The birthright the Allmans’ music claimed was geographical — American and particularly Southern — and with it came a willingness to move past genre lines and all their connotations of race and class. It was all at their fingertips, inviting listeners to follow.
His songs also drew on his own history, particularly in later years when he looked back on his own past excesses and drug problems. His voice was more weathered by then, but it stayed strong all the way into the 2010s, past the Allman Brothers Band’s retirement in 2014. Steeped in the blues, he had always sung like someone experienced beyond his years.
Here are 10 definitive Gregg Allman songs. Unless otherwise noted, they were recorded by the Allman Brothers Band.
“Whipping Post” (1969)
“Whipping Post” carried the Allman Brothers to improvisational peaks through decades of concerts. It’s a lover’s lament carried by a whirlwind through blues, jazz and rock. Its riff first appears in a tricky 11/8 meter, then straightens out to 12/8; its chorus heaves into a bluesy half time for a desperate a cappella plaint — “Good Lord, I feel like I’m dyin’!” — but then revs up again, lingering over an unchanging harmonic foundation that foments open-ended improvisation. The band could push “Whipping Post” in any direction — and did.
“Midnight Rider” (1970)
The narrator of “Midnight Rider” is a fugitive in motion: broke and tired, chased by unnamed pursuers. Mr. Allman’s music makes his journey a one-chord meditation interrupted by a few bars of tension when he sings, “I’m not gonna let ‘em catch me”; the rhythm keeps him moving.
A jazzy waltz with a circular, three-note bass riff and pattering percussion cross-rhythms introduced the Allmans’ most psychedelic side on their 1969 debut album. It’s a declaration of ambition to realize “dreams I’ll never see”; it also stretched a long way in concert.
“Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More” (1972)
Mr. Allman’s rolling piano riff is part gospel, part Mardi Gras mambo, and his lyrics fight their way out of mourning toward gratitude for being alive as Dickey Betts’s slide guitar pushes ahead. The song was on “Eat a Peach,” the album completed after the death of Duane Allman, Gregg’s brother and the band’s founding guitarist; it insists, “You can’t let one precious day slip by.”
“Melissa” is a ballad about a constant traveler “knowing many, loving none” while thinking about a woman back home. A hobo? An itinerant musician? The song doesn’t decide whether to stay footloose or settle down; it lingers between restlessness and longing.
“Rockin’ Horse” (2003)
“Never could use just a little/Never could leave it alone,” Mr. Allman moaned, facing down a lifelong self-destructive streak he had survived. Even in this studio recording, the song’s choppy, minor-key New Orleans groove spurs bluesy guitar solos heading toward Hendrix territory.
“Wasted Words” (1973)
A two-fisted piano boogie with a pugnacious slide guitar, “Wasted Words” is a surly lover’s quarrel escalated to theological ground. The singer compares his “baby” to God and Satan, and while he points out, “I ain’t no saint,” he’s not confessing to any specific sin.
“It’s Not My Cross to Bear” (1969)
The form is a by-the-book slow blues, with plenty of room for Mr. Allman to let the vocal drama build, from bemoaning “our bad, bad misfortune” to full-throated shouts and roars at the end. But it’s a crescendo of anger, not sorrow; as he leaves the relationship wreckage behind, he snarls, “Don’t reach out for me, babe.”
“Sailin’ ’Cross the Devil’s Sea” (1994)
A low, bruising guitar riff and seething organ chords carry a tale of temptation, blind lust and infidelity: “the beginning of the end of my happy home.” Repentance arrives far too late.
“Floating Bridge” (2011)
Written by the bluesman Sleepy John Estes, “Floating Bridge” is about a brush with death: getting rescued from drowning. It’s from Mr. Allman’s most recent solo album, “Low Country Blues,” and there’s relief and remembered terror in his voice.