Allman Brothers Band, The
THE ALLMAN BROTHERS BAND
Formed: 1969, Macon, Georgia
Members: "Gregg" Lenoir Allman, lead vocals, keyboards (born Nashville, Tennessee, 8 December 1947); Oteil Burbridge, bass (born Washington, D.C., 24 August 1964); Warren Haynes, lead guitar, vocals (born Asheville, North Carolina, 6 April 1960); Jaimoe "Jai" Johanny Johanson, drums (born John Lee Johnson, Ocean Springs, Mississippi, 8 July 1944); Butch Trucks, drums (born Claude Hudson Trucks Jr., Jacksonville, Florida, 11 May 1947); Derek Trucks, lead guitar (born Jacksonville, Florida, 8 June 1979). Former members: Howard "Duane" Allman, lead guitar (born Nashville, Tennessee, 20 November 1946; died 29 October 1971); Forrest Richard "Dickie" Betts, guitar, vocals (born West Palm Beach, Florida, 12 December 1943); David "Rook" Goldflies, bass; Chuck Leavell, keyboards (born Birmingham, Alabama, 28 April 1952); Raymond "Berry" Oakley, bass guitar (born Chicago, Illinois, 4 April 1948; died 11 November 1972); Jack Pearson, guitar, vocals (born Nashville, Tennessee); Marc Quiñones, drums (born Bronx, New York); Dan Toler, guitar (born Connersville, Indiana, 23 September 1948); David "Frankie" Toler, drums (born Connersville, Indiana, 28 June 1951); Lamar Williams, bass (born Hansboro, Mississippi, 14 January 1947; died 25 January 1983); Douglas "Allen" Woody, bass (born 1956; died Queens, New York, 28 August 2000).
Genre: Rock, Blues
Best-selling album since 1990: An Evening with the Allman Brothers (1992)
Credited for fashioning the southern rock sound, the Allman Brothers gained hasty notoriety at the turn of the 1970s with their muscular blues-based rock, paving the way for numerous other southern rock bands. They continue to rekindle the spirit of those early glory days through signature live shows featuring inventive improvisation and robust rhythms driven by two drummers.
The Original Band
The band's name derives from original members Duane Allman and his younger brother Gregg. They grew up in Nashville, Tennessee, and a tragedy early in their lives would be a harbinger for things to come. Their father, an army sergeant, home on Christmas leave from the Korean War, was murdered by a hitchhiker. In 1958 their mother, Geraldine, moved the family to Daytona Beach, Florida, where the brothers became interested in music and formed several bands, most notably the Allman Joys. Recognized as a guitar prodigy, Duane Allman became a renowned studio player at the famed Muscle Shoals studio in Alabama. A major record company offered him a contract to form a band so he left the studio to rejoin his brother, Gregg, who played keyboards and sang lead vocals with raspy emotion that belied his age. They recruited guitarist Dickie Betts, bassist Berry Oakley, and drummers Jai Johanny Johanson and Butch Trucks. They called themselves the Allman Brothers.
Their first two albums, The Allman Brothers Band (1969) and Idlewild South (1970), did not sell particularly well, but their concert reputation as an exciting act who improvised jazz-influenced blues spread fast. From late 1969 until the fall of 1971, they gave over 500 performances, culminating in a live album recorded in New York City, Live at the Fillmore East (1971). The double album became a hit and is still regarded as one of rock music's best records. However, the band suffered a huge setback when Duane Allman was killed on October 29, 1971, after he crashed his motorcycle while swerving to miss a truck. The band recovered enough to finish recording a fourth album, Eat a Peach (1972), but suffered the loss of another member, bassist Berry Oakley, when he was killed in a motorcycle mishap on November 11, 1972, eerily close to where Duane had died.
The Allman Brothers continued touring and recording into the middle of the 1970s although each member was also branching off into solo projects. They managed to produce several of their most popular songs during this period, including their biggest hit, "Ramblin' Man," which was written and sung by Betts. However, personal distractions, including ongoing heavy drug use, debilitated the band and in 1976 the Allman Brothers were caught up in a swell of narcotics investigations. Gregg Allman eventually testified against a former Allman Brothers road manager, who as a result received a stiff prison sentence for distributing narcotics. Greatly dismayed over what they viewed as Allman's betrayal, the band split up. Throughout, Allman was in an up-and-down relationship with pop diva Cher, marrying her twice before their split in 1979. In the meantime, Betts and Allman made amends and decided to reform the Allman Brothers in 1978 with a lineup that featured brothers Dan and Frankie Toler on guitar and drums. They toured successfully to packed stadium-sized venues and recorded three albums. Nevertheless, they broke up again in 1982 over creative squabbles and rampant drug use.
