The Allman Brothers
The Allman Brothers
Duane and Gregg Allman were born one year apart in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1946 and 1947, respectively. Their father died when they were young, and when Duane was 12, their mother moved the family to Daytona, Florida. They grew up listening to the great blues artists on southern radio stations and were soon playing music themselves. After Gregg received a guitar for Christmas he taught Duane some basics that he had picked up, and then switched to keyboards. By the time they were in their mid-teens, both were members of local groups like the House Rockers and the Untils.
In 1965 they formed a four-piece unit, the Allman Joys, and recorded a rendition of Willie Dixon’s classic, “Spoonful.” A year later they were brought to Hollywood by Bill McEuen but the group only lasted until 1967. The brothers formed another band, Hourglass, but the results were less than spectacular. “They handed us a boxful of demos and said pick out your album,” Gregg said in Rock 100. Their label wouldn’t even let the band play in clubs and eventually the group folded.
Group has included Howard Duane Allman, born November 20, 1946, Nashville, TN, died in a motorcycle accident October 29, 1971; Gregg Allman, born December 8, 1947, Nashville; Duane and Gregg’s mother’s name was Géraldine Allman; Dicky Betts (guitar); Warren Haynes (guitar); Jai Johanny Johanson (drums); Chuck Leavell (piano); Johnny Neel (harmonica and keyboards); Berry Oakley (bass), deceased, 1972; Dan Toller (guitar); Butch Trucks (drums); Lamar Williams (bass); Allen Woody (bass).
Band formed c. 1968.
Addresses: Record company —Epic (Sony Music Distribution), Sony Music Entertainment, P.O. Box 4450, New York, NY 10101.
The brothers’ brief recordings from this period can be heard on the LPs Early Allman and Power of Love.
Gregg stayed in California to honor the remainder of the Hourglass contract, while Duane headed back south where he latched on to a highly lucrative but artistically unsatisfying job as a studio sideman. “Oh man! Studios—that’s a terrible thing! You just lay around and you get your money, man,” Duane once said in Guitar Player. He added tasteful guitar lines to songs by Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin, Delaney and Bonnie, King Curtis, Boz Scaggs, Clarence Carter, and others while helping to establish Rick Hall’s Muscle Shoals as one of the nation’s recording capitals.
At the same time Duane was hanging out with Butch Trucks and his band, 31 st of February. Gregg, who had been writing tunes out west, was convinced by Duane to come home and play. Upon his return the brothers recorded some demos with Truck’s outfit before hooking up with The Second Coming, a progressive Jefferson Airplane-style band headed by Dicky Betts and Berry Oakley. The unit became the Allman Brothers Band and from their first jam together, Duane knew he had a hot group. “It lasted two-and-a-half hours,” he told Guitar Player. “When we finally quit, nobody ever said a word man. Everybody was speechless. No-body’d ever done anything like that before.”
Duane eventually quit his studio work as the band went to New York to record their debut LP. The Allman Brothers Band, released in 1969, was mainly blues as the brothers were allowed the freedom that their Hourglass sessions prohibited. “Before we went into the studio to record our first album, we had a very clear idea of what we were all trying to do musically and that it was unique—a style totally different from anything else anyone was playing,” Dicky Betts told Guitar World. “It wasn’t that we got lucky as we went along; from the earliest rehearsals, we had the same mindset.”
The unique aspect of the Allman Brothers was the unison counterpoint guitar lines that Duane and Betts played so brilliantly together. This approach reached its peak on their Live at the Fillmore East LP, released in 1971 after their second studio album, Idlewild South. The band was building a reputation on their four-hour live sets that transformed the blues in much the same way as Eric Clapton’s trio, Cream. Recorded on March 12 and 13, 1971, three of the double LP’s seven songs totalled 54 minutes, creating one of the most stunning live albums in rock history.
The two guitarists stretched classics like “Statesboro Blues” and “Stormy Monday” into new forms while creating beautiful and blistering originals like “Hot ’Lanta” and “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed.” With Gregg on keyboards and vocals, Oakley on bass, and Butch Trucks and Jai Johanny Johanson both pounding on the drums, the Allman Brothers were a very high-powered machine. “The Allmans simply plowed straight ahead, unrelenting, not content to stop until both themselves and the audience were dizzy from exhaustion,” Rock 100 stated.
