Chilling is the only word to describe the experience of listening to this beautiful and poignant song under its heart-wrenching circumstances. Just try to imagine: After all of the miles he had covered, Gregg Allman confronted the fact that – unlike one of his and the Allman Brothers most famous lines – the road does not, in fact, go on forever, and sat down to write his own farewell song.
Gregory LeNoir Allman died at age 69 in May of 2017. He had recorded his 8th and final solo album, “Southern Blood”, over 9 days in March of 2016. Having been beset by liver cancer and years of health setbacks, he surely knew then that the end was near. The album was initially planned to be Allman’s first of all original material, but he became too ill to complete them. Instead, he picked out songs to cover which held deep meaning to him. Per his manager, Michael Lehman, when Gregg selected them “He was already far along with the progression of his disease, he knew where he was in his life’s journey.” As it turned out, “Southern Blood” contained just one original song, the opening track and lead single, ‘My Only True Friend’, whose lyrics proved truly unnerving in their fatalistic forthrightness. Filled with grim yet charming passages and the theme of time running out, one of rock’s greatest-ever songwriters and singers basically delivers his own eulogy, including the recognition of the song title’s identity, a jarring but perhaps unsurprising notion given the life upon which Allman was looking back: “I can’t bear to think this might be the end / But you and I both know the road is my only true friend.”
“Southern Blood” was originally slated for a January, 2017 release, but was delayed due to Allman’s health, and ultimately re-scheduled for September, which turned out to be 4 months after the famed Midnight Rider had finally ridden off (Allman actually spent the last night before he died approving final mixes for the record). Despite the album’s posthumous arrival, producer Don Was was reluctant to call it “an album about dying” but rather that “Gregg was explaining his life and making sense of it, both for the fans who stood with him for decades, and for himself. It was kind of unspoken, but it was really clear we were preparing a final statement.” The immensely moving – and, let’s not forget, soulful, rootsy and rocking – album did receive what I would deem appropriate critical acclaim: The Independent praised “Allman’s weatherbeaten growl for every ounce of melancholy retrospection and road-weary resignation”; AllMusic described it as “Perfect..there isn’t a better final album Allman could have made”; and NPR called it “the kind of farewell every rock ‘n’ roll lifer hopes to make.”
In the chorus of ‘My Only True Friend’ Allman intones the lyric “I hope you’re haunted by the music of my soul, when I’m gone.” Roger that, Gregg, haunted, affected, enriched, and still outright thrilled. The road may not have gone on forever, but your incredible, soul-stirring music most certainly will.