founding Allman Brothers guitarist Duane 
Allman, at Rose Hill Cemetery in Macon, Georgia, where the band got its start nearly five decades ago.

“That’s in his wishes,” Lehman said.

Tributes to Allman have been quick in coming.

Southern rock and country musician Charlie Daniels said via Twitter: “Gregg Allman had a feeling for the blues very few ever have, hard to believe that magnificent voice is stilled forever.”

Born in Nashville, Tennessee, Allman was raised in Florida by a single mother. Allman idolised his older brother, Duane, eventually joining a series of bands with him. Together they formed the nucleus of The Allman Brothers Band.

The original band featured extended jams, tight guitar harmonies by Duane Allman and Dickey Betts, rhythms from a pair of drummers and the smoky, blues-inflected voice of Gregg Allman. Songs such as Whipping Post, Ramblin’ Man and Midnight Rider helped define what came to be known as Southern rock and opened the doors for such stars as Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Marshall Tucker Band.

In his 2012 memoir, My Cross to Bear, Allman described how Duane was a central figure in his life in the years after their father was murdered by a man he met in a bar. Although Gregg was the first to pick up a guitar, it was Duane who excelled at it. So Gregg later switched to the organ.

They failed to crack success until they formed The Allman Brothers Band in 1969. Based in Macon, the group featured Betts, drummers Jai Johanny “Jaimoe” Johanson and Butch Trucks and bassist Berry Oakley.

Their self-titled debut album came out in 1969, but it was their live album At Fillmore East in 1971 that catapulted the band to stardom. Duane Allman was killed in a motorcycle accident in October 1971, just months after recording the Fillmore shows. Another motorcycle accident the following year claimed Oakley’s life.

In a 2012 interview, Gregg Allman said Duane remained on his mind every day. Once in a while, he could even feel his presence, he said.

“I can tell when he’s there, man,” Allman said. “I’m not going to get all cosmic on you. But listen, he’s there.”

The 1970s brought more turmoil: Allman was compelled to testify in a drug case against a former road manager for the band and his marriage to the actress and singer Cher was short-lived even by show business standards.

In 1975, Cher and Allman married three days after she divorced her husband and singing partner, Sonny Bono. Cher requested a divorce from Allman just nine days after their Las Vegas wedding, although she dismissed the suit a month later.

Together they released a widely panned duets album under the name Allman and Woman. They had one child together, Elijah Blue, and Cher filed for legal separation in 1977.

The Allman Brothers Band split up in the 1980s and then re-formed several times over the years.

Starting in 1990, the reunited band began releasing new music and found a new audience. In 1995 the band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and won a Grammy Award for best rock instrumental performance for Jessica – best known as the them tune to Top Gear – the following year.

In 2000, Betts was ousted from the band via fax for alleged substance abuse and poor performance. Butch Trucks died in January 2017. Authorities said he shot himself in front of his wife at their Florida home.

Lehman said Allman had recently finished what would be his final album, titled Southern Blood and scheduled for release in September.

“He actually just listened to a few tracks of it last night and was really passionate and excited for that record to be complete,” Lehman said.

In his memoir, Allman said he spent years overindulging in women, drugs and alcohol before getting sober in the mid-1990s. He said that after getting sober, he felt “brand new” at the age of 50. However, he ended up with hepatitis C which severely damaged his liver. He underwent a liver transplant in 2010.

The statement on Allman’s website says that as he faced health problems, “Gregg considered being on the road playing music with his brothers and solo band for his beloved fans, essential medicine for his soul.

“Playing music lifted him up and kept him going during the toughest of times.”

After the surgery, he turned to music to help him recover and released his first solo album in 14 years, Low Country Blues, in 2011.

“I think it’s because you’re doing something you love,” Allman said in a 2011 interview. “I think it just creates a diversion from the pain itself. You’ve been swallowed up by something you love, you know, and you’re just totally engulfed.”

The band was honoured with a lifetime achievement Grammy in 2012.