Savage Roads

Friday, May 25, 2012

The Allman Brothers Part I

The Allman Brothers Band band was formed in Macon, GA, and consisted of Duane and Gregg Allman, Dickey Betts, Berry Oakley, Butch Trucks, and Jai Johanny Johanson. Brothers Duane and Gregg Allman 
were born in Baptist Hospital in Nashville but grew up in Daytona Beach, Florida, and had been playing music publicly since the early 1960s. They formed a garage band called the Escorts in 1963, which evolved into the Allman Joys in 1965.From there the brothers formed Hour Glass and moved to Los Angeles. 

The Hour Glass released two failed albums on Liberty Records in 1967 and 1968. They were all released from the contract except Gregg, who Liberty thought might have some commercial potential. Gregg and Duane had previously met Butch Trucks and his band The 31st of February while touring as the Allman Joys, and decided to record an album with them in September 1968, shortly after the breakup of Hour Glass. This album was eventually released as Duane & Greg Allman on the Bold Records label in 1972. 

Duane Allman played on Wilson Pickett's hit version of "Hey Jude" and became the primary session guitarist for FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, recording with Aretha Franklin, King Curtis, Percy Sledge, and others. Allman started jamming with Dickey Betts, Butch Trucks and Berry Oakley in Jacksonville. Eddie Hinton, with whom Duane Allman had played in Muscle Shoals, was considered to play guitar, but Hinton refused in order to join the Muscle Shoals studio band. Duane brought in Jaimoe, a drummer he had played with in the past. Gregg was in Los Angeles, fulfilling the Hour Glass contract with Liberty Records. He was summoned back to Jacksonville.

The Allman Brothers Band played numerous shows in the South before releasing their debut album, The Allman Brothers Band in 1969 to critical acclaim. It featured future jam standards "Whipping Post" and a 12/8 time slide guitar tour de force "Dreams". A cult following began to build.

Idlewild South was released in 1970 to critical success and improved sales. Produced by Tom Dowd it featured the upbeat "Revival" and the moody-but-resolute "Midnight Rider". After completing the Idlewild South sessions Duane Allman joined Eric Clapton and his ad hoc Derek and the Dominos to record the classic Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs. 1971 saw the release of a live album, Live At Fillmore East, recorded on Friday and Saturday March 12 and March 13 of that year at the legendary rock venue the Fillmore East. The album was another huge hit. Rolling Stone listed At Fillmore East as number 49 on of The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. 

It showcased the band's mix of jazz, classical music, hard rock, and blues, with arrangements propelled by Duane's and Betts' dual lead guitars, Oakley's long, melodic "third guitar" bass runs, the rhythm section's pervasively percussive yet dynamically flexible foundation, and Gregg Allman's gritty Ray Charles-like vocals and piano/organ play which all completed the band's wall of sound. The rendering of Blind Willie McTell's "Statesboro Blues" was a straight-ahead opener, the powerful "Whipping Post" (with its famous 11/4 bass opening) became the standard for an epic jam that never lost interest, while the ethereal-to-furious "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed" invited comparisons to John Coltrane and Miles Davis.The Allman Brothers were the last act to play the Fillmore East before it closed in June 1971. The final shows achieved legendary status, partly due to bands literally playing all night; in 2005 Gregg Allman would relate how the jamming musicians lost track of time, not realizing it was dawn until the side doors of the Fillmore were opened and the morning light poured in.

The band continued to tour; decades later, a special-order recording of one of their final concerts in this lineup, S.U.N.Y. at Stonybrook: Stonybrook, NY 9/19/71, would be released. It reveals that Duane Allman's slide guitar playing on "Dreams" and other songs was touching the farthest reaches of both that instrument and his imagination.

