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The Allman Brothers Band

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The story of the Allman Brothers Band is one of triumph, tragedy, redemption, dissolution, and more redemption. Since their beginning in the late '60s, they went from being America's single most influential band to a shell of their former self trading on past glories, to reach the 21st century resurrected as one of the most respected rock acts of their era. For the first half of the '70s, the Allman Brothers Band was the most influential rock group in America, redefining rock music and its boundaries. The band's mix of blues, country, jazz, and even classical influences, and their powerful, extended on-stage jamming altered the standards of concert performance -- other groups were known for their on-stage jamming, but when the Allman Brothers stretched a song out for 30 or 40 minutes, at their best they were exciting, never self-indulgent. They gave it all a distinctly Southern voice and, in the process, opened the way for a wave of '70s rock acts from south of the Mason-Dixon Line, including the Marshall Tucker Band, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and Blackfoot, whose music, at least initially, celebrated their roots. And for a time, almost single-handedly, they also made Capricorn Records into a major independent label. The group was founded in March 1969 by (Howard) Duane Allman (b. Nov. 20, 1946-d. Oct. 29, 1971) on guitar; (Gregory L.) Gregg Allman (b. Dec. 8, 1947) on vocals and organ; Forrest Richard ("Dickey") Betts (b. Dec. 12, 1943) on guitar; (Raymond) Berry Oakley (b. Apr. 4, 1948-d. Nov. 12, 1972) on bass; and Claude Hudson ("Butch") Trucks (b. May 11, 1947) and Jaimoe (aka Jai Johanny Johanson, b. July 8, 1944) on drums. Duane and Gregg Allman loved soul and R&B, although they listened to their share of rock & roll, especially as it sounded coming out of England in the mid-'60s. Their first group was a local Daytona Beach garage band called the Escorts, who sounded a lot like the early Beatles and Rolling Stones; they later became the Allman Joys and plunged into Cream-style British blues, and then the Hour Glass, which drew from and extended their soul influences. The group landed a contract with Liberty Records with help from the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, but the company wasted the opportunity on a pair of over-produced albums that failed to capture the Hour Glass' sound. The group split up after Liberty rejected a proposed third LP steeped in blues and R&B. Duane Allman began working as a session guitarist at Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, and it was there, appearing on records by Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin, John Hammond, and King Curtis, among others, that he made his reputation. In 1969, at the coaxing of ex-Otis Redding manager Phil Walden, Allman gave up session work and began putting together a new band -- Jaimoe came aboard, and then Allman's longtime friend Butch Trucks and another Allman friend, Berry Oakley, joined, along with Dickey Betts, with whom Oakley was playing in a group called Second Coming. A marathon jam session ensued, at the end of which Allman had his band, except for a singer -- that came later, when his brother Gregg agreed to join. They were duly signed to Walden's new Capricorn label. The band didn't record their first album until after they'd worked their sound out on the road, playing heavily around Florida and Georgia. The self-titled debut album was a solid blues-rock album and one of the better showcases for guitar pyrotechnics in a year with more than its share, amid albums by Cream, Blind Faith, the Jeff Beck Group, and Led Zeppelin. It didn't sell 50,000 copies on its initial release, but The Allman Brothers Band impressed everyone who heard it and nearly everyone who reviewed it. Coming out at the end of the 1960s, it could have passed for a follow-up to the kind of blues-rock coming out of England from acts like Cream, except that it had a sharper edge -- the Allmans were American and Southern, and their understanding of blues (not to mention elements of jazz, mostly courtesy of Jaimoe) was as natural as breathing. The album also introduced one of the band's most popular concert numbers, "Whipping Post." Their debut album attracted good reviews and a cult following with its mix of assured dual lead guitars by Duane Allman and Dickey Betts, soulful singing by Gregg Allman, and a rhythm section that was nearly as busy as the lead instruments, between Oakley's rock-hard bass and the dual drumming of Trucks and Johanson. Their second album, 1970's Idlewild South, recorded predominately