Picking Up the Pieces
In 1990 the Allman Brothers reformed after releasing a four-album box set of their past music, Dreams (1989). Led by Allman and Betts, each cascading off solo-career failures, there was little expectation that the band had much of the old spark. The release of Seven Turns (1990), a remarkable comeback album, erased that doubt. The Allman Brothers borrowed guitarist Warren Haynes and bassist Allen Woody from a group called Government Mule to accompany the four original members. Haynes's slide guitar talents reminded many of Duane Allman's style and he worked well with the multitalented Betts. Betts's reputation and individuality suffered through the years in the shadow of Duane Allman and later in the shadow of Allman's legend. However, many critics regard Betts, who incorporates a generous blend of country and melodic pop influences into his blues-based guitar work, as one of the best players of his time. He also did a sizable share of the band's vocal work although the voice that fans most identify with the Allman Brothers belongs to Gregg Allman. Recognized as one of the great blues voices, Betts is a master of deep, expressive singing, perfectly suited for wrenching up all the tribulations that life has handed him.
In the next three years the new Allman Brothers Band released two more highly regarded recordings, Shades of Two Worlds (1991) and Where It All Begins (1994), proving that the band was back to stay. Yet, their spirited live shows continued to bring the band most of its praise. New York City's Beacon Theatre became a regular stop and in some years they extended their stay for as long as one month. Two live recordings, An Evening with the Allman Brothers (1992) and a sequel called 2nd Set (1995), capture their live approach, which is trademarked by spontaneous freeform jams. In 1995 the Allman Brothers Band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Spot Light: The Firing of Dickie Betts
Following a vote by the three founding members of the Allman Brothers, longtime guitarist Dickie Betts, the other living founder, was informed by fax in May 2000 of his firing from the band. The reason for his sudden ouster, according to band members, was his erratic playing on recent concert dates. Betts had been laid off from the band once before, in 1994, due to drug and alcohol treatment. Deeply depressed over this last firing and the lack of communication with his former band mates, Betts turned erratic in his behavior and he was checked into a clinic for psychiatric evaluation shortly after. Weeks later, he filed suit against the Allman Brothers over issues regarding his termination, steadfastly claiming that drugs were not the issue. That fall he was arrested and jailed for spousal battery. Although the firing was first thought to be only temporary, there is no indication that Betts will return to the Allman Brothers. The following year Betts recorded Let's Get Together (2001), his first solo album in thirteen years.
More changes occurred in 1997 as Haynes and Woody amicably left to concentrate on Government Mule. The Allman Brothers continued to tour with guitarist Jack Pearson (who replaced Haynes) and released another live album, a tribute to the Beacon Theatre called Peakin' at the Beacon (2000). It mostly contains selections from their Live at the Fillmore East glory days, but is notable for featuring the first appearance of nineteen-year-old guitar whiz Derek Trucks. A nephew to drummer Butch Trucks, the younger Trucks amazed the audience with his bottleneck slide playing and his likeness to Duane Allman. Peakin' at the Beacon turned out to be Betts's final recording appearance as he was unceremoniously given a termination notice shortly after the record's release.
In conjunction with a ten-day stay in March 2003 at the Beacon Theatre, the Allman Brothers released their first new album of songs in nine years, titled Hittin' the Note (2003). The returning Haynes along with young Trucks share the guitar work.
Through four decades of making music, the Allman Brothers Band has faced constant comparison to a few celebrated years at their beginning. Whether the specter of that past has been help or hindrance to the band's musical life may never fully be understood. As members of the Allman Brothers stomped through the minefield of life in rock and roll, it is significant that they produced great music with every step.
The Allman Brothers Band (Polygram, 1969); Idlewild South (Polygram, 1970); Live at the Fillmore East (Polygram, 1971); Eat a Peach (Polygram, 1972); Brothers and Sisters (Polygram, 1973); Win, Lose, or Draw (Polygram, 1975); Wipe the Windows, Check the Oil, Dollar Gas (Polygram, 1976); Enlightened Rogues (Polygram, 1979); Reach for the Sky (Polygram, 1980); Seven Turns (Sony, 1990); Shades of Two Worlds (Sony, 1991); An Evening with the Allman Brothers (Sony, 1992); Where It All Begins (Sony, 1994); 2nd Set (Sony, 1995); Peakin' at the Beacon (Sony, 2000), Hittin' the Note (2003).
S. Freeman, Midnight Riders: The Story of the Allman Brothers Band (New York, 1996).
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