PHILLIP RAMATI (McClatchy Newspapers, MCT):
Remembering The Allman Brothers Band:
The Road Goes On Forever
(published on 'PopMatters', www.popmatters.com, May 14, 2009)
They moved to Macon 40 years ago. No one here had seen the likes
of people like them before. They were hippies. Long-hairs.
Rebels. A band that had a black member playing with five white
guys? A band that performed with two drummers?
They played a style of music that defied a definition. It wasn’t
just rock ‘n’ roll. It was blues, jazz, country, folk. It was
eventually christened Southern Rock.
Duane Allman, a guitar prodigy, put the band together. His
brother, Gregg, sang and played organ. Dickey Betts played
guitar. Berry Oakley was on bass. Butch Trucks and Jai “Jaimoe”
Johanny Johanson both played drums.
They were called the Allman Brothers Band. This is their story,
in the words of those who knew them best.
Gregg Allman: We picked a good place. The town was really
good to us. At first, it was “Who are these weirdos?” They kept
their daughters locked at home when they saw us. It had been
different times going to L.A. (as part of the band the
Hourglass), where bands just get lost in the shuffle. But we had
incredible times (in Macon). It was a great place to put a band
together. We grew there. We had room to grow there.
Paul Hornsby, keyboardist for the Hourglass and later a
producer at Capricorn Records: Duane got to Muscle Shoals
(Alabama), where he had attracted some attention with his studio
work there. (Capricorn founder) Phil Walden came aboard. ... I
didn’t even know where Macon was on a map. But he kept
sweetening the deal. Duane fleshed out the band and put together
the Allman Brothers Band.
Roadie Twiggs Lyndon set up the band in a two-bedroom
apartment at 309 College St. Members of the band and their crew
crammed into the spartan place. Money was tight in those days,
and there wasn’t a whole lot to do other than jam and play
stickball. When the band did eat well, it was because they were
fed by “Mama” Louise Hudson at her H&H Restaurant. The band
members spent much of their time hanging out in Rose Hill
Cemetery, which would inspire songs such as “In Memory of
Joseph “Red Dog” Campbell, ABB roadie: There were 10 of
us, and the only thing we had were mattresses. We had them on
the floor lined up wall to wall. We had a Coke machine. We put
Cokes in one slot and beer in the other. It cost 25 cents, which
was supposed to go to buying more beer. That didn’t work. Duane
was always having Twiggs open the machine up for him. ... We
were real tight. Nobody would hang with us, so we would hang out
at Rose Hill Cemetery and go do our thing. ... We had all our
meals together. There were some lean times at that apartment,
some rough days, man. We’d have beans three times a day. It was
a big deal if we had cream of wheat and eggs. That was like
Thanksgiving for us. But we were tight. There was a lot of love.
Oakley helped organize free concerts in Central City Park, and
later on, Walden had the band perform free shows at Piedmont
Park, allowing the band to build a following. The band would
perform at Grant’s Lounge, which became known as a haven for
musicians looking to be discovered. On a given night, a music
fan could go to Grant’s Lounge and watch members of the Allman
Brothers perform with rising bands from all over the South.
Alan Walden, a Georgia Music Hall of Fame member, music
promoter and brother to the late Phil Walden: Macon started
clicking when the Allman Brothers got to town. It had been
clicking with the R&B acts, but this was the first venture into
rock ‘n’ roll. It progressed really damn fast. They would do the
free gigs at Central City Park. It did our city a world of good.
There was no telling who would show up to see the Allman
Brothers. ... They would play anywhere, anytime. They got better
and better and better. They attracted a lot of other artists.
... At Grant’s Lounge, every band in the South would come and
play there. They did a lot of things that would attract
attention back in those days. Musicians would hang out, and they
would do these tremendous jams. One night, I paid $1 and got to
see members of Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Allman Brothers, Charlie
Daniels for $1! Look at the amount of people I got to see. ...
Phil himself was so determined to make this band happen. His
whole life, his whole reputation rested on that band.