The new formula of two guitars and two drums spawned an entire school of southern rock bands: Wet Willie, the Outlaws,38 Special, Molly Hatchet, Marshall Tucker, Charlie Daniels, Black Oak Arkansas, and the three-guitar attack of Lynyrd Skynyrd. With the exception of the latter, most of these bands just seemed like imitations, mainly because none of them included a guitar genius like Duane Allman.
“Duane was the father of the band,” said Gregg in Guitar Player. “He had a lot to do with the spontaneity of the whole thing. He was like the mother ship. Somehow he had this real magic about him that would lock us all in, and we’d take off.” Although he is hardly ever mentioned in the same breath as his contemporaries, Duane was as equally inventive and skillful as Jeff Beck, Jimi Hendrix, or Jimmy Page. His work on Clapton’s Layla LP prodded the Englishman to new heights and created one of the finest rock albums of all time.
The Allman Brothers band took a devastating blow on October 29, 1971 when Duane was killed in a motorcycle crash at the age of 24. A tight-knit family, the Allman Brothers band continued on without replacing Duane and issued Eat a Peach in 1972. One half of the LP consisted of live cuts from their Fillmore dates and the studio side included the hit “Melissa.” Betts took control of the band’s direction and continued in his instrumental vein with “Jessica” on their next album, Brothers and Sisters. They had their biggest hit, “Ramblin’ Man,” but were also struck again by tragedy when Berry Oakley died just 13 months after Duane in an eerily similar accident.
By 1974 the media began to focus more on the group’s personal lives than their music as Gregg’s solo tour, drug bust, and marriage to singer Cher took the spotlight while the group’s financial situation worsened. Win, Lose or Draw saw the band continuing but breaking no new ground in 1975, the same year Capricorn issued a compilation LP, The Road Goes On Forever. Wipe the Windows, Check the Oil, Dollar Gas was released a year later and consisted of outtakes from 1972-75 sessions as the band began to disintegrate.
The final straw came when Gregg testified against their road manager, Scooter Herring, who eventually got 75 years in jail on a drug conviction. “He threw Scooter away just because he didn’t need him anymore,” Betts told Rolling Stone, “and there’s not one person in this band who won’t tell you anything different than that. That’s why there’s no Allman Brothers band… There is no way we can work with Gregg again ever.”
Betts left to form Great Southern while Johanson organized Sea Level with pianist Chuck Leavell and bassist Lamar Williams. By 1979 the wounds were healed, however, as Gregg, Trucks, and Johanson jammed with Great Southern in New York’s Central Park, sparking the first Allman Brothers reunion. Their comeback LP, Enlightened Rogues, was controlled by Betts as he again explored the dual guitar approach with Dan Toler. “Whatever Enlightened Rogues lacks in virtuosity, it makes up for in emotional intensity,” stated Rolling Stone. Jas Obrecht in Guitar Player called it their “strongest album since Eat a Peach. It’s good to see them back.”
They followed with Reach for the Sky, which seemed hollow compared to Rogues. “We had a bad experience with (recording executive) Clive Davis,” Betts told Guitar Player. “We did two albums with him—one of them was a real good album, and one of them was a real bad one…. The last album we did wasn’t worth a…you know.” The reunited Allmans lasted only one more album longer, Brothers Of The Road, before disbanding. Gregg hooked up with Toler and produced a major hit thereafter with I’m No Angel in 1987.
In the late 1980s, Mike Caplan of Epic Records had signed both Betts and Allman to separate contracts in hopes of getting them back together. By 1989 his strategy paid off and the Allman Brothers 20th Anniversary Tour, their first tour in eight years, was on the road playing their classic tunes. “We’re just taking it easy and seeing what happens from here,” Butch Trucks told the Detroit Free Press. Though enthusiastic, Betts expressed caution, joking in Rolling Stone that the folks from Epic “were afraid we would break up again before we ever finished the tour.” The tour was a success as it coincided with the release of Dreams, a retrospective multi-disk box set containing several previously unre-leased tracks.
