Personalities | The Allman Brothers Band | Seventies | Jazz & Blues

Few groups made as powerful an impression on American blues music in the early 1970s as The Allman Brothers Band. Its blend of blues, jazz, rock and country elements was a predominant sound on nascent FM radio and influenced countless bands that followed in their wake. The Allman Brothers Band have endured tragedies, periods of obscurity and personnel shifts to remain active in the new century.

Muscle Shoals To Macon

Guitarist Duane Allman (1946–71) and his brother, organist/vocalist Gregg Allman (b. 1947), grew up in Daytona Beach, Florida. Their first band, the Escorts, aped the Rolling Stones and the Beatles. They moved further into hard blues and soul with the Allman Joys and the Hour Glass, the latter of which recorded two albums for Liberty Records.

In the late 1960s Duane landed a job as a studio guitarist in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, the famed breeding ground of latter-day soul. He made his name backing King Curtis, Wilson Pickett and Aretha Franklin while framing his own approach to R&B, soul and blues. In 1969 manager Phil Walden urged Allman to put together a band of his own. He hired bassist Berry Oakley, lured guitarist Dickey Betts away from the band Second Coming and selected two drummers: Butch Trucks and Jai Johanny Johanson, a.k.a. Jaimoe. A long jam session proved the concept’s viability, and eventually Gregg Allman was brought in on vocals and organ.

The Allman Brothers Band initially toured Georgia and Florida to build upon its blues-rock template. It first recorded in 1969 for Walden’s label, Capricorn. The album did not sell well at first but impressed many of those who did hear it. Word of mouth and solid ticket sales earned the group a good reputation around the South. The Allmans settled in Macon, Georgia, where they worked more acoustic guitar and jazz flavourings into their sound. Duane Allman kept active as a sideman, working with Boz Scaggs, Otis Rush and Johnny Jenkins. He also teamed with Eric Clapton in Bonnie & Delaney, and later Derek & the Dominos.

Triumph And Tragedy

The group’s fame spread on the strength of its second album, the hit tune ‘Midnight Rider’ and the powerful jam sessions that coloured their live concerts. While the musicians were capable of playing in odd keys and time signatures, their music was still accessible and rock-based enough to maintain its popular momentum.

In March 1971 the band played a series of shows at the Fillmore East, which were documented on its third album. Polydor Records churned up momentum for the record, which turned Duane Allman into America’s newest guitar hero. But shortly after At Fillmore East was certified gold in October, Duane was killed in a motorcycle accident. Almost exactly one year later, following the success of the follow-up recording, Eat A Peach, Berry Oakley also died in a motorcycle crash. Rather than dissolve the group, Gregg Allman and Dickey Betts opted to press on. The first two albums were reissued as...

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Source: The Definitive Illustrated Encyclopedia of Jazz & Blues, founding editor Howard Mandel


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