The Allman Brothers Band is a pioneering and innovative Southern rock group from Macon, Georgia originally popular in the 1970s, described by Rolling Stone's George Kimball in 1971 as "the best .. rock and roll band this country has produced in the past five years" .
The band was formed in 1969, consisting of Duane Allman (slide guitar), Gregg Allman (vocals, organ), Dickey Betts (guitar), 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. The Hour Glass 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, Fla. Duane brought in Jaimoe, a drummer he had played with before and the nucleus of the band was formed. Gregg was in LA fulfilling the HourGlass 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. Idlewild South (1970), the followup, produced by Tom Dowd, was a massive critical success, and managed to be quite lucrative, as well.
1971 saw the release of a live album, Live 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. "Statesboro Blues" was a straight-ahead opener, "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 with John Coltrane.
The Allman Brothers received the honour of being the last act to play the Fillmore East before it closed. Duane Allman died not long after the album was certified gold, killed in a motorcycle accident in Macon, Georgia (at the corner of Hillcrest and Bartlett) when he collided with a truck.
Dickey Betts filled Duane's former role in completing the last album he participated in, Eat a Peach, which was wistful in tone. Chuck Leavell , a pianist, was added to replace Duane. Not long after the release of Eat a Peach, 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.)
He 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 latter 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 was becoming 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. Approximately 600,000 people were estimated to have made it to the racetrack where this massive outdoor festival took place. Also on the bill were The Grateful Dead and The Band.
In the wake of the Allman Brothers Band's success, other Southern rock groups sprang up, including Lynyrd Skynyrd and Blackfoot. Personality conflicts continued to tear the band apart, however. Gregg Allman and Dickey Betts both began solo careers, while Allman married Cher twice; drug abuse took its toll on the entire band. The tension resulted in the uneven Win, Lose Or Draw , with some members not participating or doing so only from afar. 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. Leavall, 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 numerous 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) and featured new members Dan Toler (guitar), who replaced Chuck Leavell who (with Lamar Williams) refused to join the band. The Allman Brothers Band was no longer as popular though, 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 began releasing a series of critically-slammed albums, and fired Jaimoe, drifting along throughout the 1980s without much of an audience.
1989 saw a return to popular consciousness for the Allman Brothers Band, 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), 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 albums including Shades Of Two Worlds (1991) and Where It All Begins (1994), both featuring new percussionist Marc Quinones . Warren Haynes and Allen Woody formed their own side project Gov't Mule in 1994. When they 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 fired original member Dickey Betts. 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 join The Dead as well). The Haynes' produced "Hittin' The Note" was released in 2003 to popular and critical acclaim, as was a live DVD film. The live CD "One Way Out" 2004 also chronicled the Beacon concerts.
For many years, the Allman Brothers' song "Jessica" was synonymous with the BBC TV series Top Gear, and used as its theme tune. The current theme tune is a significantly reworked electronic version of the song.
Awards and recognition
- The Allman Brothers Band (1969)
- Idlewild South (1970)
- At Fillmore East (live, 1971)
- Eat a Peach (1972)
- Brothers and Sisters (1973)
- Win, Lose or Draw (1975)
- Wipe the Windows, Check the Oil, Dollar Gas (live, 1976)
- Enlightened Rogues (1979)
- Reach for the Sky (1980)
- Brothers of the Road (1981)
- Dreams (box set, 1989)
- Seven Turns (1990)
- Shades of Two Worlds (1991)
- (live, 1992)
- Where It All Begins (1994)
- (live, 1995)
- Peakin' at the Beacon (live, 2000)
- Hittin' the Note (2003)
- One Way Out (live, 2004)
- The Allman Brothers Band: Dreams liner notes