The Allman Brothers Band was formed in 1969, consisting of Duane Allman (slide guitar and lead guitar), Gregg Allman (vocals, organ), Dickey Betts (lead guitar, vocals), Berry Oakley (bass guitar), Butch Trucks (drums) and Jai Johanny “Jaimoe” Johanson (drums). The actual Allman Brothers, Duane and Gregg, had originally been in a garage band called The Escorts, then The Allman Joys and finally The Hour Glass, which had released two failed albums from Liberty Records. They were all released from the contract except Gregg, who Liberty thought might have some commercial potential. Duane Allman, with a stint as a session guitarist in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, behind him, started jamming with Dickey Betts, Butch Trucks and Berry Oakley in Jacksonville, Florida. Duane brought in Jaimoe, a drummer he had played with before and the nucleus of the band was formed. Gregg was in Los Angeles fulfilling The Hour Glass contract with Liberty Records. He was summoned back to Jacksonville by Duane to “fill out the band and sing.”
The Allman Brothers Band played numerous concerts in the south before releasing their debut album, The Allman Brothers Band. Critics loved it, but the blues-rock album found few listeners, attracting only a cult audience. Most of the record had a blues-rock sound, but “Dream”, a spacey number in 3/4 time, would provide the framework for some of their best jams.
Idlewild South (1970), the followup, produced by Tom Dowd, was a massive critical success, and managed to be quite lucrative, as well. The upbeat “Revival” and the moody-but-resolute “Midnight Rider” showed the band getting more adept at shorter, radio-friendly song forms. (It was after this that Duane Allman recorded Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs with Eric Clapton’s Derek and The Dominos group.)
In 1971 The Allmans Brothers Band released the live album, At Fillmore East, recorded earlier that year at the legendary rock venue, the Fillmore East. The album was another huge hit, and is now remembered as one of the best live albums of all time. It showcased the band’s unique mixture of jazz, classical music, hard rock and blues. Their rendition of Blind Willie McTell's “Statesboro Blues” was a straight-ahead opener, the powerful “Whipping Post” became the standard for a long, epic jam that never lost interest, while the ethereal-to-furious “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” invited comparisons to John Coltrane.
The Allman Brothers received the honor of being the last act to play the Fillmore East before it closed. The band continued to tour; decades later, a special-order recording of one of their final concerts in this lineup, SUNY at Stonybrook 9/19/71, would be released. It reveals that Duane Allman’s slide guitar playing on “Dreams” and other songs was reaching the farthest reaches of 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, (at the corner of Hillcrest and Bartlett) when he collided with a truck. The loss of their leader was hard for the group to bear, but they quickly decided to carry on. The album continued to gain FM radio airplay, with stations even playing 13-minute and 23-minute selections, but with many new listeners and fans not even aware of the tragedy the band and the music world had suffered.
Dickey Betts filled Duane’s former role in completing the last album he participated in, Eat a Peach. 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.
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 directly replacing Duane. Shortly after that, on November 11, 1972, Berry Oakley died in another motorcycle accident, only three blocks away (near Napier Avenue and Inverness Street) from the site of Duane Allman’s fatal accident. (The common retelling, that it was at the exact same site as Duane Allman’s death, is incorrect, as is the legend that the album is named after the kind of truck involved in Allman’s accident.)
Oakley was replaced by Lamar Williams, who was on board in time to finish the next album, Brothers and Sisters (1973). The album marked a shift of direction towards country music, due partially to the loss of Tom Dowd, as well as the increasing influence of Dickey Betts, who soon became the bandleader. Brothers and Sisters included the group’s best known hits, “Ramblin’ Man” and “Jessica”; the former reached #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 as a single, while the latter was a seven-minute instrumental hit. The album was accessible and laid-back, and the band was bigger than ever.
By this time, The Allman Brothers Band had also become one of the top concert draws in the country. Probably their most celebrated performance of the era took place on July 28, 1973 in Watkins Glen, New York, in a joint appearance with The Grateful Dead and The Band. Approximately 600,000 people were estimated to have made it to the racetrack where this massive outdoor festival took place. In the wake of The Allman Brothers Band’s success during this time, many other Southern rock groups rose to prominence, including The Marshall Tucker Band and Lynyrd Skynyrd.