at Criteria Studios in North Miami, Florida, was produced by Tom Dowd, who had previously recorded Cream. This was a magical combination -- Dowd was completely attuned to the group's sound and goals, and Idlewild South broadened that sound, adding a softer acoustic texture to their music and introducing Betts as a composer (including the original studio version of "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed," an instrumental tribute to Miles Davis that would become a highlight of their shows, in many different forms, for the next 30 years). It also had a Gregg Allman number, "Midnight Rider," which became one of the band's more widely covered originals and the composer's signature tune. By this time, the band's concerts were becoming legendary for the extraordinarily complex yet coherent interplay between the two guitarists and Gregg Allman's keyboards, sometimes in jams of 40 minutes or more to a single song without wasting a note. And unlike the art rock bands of the era, they weren't interested in impressing anyone with how they played scales, how many different tunings they knew, or which classical riffs they could quote. Rather, the Allmans incorporated the techniques and structures of jazz and classical into their playing. In March of 1971, the band played a series of shows at the Fillmore East that were recorded for posterity and subsequently transformed into their third album, At Fillmore East. This double LP, issued in July of 1971, became an instant classic, rivaling the previous blues-rock touchstone cut at the Fillmore, Cream's Wheels of Fire. Duane Allman and his band were suddenly the new heroes to millions of mostly older teenage fans. Although it never cracked the Top Ten, At Fillmore East was certified as a gold record on October 15, 1971. Duane Allman died in a motorcycle accident 14 days later. The band had been midway through work on its next album, Eat a Peach, which they completed as a five-piece, with Dickey Betts playing all of the remaining lead and slide guitar parts. Their second double album in a row became another instant classic, and their first album to reach the Top Ten, peaking at number five. Despite having completed Eat a Peach, the group was intact in name only. Rather than try to replace Duane Allman as a guitarist, they decided to add a second soloist in the form of a piano player Chuck Leavell. The group had already begun work on a long-delayed follow-up to Eat a Peach, when Oakley was killed in November 1972 in a motorcycle accident only a few blocks from Allman's accident site. Lamar Williams (b. Jan. 15, 1949-d. Jan. 25, 1983) was recruited on bass, and the new lineup continued the group's concert activities, as well as eventually finishing the band's next album, Brothers and Sisters. which was released on August 1, 1973. During the extended gap in releases following Eat a Peach, Atco reissued The Allman Brothers Band and Idlewild South together as the double LP Beginnings, which charted higher than either individual release. Brothers and Sisters marked the beginning of a new era. The album had a more easygoing and freewheeling sound, less bluesy and more country-ish. This was partly a result of Capricorn losing the services of Tom Dowd, who had produced their three previous albums. Additionally, Dickey Betts' full emergence as a songwriter and singer as well as the group's only guitarist, playing all of the lead and slide parts, altered the balance of the group's sound, pushing forth his distinct interest in country-rock. Betts also became the reluctant de facto leader of the band during this period, not from a desire for control as much as because he was the only one with the comparative stability and creative input to take on the responsibility. The record occupied the number one spot for six weeks, spurred by the number two single "Ramblin' Man," and became their most well-known album. It was an odd reversal of the usual order of success for a rock band -- usually, it was the release of an album that drew the crowds to concerts, but in this case, the months of touring the band had done paved the way for the album. The fact that it kept getting pushed back only heightened the fans' interest. Ironically, Brothers and Sisters was a less challenging record than the group's earlier releases, with a relatively laid-back sound, relaxed compared to the groundbreaking work on the group's previous four albums. But all of this hardly mattered; based on the reputation they'd established with their first four albums, and the crowd-pleasing nature of "Ramblin' Man" and the Dickey Betts-composed instrumental "Jessica," the group was playing larger halls and bigger crowds than ever. An entire range of Southern rock acts had