The band released The Allman Brothers Band in 1969, followed by
Idlewild South in 1970, which yielded such classics as “Whippin’
Post”, “Midnight Rider” and “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed”. They
spent more than 300 days on the road in 1970 before releasing
the double album, Live at Fillmore East in 1971. That album put
the band on everyone’s radar and is generally considered to be
one of the greatest live albums of all time. Rolling Stone
magazine ranks the album 49th among its Top 500 Albums list.
Times were good for everyone. A teenage Rolling Stone reporter
named Cameron Crowe spent three weeks on the road with the band
for a story. His time with them would inspire his Oscar-winning
original screenplay for the movie Almost Famous in 2000. The
band headlined the Atlanta Pop Festival in 1970, which drew more
than 300,000 people and featured the likes of Jimi Hendrix, B.B.
King and Bob Seger. Oakley leased a Tudor-style home dubbed The
Big House at 2321 Vineville Ave., where both his and Duane’s
families lived and members of the band would hang out.
Linda Oakley Miller, widow of Berry Oakley: It was a very
special time. We were so innocent, so full of hope. We were full
of love. It just seemed like a natural occurrence. The ‘old
ladies,’ as they would call us wives, filtered up after the band
initially moved up to Macon. They played, got high together, got
their chops. ... (We) were cruising around town with our
newspaper, looking around for a place to live. It was $225 a
month, which was a lot of money for us back then, but we fell in
love with it. It had enough room for everyone. ... The Big House
became our family home. The band didn’t live there, as some
people think, but they did crash there all the time. ... It was
a really, really happy time. They were young Turks. They were
going to go out and be heroes, go out and pillage and conquer.
They’re a great band now, but back then they were so hot. They
were on fire.
Gregg Allman: In 1970, we worked 306 nights. That year,
we didn’t get back to Macon a whole lot. ... We did a lot of
learning, a lot of growing, a lot of laughing, crying, A lot of
playing, a fair amount of writing. ... I was always so glad to
come home to Macon. It has a lot of nostalgia for me. God knows,
we terrorized that place, riding our motorcycles at 4 a.m. But
we did all right.
Then, tragedy struck. On the afternoon of Oct. 29, 1971, Duane
was leaving the Big House after a birthday party for Linda
Oakley when he swerved to avoid a flatbed truck and lost control
of the bike. The 24-year-old died a few hours later. Band
members were devastated, but they vowed to continue on because
it’s what their leader would have wanted. They finished the
album Eat a Peach in 1972, with Betts doing the remaining guitar
work by himself. Oakley was hit the hardest by Duane’s death,
but he tried to step up as the group’s de facto leader. However,
drugs, alcohol and depression hit him hard. On Nov. 11, 1972,
just a year and 13 days after Duane’s death and a few blocks
away from where that accident happened, Oakley sideswiped a city
bus while he was on his motorcycle. Initially, he went home to
the Big House rather than the hospital. Later, he went to the
hospital, where he died from his injuries. Like Duane, he was 24
when he died, and he was buried next to Duane at Rose Hill
Cemetery. Eventually, the band brought in keyboardist Chuck
Leavell and the late bassist Lamar Williams as new members.
Alan Walden: Berry had given up on living when Duane got
killed. He drank too much, and he didn’t have the same spirit.
Duane, it was almost impossible to replace him. That’s when Phil
added Chuck Leavell. He wouldn’t accept anything less than the
band being a big success. ... They were forced to deal with a
lot of tragedies. But a lot of things kept the band going. It
made them tighter. They did it as much for (Duane) as they did
Linda Oakley Miller: All of us were in shock from Duane’s
death, but Berry could never fill that space. They loved each
other. The thing between Duane and Berry was special. Berry
could not fill that space in his life. He did a little too much
of everything. He had a feeling he would not be around too long.
Judi Petty, widow of ABB guitar tech Joe Dan Petty: In
some ways, (Duane’s) death brought us a lot closer together. The
band used to have this farm in Juliette, where we had these
barbecues. The kids would all run around. Some of the men would
run around as well.
