1996 Dave Kyle




Berry Oakley
(first published in 'Vintage Guitar Magazine', December 1996, Vol. 11 No. 3)

Born April 4, 1948 in Chicago, Illinois, Raymond Berry Oakley was a very important part of the sound in the early days of the Allman Brothers Band. Duane didn't want somebody who just played bass, he wanted someone who was capable of taking the instrument and the music to a different level. In Berry, he found the perfect person.

The following is an account of Berry's formative years in music, according to my friend Brian Paul, who is originally from Chicago and now lives in Dallas.

"Berry was one of the original hot licks lead guitar players in the Chicago area back in the '60s. His band, The Shanes, and my group used to play many of the same venues. Since my band was comprised of guys a year or so younger than Berry and his guys, we often were the warm-up act," he said. "Berry used to play a forest green Strat through a 2 X 12 Sears Silvertone amp back then, and it sounded great!

"As the band gained popularity in our area, they got to play with some pretty big name acts of the time, including the Byrds. One group they played with a lot was Tommy Roe's backup band, the Roemans. This is where Berry got his first big break. The Roemans' bass player was drafted, leaving a void. Berry's band was playing the warm-up show for them at Westwood Junior High in Park Forest, Illinois when he found out about the impending departure of their bass player, and volunteered to take his place. The only problem was that Berry did not play bass! So he pressed into service the talent of his good friend and former bass player, Jim May. Jim was the guy who got Berry playing bass. He coached him for about two weeks to get him going. Berry then dropped out of Rich East High School and went on the road with the Roemans. The rest is history."

After his stint with Tommy Roe's group, Berry ended up in Florida, playing with various bands in the lucrative beach scene there. At first, he played a Guild bass, then later switched to his famous Fender Jazz basses, one of which he routed and put a Guild pickup into. This bass became known affectionately as the "Tractor" because of it's unsightly appearance. It ended up with Dickey Betts, who graciously offered it to Berry's son, Berry Oakley Jr. who is currently a member of the Oakley/Kreiger Band (formerly known as the group Floodline and also featuring Waylon Kreiger, son of former Doors member Robbie).

When Berry met Duane, Berry and Dickey were in a band called the Second Coming, with Dickey. Unwilling to break up his band situation and friendship with Dickey, Berry declined Duane's first offers to join his group; so, as stated in the Duane Allman article (VG, November '96), they both joined the band. The combination of these two lead guitar players and this fiery, guitar-inspired brand of bass playing, along with the 2-drummer lineup, gave the band a distinctive sound that is still studied today.

Berry, his wife Linda, and daughter Brittany, were also the original renters of the Big House (see story in this issue) in Macon. Berry was the unspoken leader after Duane passed and used to love to hold court at huge dinners in the ample dining room. One of his first purchases for that home was a huge wooden table placed in the dining room, used for communal dinners. He was very happy in this home and ruled it accordingly.

One of his hard and fast rules was that there was to be no illegal substances stored in the house. The band, looking not quite like your normal residents of early '70s Macon, didn't want any undue attention. There is a garage on the rear of the property where motorcycles and various and sundry other recreational things were kept, or so I'm told.

Another thing mentioned in the Duane piece was the terrible tragedy and coincidence of the motorcycle crashes on the streets of Macon. On November 11, 1972, Berry was riding with Kim Payne, a member of the road crew, when Payne took his Triumph motorcycle into a curve too fast and hit a Macon City bus. Later that evening, Berry was taken to the same hospital where Duane had died just over a year earlier, and experienced the same fate. This cruel twist was more than most groups could have faced, but they marched on with Lamar Williams, an old friend of Jaimo's, as their new bass player. Berry's grave is in the plot to the right of Duane's, facing them from the Ocmulgee River in Macon's peaceful Rose Hill Cemetery.

The Georgia Allman Brothers Band Association (GABBA) has recently replaced the angels at the foot of Berry and Duane's graves, stolen by overzealous fans. I urge you to visit the sight if you have the opportunity, but to also show respect. GABBA has also placed trash containers nearby. The Association holds a cleanup day at its annual meeting, and does a fine job of maintaining the site with the dignity deserved by one of America's finest musicians

For information on GABBA, which holds the GABBAfest every fall, contact Marty Willett at GABBA, PO Box 870, Macon, Georgia 31202-0870, or call (912) 738 - 0017, ext. 103. Many thanks to him and Brian Paul, for their help.


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