After the tour the band members were back in the studios working once again with producer Tom Dowd on Seven Turns. Released in 1990, the album was praised as an encouraging return to the vintage sound of the Allman Brothers of old, and the single “Good Clean Fun” received considerable air play. Any doubts about the new incarnation of the pioneers of southern rock were removed in 1991 when the Allman Brothers released Shades of Two Worlds. “Charged by topflight performances from Dickey Betts and Gregg Allman, the band summons up both the spirit and the musical resonance of the original group,” remarked John Swenson in Rolling Stone. Swenson joined other reviewers in applauding the addition on these two albums of Warren Haynes, a slide guitarist who has done more than a creditable job of filling Duane’s shoes: “He references Allman’s tone and signature techniques yet animates his presentation with his own distinctive personality.”
Now in their third decade together, Allman, Betts, Trucks, and Johanson have run the full gamut of emotions, yet they continue to produce an enduring, distinctive brand of rock and roll. “They’ve gone through a lot of peaks and valleys,” producer Tom Dowd told the Free Press, “but now they’re enjoying each other’s company again, and they realize how valuable they are to each other.”
The Allman Brothers Band, Atco, 1969.
Idlewild South, Ateo, 1970.
Live at the Fillmore East, Capricorn, 1971.
Eat a Peach, Capricorn, 1972.
Brothers and Sisters, Capricorn, 1973.
Win, Lose or Draw, Capricorn, 1975.
The Road Goes on Forever, Capricorn, 1975.
Wipe The Windows, Check the Oil, Dollar Gas, Capricorn, 1976.
Enlightened Rogues, Capricorn, 1979.
Reach for the Sky, Arista, 1980.
Brothers of the Road.
Dreams (retrospective box set), Polydor, 1989.
Seven Turns, Epic, 1990.
Live At Ludlow Garage, Polygram, 1990.
Shades of Two Worlds, Epic, 1991.
Also released Power of Love under band name Hourglass and Early Allman, Dial Records, 1973, under band name Allman Joys.
An Anthology, Capricorn, 1972.
An Anthology, Volume II, Capricorn, 1974.
Best Of, Polydor.
Laid Back, Capricorn, 1973.
Gregg Allman Tour, Capricorn, 1974.
Playin’ Up a Storm, Capricorn, 1977.
I’m No Angel, Epic, 1987.
Just Before the Bullets Fly, Epic, 1988.
Highway Call, Capricorn, 1975.
Great Southern, Arista, 1977.
Atlanta Burning Down, Arista, 1978.
Pattern Disruptive, Epic, 1989.
Sea Level, Capricorn, 1977.
Cats on the Coast, Capricorn, 1978.
On the Edge, Capricorn, 1978.
Long Walk on a Short Pier, Capricorn, 1979.
Ballroom, Arista, 1980.
Christgau, Robert, Christgau’s Record Guide, Ticknor & Fields, 1981.
The Rolling Stone Record Guide, edited by Dave Marsh with John Swenson, Random House/Rolling Stone Press, 1979.
Dalton, David, and Lenny Kaye, Rock 100, Grosset & Dunlap, 1977.
Logan, Nick, and Bob Woffinden, The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Rock, Harmony, 1977.
The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll, edited by Jim Miller, Random House/Rolling Stone Press, 1976.
The Guitar Player Book, by the editors of Guitar Player magazine, Grove Press, 1979.
Detroit Free Press, July 11, 1989.
Guitar for the Practicing Musician, September 1987.
Guitar Player, July 1979; October 1984; January 1987; August 1989; November 1990.
Guitar World, February 1989; March 1989; September 1989.
Rolling Stone, November 6, 1975; August 26, 1976; November 4, 1976; March 10, 1977; May 31, 1979; October 16, 1980; August 9, 1990; October 18, 1990; August 8, 1991.
—Calen D. Stone
"The Allman Brothers." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (January 21, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/allman-brothers
"The Allman Brothers." Contemporary Musicians. . Retrieved January 21, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/allman-brothers
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