Personality conflicts started to tear the band apart, however. Gregg Allman and Dickey Betts both began solo careers, while Allman married Cher, separated quickly, reconciled, and eventually separated again, all in a storm of publicity; drug abuse took its toll on the entire band. Musically, Betts and Leavell were pulling in opposite directions, with Allman trying to mediate. The tension resulted in the uneven Win, Lose Or Draw (1975), with some members not participating or doing so only from afar. The few stand-out tracks included a stop-start take on Muddy Waters’ “Can’t Lose What You Never Had”, Betts' instrumental “High Falls”", and Allman’s Jackson Browne-influenced title song. The band still managed to limp along until 1976, when Gregg Allman was arrested on federal drug charges and agreed to testify against a friend and employee of the band. Leavell, Johanson and Williams formed Sea Level, while Betts worked on his solo career. All four swore that they would never work with Allman again.
Capricorn Records released several albums of previously unreleased material and live albums, such as Wipe the Windows, Check the Oil, Dollar Gas in 1976; some of these sold reasonably well.
The group reformed in 1978 and released Enlightened Rogues (1979). It featured new members Dan Toler (guitar) and David “Rook” Goldflies (bass), who replaced Leavell and Williams, both of whom refused to rejoin the band in order to concentrate on Sea Level. “Crazy Love” was a minor hit single, but overall The Allman Brothers Band was no longer as popular as before, and financial woes plagued both the group and Capricorn Records, which collapsed in 1979. PolyGram Records took over the catalogue, and the Allman Brothers Band signed to Arista Records. The band released a pair of critically-slammed albums, firing Jaimoe in the process, and then disbanded in early 1982.
In 1989 The Allman Brothers reunited and returned to popular consciousness of the American public, spurred by the release of archival material by PolyGram and the start of regular appearances on the American summer outdoor ampitheatre circuit. Warren Haynes (guitar, vocals), Johnny Neel (keyboards and harmonica) and Allen Woody (bass guitar) joined, while Leavell and Williams remained apart; the former on tour with The Rolling Stones, and Lamar Williams dead from cancer in 1983. After signing to Epic Records, the band released Seven Turns (1990), which got excellent reviews. This was followed by Neel's departure and a series of moderately-selling, but critically well-received albums including Shades Of Two Worlds (1991) and Where It All Begins (1994, certified Gold 1998), both featuring new percussionist Marc Quinones. Warren Haynes and Allen Woody formed their own side project Gov't Mule in 1994. In 1995, the band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and in 1996 they won the Grammy Award for Best Rock Instrumental Performance for “Jessica”. When Haynes and Woody decided to concentrate full-time on Gov't Mule in 1997, Haynes was replaced on guitar by Jack Pearson, while Woody was replaced on bass by Oteil Burbridge. Derek Trucks, nephew of original Brother Butch Trucks, replaced Pearson in 1999.
In 2000, the band forced Dickey Betts to sit out the summer tour due to personal and professional reasons. Betts then filed a lawsuit against the other three original members and the summer separation turned into a permanent divorce. The band did release the CD Peakin' at the Beacon which chronicled the annual March tradition of a many-night stand at the Beacon Theater in New York City. Also that same year, former bassist Allen Woody was found dead. Warren Haynes rejoined the band and decided to work in both The Allman Brothers and Gov't Mule at the same time (he was later to tour with The Dead in the summer of 2004 as well). The Haynes’ produced Hittin' the Note was released in 2003 to popular and critical acclaim, as was the Live at the Beacon Theatre DVD film (2003, certified Gold 2003). The live CD One Way Out 2004 also chronicled the Beacon concerts.The Allman Brothers
garnered back to back Grammy
Award nominations in 2003 and 2004 in the category of Best Rock Instrumental for performances of “Instrumental Illness” from Hittin' the Note
and One Way Out
. In 2003, Rolling Stone
magazine named Duane Allman, Warren Haynes, Dickey Betts, and Derek Trucks to their list of 100 Greatest Guitarists of All-Time, with Allman coming in at Number Two and Trucks being the youngest guitarist on their list. The Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks lineup continued The Allman Brothers Band’s
connection with younger music fans via concert pairings with popular jam bands, .moe
and String Cheese Incident
, among others.