Watch Gregg Allman play two classics as Cher vogues years before Madonna

Cher and Gregg Allman on her TV show
(Image credit: CBS)

"She smelled like I would imagine a mermaid would smell – I've never smelled it since, and I'll never forget it."

So wrote Allman Brothers Band founder Gregg Allman of singer Cher, whom he first met in January 1975. The pair would go on to have a famously tumultuous courtship – Allman set the tone for what was to come by passing out after injecting heroin on their first date – following by an equally stormy marriage.

A month after they met, Cher hosted the first episode of her eponymously-titled variety show on CBS. With her star very much still in the ascendent – she'd won a Golden Globe for The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour the previous year – it was expected to showcase Cher's talents to the full: the singing, the dancing, the comedy. 

Music played a big part of the show. It was produced by David Geffen, and Elton John performed on the first episode. Other guests included Bette Midler, David Bowie, Ray Charles, The Jackson 5, Ike & Tina Turner, Dion, and Linda Ronstadt. And on May 11, Cher was joined by actress and comedian Carol Burnett and actor Dennis Weaver. And her new boyfriend showed up.

Gregg Allman played two songs. The first was a duet performance of his 1973 single Don't Mess Up A Good Thing, with Allman at the piano and Cher's hair teased into a magnificent, egg-shaped afro. The pair are in matching, glitter-bedecked costumes, with the horn section and backing singers resplendent in Cher-branded tops and a set that seems to have been constructed from exhaust pipes. It is, as they say, quite something. 

Allman also played his signature song, Midnight Rider. Originally written for the Allman Brother's second album Idewild South in 1971, Allman had become so identified with the song that he re-recorded it for debut solo album Laid Back in 1973, releasing it as a single that hit the US Top 20.

It's an odd performance. The camera cuts between Allman, who sits in half-shadow with his guitar, and Cher, who leads a group of dancers performing a series of choreographed manoeuvres that, at face value, have little in common with Allman's harrowing tale of desperation and escape. 

On the other hand, pop history buffs will be delighted to note that Cher appears to begin a "voguing" sequence at the 2'24" mark, and in doing so brings the move into mainstream American homes a full 15 years before Madonna popularised the dance with her Vogue single. 

Two month later Cher and Allman were married, the ceremony at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas taking place just four days after the bride's divorce from former husband Sonny Bono was finalised. And, just 10 days later, she filed for divorce, citing Allman's problems with drugs and alcohol. They would stay together, fighting through thick and thin, but the writing was clearly on the wall.

“We had our good times, we had our bad times,” Allman wrote. “We were just different in a whole bunch of ways. I was really glad that she never asked me what I thought of her singing, because I’m sorry, but she’s not a very good singer."

The relationship lasted long enough to produce an album, 1977's Two The Hard Way, dreadfully credited to Allman and Woman, but the tour that followed was a disaster, with rock and pop fans fighting in the crowds as the two musicians did the same backstage. 

“That record sucked,” Allman wrote. “It bit the dirt, and it didn’t sell worth a shit."

Cher and Allman divorced in 1979. 

Fraser Lewry

Online Editor at Louder/Classic Rock magazine since 2014. 38 years in music industry, online for 25. Also bylines for: Metal Hammer, Prog Magazine, The Word Magazine, The Guardian, The New Statesman, Saga, Music365. Former Head of Music at Xfm Radio, A&R at Fiction Records, early blogger, ex-roadie, published author. Once appeared in a Cure video dressed as a cowboy, and thinks any situation can be improved by the introduction of cats. Favourite Serbian trumpeter: Dejan Petrović.