Introduction to the pioneers of Southern rock
The Allman Brothers Band was formed in 1969 by brothers Duane and Gregg Allman. The brothers had been in two previous bands, Allman Joys & Hour Glass, before starting The Allman Brothers Band. The initial band consisted of Dickie Betts, Berry Oakley, Butch Trucks & Jai Johanny (Jaimoe) Johanson. The Allman Brothers Band is best known as the originators of “Southern Rock”. The band has changed over the years, mainly due to the early motorcycle deaths of Duane Allman & Berry Oakley. They dissolved and reformed twice with Gregg Allman & Butch Trucks being the only two original members to play on all studio albums. Their biggest hit was the 1973 hit song “Ramblin’ Man” (#3 Billboard Top 40), but they had other Top 40 hits with“Midnight Rider”, “Crazy Love” & “Straight From the Heart,” as well as a #1 Mainstream Rock hit with “Good Clean Fun”.
In 1995 they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and in 2004 Rolling Stone Magazine ranked them at #52 on their list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time. Other past & current band members include Warren Haynes, Marc Quinones, Oteil Burbridge, Derek Trucks, Chuck Leavell, Lamar Williams, David Goldflies, Dan Toler, David “Frankie” Toler, Mike Lawler, Allen Woody, Johnny Neel, Jack Pearson & Jimmy Herring.
Other Allman Brothers Hit Songs: “Firing Line”, “No One to Run With”, “Back Where It All Begins”, “It Ain’t Over Yet”, “Seven Turns”, “Two Rights”, “Mystery Woman”, “Angeline”, “Can’t Take It With You”, “Lousiana Lou and Three Card Monty John”, “Nevertheless”, “Jessica”, “One Way Out”, “Melissa”, “Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More”, “Revival” & “Black Hearted Woman”.
Origins and formation
The Allman Brothers Band first formed in Jacksonville, Florida in 1969, but was later based in Macon, Georgia.
Brothers Duane (born in 1946-died in 1971) and Gregg (born in 1947-died in 2017) had been passionate about music, listening to R&B, blues and rock and roll with much gusto. In 1963, together they formed the band The Escorts, which transformed themselves into Allman Joys two years later.
From Allman Joys, the band became Hour Glass and moved to Los Angeles, California, where they signed to Liberty Records. After two albums that flopped, the group split. Duane Allman then spent his time in Muscle Shoals, Alabama as a session guitarist appearing on records by artists such as Aretha Franklin and King Curtis. From there Duane Allman built his reputation.
In 1969, Duane Allman formed the Allman Brothers Band with the initial personnel consisting of guitarist Forrest Richard (“Dickey”) Betts, bassist Raymond Berry Oakley and drummers Claude Hudson “Butch” Trucks and Jai Johanny “Jaimoe” Johanson. Brother Gregg, who also played guitars and keyboards, later agreed to join the new band as their lead singer.
A quintessential live band
The band did not immediately record their first album for they wanted to build up their sound while on tour, mostly performing around Florida and Georgia. But their eponymous debut album was also released later in 1969. It sold modestly but earned good reviews from the critics, who drew comparisons to the band with other heavily guitar-driven groups such as Cream, Blind Faith, the Jeff Beck Group and Led Zeppelin.
The Allman Brothers Band soon developed a cult following. In 1970, a second album Idlewild South was released which only broadened their repertoire. The album peaked a decent #38 on the Billboard 200 and its single “Revival (Love Is Everywhere)” became their first charting single.
Around that time, the band’s concerts gained a legendary reputation. Their concerts often consisted of 30 to 40 minute jams with lots of instrumentals thrown in and improvisations. The band was also influenced by jazz, thanks to the inclusion of African-American drummer Jaimoe.
Their growing reputation as a quintessential live band was evidenced by their first double live LP At Fillmore East which was released in 1971. The album gave the Allman Brothers Band their first breakthrough success, and has now been consistent in countless “best” album lists by various music publications. At Fillmore East sold over a million copies and went platinum — and has become a classic.
Duane Allman and Raymond Berry Oakley’s untimely deaths, and their aftermath
At the height of their first taste of success, tragedy otherwise struck in the band when Duane Allman was killed in a motorcycle accident in 1971. At the time of Duane Allman’s death, the band was also recording for their next album.
The part-live LP Eat a Peach was later finished by the band as a four-piece, and was released in the spring of 1972. It was also a platinum success, despite the singles “Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More,” “Melissa,” and “One Way Out” being minor hits on the Hot 100.