Chuck Leavell, ABB keyboardist, 1972-1976: When Duane
died, there was a lot of talk about who was going to replace
him. There were rumors like (guitarists) Eric Clapton or Jeff
Beck. But the band did a gutsy thing and went out without a
replacement. They went as a five-piece band. It was a very
emotional thing. Dickey stepped up to the plate at that time and
filled in very respectably. I was called in to do a solo record
for Gregg and did some casual jam sessions with the band. We’d
play for fun—the guys needed that. There was no pressure. They
just did it for the love of music. ... One day, I got a call
from Phil Walden to see him in his office. I was barely 20 at
the time. I was wondering “What did I do wrong?” Phil said,
“We’re interested in you being on our team.” I finished my work
on Gregg’s album and then we went to work on (the ABB album)
Brothers and Sisters. I did two or three live performances when
Berry was alive. It was a devastating blow to me when Berry
died, because Berry was the guy who went out of his way to make
me feel at ease. Now, all of a sudden, he’s gone. ... We looked
at a few bassists, but it was obvious that with Lamar Williams,
we were much more comfortable. We looked at several outstanding
bassists, but Lamar stood out. It was a combination of him
respecting Berry’s style and having his own style.
+ + +
Brothers and Sisters, released in 1973, became the band’s
biggest commercial success, climbing to No. 1 on the charts.
Betts’ song “Ramblin’ Man” off that album became the group’s
first top 10 hit. The band continued to tour and had become a
major success, both critically and commercially. In 1973,
Rolling Stone crowned the group “Band of the Year”, one of
several such honors the Allman Brothers Band earned. That year,
they performed at Summer Jam in Watkins Glen, NY, in front of an
estimated crowd of 600,000. The band, encouraged by Phil Walden,
also became major supporters of then-Georgia Gov. Jimmy Carter’s
successful run for the White House in 1976.
However, cracks were starting to form in the band’s foundation.
Solo projects from Betts and Gregg Allman got lukewarm
receptions, and while the 1975 album “Win, Lose or Draw” reached
No. 5 on the Billboard charts, it drew mostly mediocre reviews
from fans and critics. The excesses often associated with rock
stars - drugs, groupies, money issues—started to affect the band
in a major way. At rehearsals, the only members consistently
showing up were Jaimoe, Williams and Leavell, who eventually
decided to form the band Sea Level. Gregg Allman was in the
midst of his well-publicized, roller-coaster marriage with Cher.
The couple had an on-again, off-again relationship between 1975
The group’s low point came in 1976, when federal authorities
busted Allman on drug charges. He had to testify against his
former personal assistant, Scooter Herring, to avoid facing
criminal charges himself. Allman was ostracized by the rest of
the band, who viewed his actions as betrayal. Herring was
eventually found guilty and sentenced to 75 years in prison, but
the charges were later overturned. He ended up serving three
Willie Perkins, ABB road manager, 1970-76 and 1983-89:
One thing is that artistic types are on the edge of everything,
which includes experimenting with drugs. ... It’s not exclusive
to rock ‘n’ rollers. They were experimenting with music and
experimenting with temptations. They had made a lot of money
real fast, and now they had the means to deal with everything
they wanted. Excess, excess—every band has that within them.
Somewhere, the music had lost its spark. They had gone from
playing for hours and hours and hours and hours (to) not even
doing sound checks. Once Duane was gone, they were wanting that
leader. ... At that moment, nobody was focused on getting back
together. After a while, things chilled out, but when the feds
put pressure on you, I don’t know many people who can resist.
Chuck Leavell: It’s pretty well documented, the incident
with Scooter Herring. Gregg had been busted and was forced to
testify against Scooter. It caused hard feelings within the
band. It resulted with the first breakup. Some of us wished
fences could be mended, but it was not meant to be (at that
Red Dog Campbell: The trial was a major factor. There
were people around us who increased the size of the
organization. But when you bring in people who don’t see things
the way you see things, you get away from your roots. I think
that Gregg got bad-mouthed unjustifiably. I always felt it was a
political move because we had been supportive of (Jimmy) Carter.
... Things happen sometimes. When the trial went down, everybody
was mad at Gregg.