Duane Allman died not long after the Fillmore East album was certified gold, killed in a motorcycle accident on October 29, 1971 in Macon, Georgia, when he collided with the rear of a flatbed truck that had turned in front of him. The group decided to carry on. The album continued to gain FM radio airplay, with stations even playing 13-minute and 23-minute selections.
Dickey Betts filled Duane's former role in completing the last album Duane participated in, Eat a Peach, released in February 1972. The album was often softer ("Blue Sky", "Little Martha") and wistful in tone ("Melissa", "Ain't Wastin' Time No More"), capped by the 34-minute "Mountain Jam" reverie taken from the Fillmore East concerts. Writer Greil Marcus described parts of Eat a Peach as an "after-the-rain celebration... ageless, seamless... front-porch music stolen from the utopia of shared southern memory."

The group played some concerts as a five-man band, then decided to add Chuck Leavell, a pianist, to gain another lead instrument but without, however, directly replacing Duane. This new configuration debuted on November 2, 1972, on ABC's In Concert late-night television program.
Days later, on November 11, 1972, Berry Oakley died from head injuries he received in another motorcycle accident near Napier Avenue and Inverness Street, only three blocks from the site of Duane's accident the previous year. The common retelling that it was at exactly the same site as Duane's death is incorrect, as is the legend that the Eat a Peach album is named for what was being carried by the truck involved in Allman's accident. Both Duane and Berry were 24 years old, yet another coincidence.

Oakley was replaced by Lamar Williams at the end of 1972, in time to finish the next album, Brothers and Sisters, released in August 1973. Dickey Betts was becoming the group's unofficial leader. Brothers and Sisters included the group's best known hits, "Ramblin' Man" and "Jessica", both written by Betts; the former reached #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 as a single, while the latter was a seven-minute instrumental hit.

The Allman Brothers Band had become one of the top concert draws in the country. Probably their most celebrated performance of the era took place on July 28, 1973 at the Summer Jam at Watkins Glen outside Watkins Glen, New York, in a joint appearance with The Grateful Dead and The Band. An estimated 600,000 people made it to the racetrack where this massive outdoor festival took place.

In the wake of the Allman Brothers Band's success, many other Southern rock groups rose to prominence, including the Marshall Tucker Band (who played as the Allman Brothers Band's opening act for many shows on their 1973 tour) and Lynyrd Skynyrd.

Another peak of the Allmans' success came on New Year's Eve, 1973, when promoter Bill Graham arranged for a nationwide radio broadcast of their concert from San Francisco's Cow Palace. New arrangements of familiar tunes such as "You Don't Love Me" went out over the airwaves, as the show stretched out over three sets, with Boz Scaggs sitting in, along with Grateful Dead members Jerry Garcia and Bill Kreutzmann (Allmans and Grateful Dead members guested at each other's shows multiple times in the early 1970s).


  1. I have a few friends that played with the band. One I saw play at the Love Ride, Mark McGee from Alameda, CA, now playing in his own band Luvplanet. The other Mark Showalter played Sax. A couple of other Alameda musicians that I know played with him in later years too. An incredible music history came out of that town, and knowing a few musicians that played with this band is incredible. Great post.

  2. Brother Savage, just wanted to make note of a couple inaccuracies in an otherwise well written synopsis of The Allman Brothers Band. When Duane crashed, he didn't hit a peach truck. The truck was a construction boom crane truck which had turned left in front of him, but stopped due to a large depression in the road, which left the rear of the truck in Duane's lane. Duane, coming from the opposite direction at a faster rate of speed than the posted speed limit, went to the left around the back end of the truck but lost control. It has even been speculated that Duane may have hit the headache ball dangling from the back of the crane, but that cannot be confirmed. He did not impact the truck. He lost control, came off the bike, and he and the bike began tumbling. The bike landed on Duane, causing severe internal injuries. Duane also had been wearing a helmet, but had cut the chin strap off, and the helmet came off as he crashed. The phrase, "Eat a peach," came from an interview Duane once gave where the interviewer asked him, "What are you doing for the revolution?" This was at the height of the Viet Nam war and the counter culture was in full swing. Duane responded, "Man, there ain't no revolution, just evolution. Every time I'm in Georgia, I eat a peach for peace." Rock on!

  3. Thanks brother Dave! If this is the Dave I know from Georgia I take you seriously when it comes to ABB and will look at my sources and make the changes to my well researched blog. Hope all is well with you and this finds you riding :)