Rather than trying to replace the late Duane Allman, the group recruited pianist/keyboardist Chuck Leavell. The group had already started to work on their next album when Oakley died in 1972. Like Duane Allman, Oakley sustained fatal injuries from a motorcycle accident.
The band hired a new bassist Lamar Williams, and the band went on their touring and recording their next album Brothers and Sisters, which was released in the summer of 1973.
Southern rock explosion
Brothers and Sisters exemplified the band’s sound transitioning from the blues to country. It became the Allman Brothers Band’s most successful album to date, buoyed by the single “Ramblin’ Man,” which reached at #2 on the Hot 100 that same year. The leadership of the band had been somewhat laid on Dickey Betts who was somewhat reluctant to take that position — his songwriting had become more confident, and his musical presence was more felt than before.
In the wake of the Allman Brothers rise to fame, several acts such as Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Outlaws were also being signed by major labels who wanted to cash in on the growing popularity of the Southern rock genre.
Tensions and disintegration
The Allman Brothers Band was a unit in name only, but behind that, there laid disintegration and conflicts happening. Gregg Allman and Dickey Betts had begun solo careers at this point. Personal problems, struggles with drug abuse and musical rifts among the members were taking a toll on the band.
The tension and the turmoil among the band members were becoming evident through their next album Win, Lose or Draw, released in 1975. In that album, the Allman Brothers Band were no longer playing as one unit, as the each of the members had become also musically disparate from one another.
The Allman Brothers Band totally disintegrated in 1976 when Gregg Allman was arrested on federal drug charges and agreed to testify against a friend and longtime employee/associate of the band. The other ex-Allman Brothers mates Leavell, “Jaimoe,” and Williams formed their own band Sea Level, which only gained moderate success while Betts went on with his solo career.
Reunion, another split, reunion once more… and split, this time for good
The Allman Brothers Band reunited in 1978, with original members Gregg Allman, Betts, Butch Trucks and “Jaimoe” and newer members in guitarist Dan Toler and bassist David Goldflies. The following year the band released Enlightened Rogues which finished strong, peaking at #9 on the Billboard 200 and going gold. It was spurred by the Top 40 single “Crazy Love” which went to #29.
However, the Allman Brothers Band had, by then, been considered a has-been. Their following records were panned critically, and financial woes had haunted the band and their label Capricorn Records, which closed shop in 1979. The band split again in 1982. During those intervening years, Gregg Allman formed the Gregg Allman Band while Betts, Leavell, Trucks and Goldflies formed the short-lived Betts Hall Leavell Trucks or BHLT.
Many of the Allman Brothers Band members reunited for some gigs, including a pair of benefit concerts, but they would not play together again as a proper band until 1989, with original members Gregg Allman, Betts, Trucks and “Jaimoe” Johnson and newer recruits Warren Haynes (guitars, vocals), Allen Woody (bass) and Johnny Neel (keyboards, harmonica). This time, circumstances were now kinder to the band, as interest in them began to revive.
In 1990, the band released Seven Turns, which got favorable reviews. They released two more modestly-selling but critically-acclaimed albums Shades of Two Worlds (1991), Where It All Begins (1994) and live albums An Evening with the Allman Brothers Band First Set (1992) and An Evening with the Allman Brothers Band: 2nd Set (1995). In 1996, the Allman Brothers Band received their first Grammy Award in the category of Best Rock Instrumental Performance for their single, the live version of “Jessica.” The original studio version of the song appeared on 1973’s Brothers and Sisters. “Jessica” was written by Betts.
In 2000, Betts left the band. New members came into the fold — Marc Quinones (drums, vocals), Oteil Burbridge (bass, vocals) and Derek Trucks (guitars), who is the nephew of the band’s founding member “Butch” Trucks. Warren Haynes also returned to the fold.
In October 2014, the Allman Brothers Band performed their last show at New York’s Beacon Theater, where they had been playing since the late 1980s. They played their last song on the set, which was also the song that they first performed as a band: “Trouble No More” by Muddy Waters.
On May 27, 2014, Gregg Allman died due to complications from liver cancer. He was 69 years old. As of this writing, he will be interred at the Rose Hill Cemetery in Macon, where his brother Duane and their band mate Berry Oakley are also buried.
The Allman Brothers Band has attained a legendary status, and remained a top concert draw up until their dissolution, re-embracing old fans and finding new generation of followers. Their back catalog, meanwhile, has still been consistent sellers. The Allman Brothers Band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995, and received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2012.