The Band Reforms in 1978
eventually reformed in 1978, with guitarist Dan Toler and David
“Rook” Goldflies on bass as replacements for Leavell and
Williams. The Allman Brothers released Enlightened Rogues, Reach
for the Sky and Brothers on the Road from 1979-81, but the
albums didn’t find great success since musical tastes across the
country had shifted to disco. Capricorn Records went bankrupt in
Gregg Allman continued to battle both drug-related and financial
issues throughout the 1980s, and other members tried different
projects, without much success. The band had a brief reunion in
1986 for a couple of benefit concerts, but it didn’t get back
together formally until 1989 for its 20th anniversary, with an
overhauled lineup: the four original living members, plus
guitarist Warren Haynes, keyboardist Johnny Neel and bassist
Allen Woody. The band had success with its 1990 album Seven
The group’s lineup continued to evolve, and the band eventually
added guitarist Derek Trucks (Butch’s nephew), percussionist
Marc Quinones and bassist Oteil Burbridge.
In 1995, the band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of
Fame, along with such acts as Led Zeppelin, Neil Young, Al
Green, Martha & The Vandellas, Janis Joplin and Frank Zappa. The
band was inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame in 1998,
and Gregg Allman was inducted as a solo artist in 2006.
Still, it wasn’t an end to the drama associated with the band.
In 2000, Betts was forced out for “creative reasons”, according
to Entertainment Weekly magazine. Betts told the magazine he was
informed via a faxed message and that it implied the reason was
because of alcohol and substance abuse issues, which Betts
vehemently denied. Betts has since formed his own band, Great
Despite it all, the band’s current lineup continues to find
great success in its 40th year. In March, the band played its
annual series at the Beacon Theatre in New York, playing to
sold-out shows with guests such as Clapton and Bonnie Bramlett.
The Big House Foundation, which owns the band’s old haunt on
Vineville Avenue, is converting the house into a museum that is
scheduled to open by December.
Most importantly, the band’s legacy in music history remains
Red Dog Campbell: It was the best time of my life. ...
When no one accepted me, they changed everything and gave me
Chuck Leavell: They invented a style of music. They were
solely responsible for Southern Rock. It’s still a very viable
term. A lot of it has morphed into modern country music. It was
a unique band that incorporated rock music, jazz, country. ...
The legacy is living on, and it’s amazing to see the young
people understanding it and knowing they are there. ... For a
young person coming in, it was a large step in my career. I took
a giant step playing with the Allmans, and it was an opportunity
to play great music.
Willie Perkins: They did what nobody else had done. They
brought jazz and blues and rock and country together. The fact
that they have 40 years together and the music is still on the
radio says quite a bit there. The best time was that early time.
We knew we had the best band in the world, just that the rest of
the world didn’t know it yet.
Linda Oakley Miller: My regret is that Duane and Berry
didn’t live to enjoy the fruits of their labor. (The band)
changed the way people listened to music.
Gregg Allman: Actually, the way things are, the band is
at an all-time high. Just because it’s the 40th year doesn’t
mean we are fixing to slow down or stop. The last thing we did
(at the Beacon) was so damn fun. It was a great experience, and
I’m proud to be a member.
+ + +
A list of the Allman Brothers Band albums:
1969: The Allman Brothers Band
1970: Idlewild South
1971: At Fillmore East (Live)
1972: Eat a Peach (Part Live)
1973: Brothers and Sisters
1975: Win, Lose or Draw
1976: Wipe the Windows, Check the Oil, Dollar Gas (Live)
1979: Enlightened Rogues
1980: Reach for the Sky
1981: Brothers of the Road
1990: Seven Turns
1991: Shades of Two Worlds
1992: An Evening with the Allman Brothers Band: First Set (Live)
1994: Where It All Begins
1995: An Evening with the Allman Brothers Band: 2nd Set (Live)
2000: Peakin’ at the Beacon (Live)
2003: Hittin’ the Note
2004: One Way Out (Live)
Books about The Allman Brothers Band:
Midnight Riders: The Story of the Allman Brothers Band by Scott
No Saints, No Sinners: My Years with the Allman Brothers Band by
Skydog: The Duane Allman Story by Randy Poe
The Allman Brothers Band by Peter Gregory
Street Singers, Soul Shakers, Rebels With a Cause: Macon Music
by Candice Dyer
Legendary Red Dog: A Book of Tails by Joseph “Red Dog” Campbell
Documentaries about The Allman Brothers Band:
Please Call Home: The Big House Years - Bright Blue Sky
—Compiled by Phillip Ramati