In 1968, a young session guitar player was invited to do some work in the studio with Wilson Pickett. The young man was instantly accepted by Pickett, a feat that had never happened before and will never happen again, according to guitarist Jimmy Johnson. The newcomer suggested that Wilson cut a version of the Beatles' Hey Jude, taught the band to play it, and laid down a blistering solo. The Pickett version of Hey Jude went on to sell a million copies and the young guitar player was given a contract with Atlantic Records to work as a regular session player at the famous Muscle Shoals Studios. His name was Duane Allman.
Early the next year, Duane's contract was sold to Phillip Walden, founder of a new label called Capricorn Records. Walden told Allman to get a band together to record a solo album. The guitarist quickly formed his band by picking friends out of two other groups: The Second Coming, from which he picked up bassist Berry Oakley and guitarist Dickey Betts, and The 31st of February, which provided drummer Butch Trucks, and the guitarist's younger brother whom he had worked with in two other bands in the past, vocalist/keyboard player, Gregg Allman. With the addition of a second drummer, Jai Johnny Johnson a.k.a. Jaimoe, the original line-up of the Allman Brothers Band was complete.
For roughly the next two years, the Allman Brothers dazzled audiences around the country, playing more than 500 gigs as both headliners, and in a supporting role for acts like Buddy Guy and B.B. King. During that time they recorded both their self-titled debut album and it's follow up, Idlewild South. Both albums plus their live shows reflected the bands ability to create exciting new music of their own, along with covering the artists that they loved with extraordinary emotion. Some of the songs from this era include Blind Willie McTell's "Statesboro Blues", John Lee Hooker's "Dimples", and Muddy Waters' "Trouble No More" along with Allman's originals "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed" "Midnight Rider" and "Dreams."
While the Allmans were an incredible live act who often jammed for hours on end, their two studio albums fell just short of showing the world what they were really all about. Duane Allman once explained, "The stage is really our natural element. We kind of get frustrated doing the records." He went on, "Consequently, our next album will be a live recording to get some of that natural fire on it." With that in mind, the bands third album, At The Fillmore East, was born. On March 12th and 13th 1971, producer Tom Dowd set up a mobile recording studio at New York's Fillmore East. The band took the stage over the two nights and proceeded to change rock and roll forever. The album that resulted from those two nights, along with its subsequent re-releases over the years (which have now almost doubled its length) was recently named the greatest live album in the history of rock and roll by Rolling Stone magazine. Upon the album's release, Rolling Stone said, "Any comparison to anybody is fatuous. [The Allman Brothers are] the best damn rock and roll band this country has produced in the past five years!" Just seven months later, the original Allman Brothers Band was no more.
At approximately 5:45 on October 29th 1971, Duane Allman left the bands' Macon, Georgia house on his motorcycle, and shortly thereafter he was almost hit by a truck. When he swerved to avoid it, Allman fell from the bike, and was killed instantly. At Duane's funeral, the five remaining band members played a small concert for the 300+ friends and family members that showed up to pay their respects. Their equipment was set up behind Duane's casket in front of which was resting his guitar case. After four or five tunes including "The Sky Is Crying" and "Will the Circle Be Unbroken" Gregg performed several songs alone with his brother's guitar, before the rest of the band rejoined him to play one more song.
After taking a few months off, the band reconvened to finish their fourth album, which they had been in the middle of at the time of Duane's death. Eat A Peach, which Duane had named, became one of the more unique albums in the Allman's long career. The reason for this is the three different types of songs included on the album. First, there were the studio songs that the band had already finished with Duane including "Little Martha", and "Blue Sky". Then there were the songs that the short-lived five-man line-up recorded after Duane's death such as "Ain't Wastin No More Time" and "Melissa". Finally, filling out the bulk of the double album was unused material from the At The Fillmore tapes such as the epic thirty-minute plus "Mountain Jam" which took up an entire side of the album.
Six months after Eat A Peach was released in early '72, the band reentered the studio once again to begin work on their first complete studio album in almost three years. Brothers and Sisters, which should have been the band's chance to re-group and get back on track as a premier force in American rock and roll ended up providing it's own dramatic problems for the band. The obvious initial challenge was deciding what to do in order to fill Duane's spot in the band. A decision was made that no matter who they picked, no guitar player in the world would be able to take Duane's place. Instead, the band opted to add accomplished blues and jazz piano player, Chuck Leavell to the mix. The initial recording sessions of the new line-up yielded some of the Allman's most loved material, including "Wasted Words" and what's probably the band's biggest hit, "Ramblin Man". Then less than a month after recording began, tragedy struck for the second time in just over a year when Berry Oakley was killed in an accident that was eerily similar to that which killed Duane. On November 11th 1972, Berry was hit by a bus while riding his motorcycle. The accident occurred just a few blocks away from where Duane had been killed.
The band, though devastated by the loss of a second charter member in a year, soldiered on and replaced Berry with bassist Lamar Williams. This new line-up recorded the classic tunes "Southbound" and "Jessica" and finished up the Brothers and Sisters album early in 1973. Despite tremendous adversity, the Allman Brothers Band had created a studio masterpiece, which in the minds of many fans is the greatest album of their career regardless of the fact that their legendary lead guitar player does not play on it at all. That summer, preceding the release of Brothers and Sisters, the Allman Brothers along with The Band and The Grateful Dead played a concert at Watkins Glen in upstate New York. The three bands drew a crowd of more than half a million people. The Watkins Glen concert surpassed the attendance of the original Woodstock festival and became the most attended rock concert of all-time. While it was unknown at the time, the Watkins Glen concert would mark the high point in the Allman's career for the next twenty years.
The Allman brothers were no strangers to partying. They were after all, the band that had chosen a hallucinogenic mushroom as their logo, the same one that all six band members had tattooed on themselves back in the early days. They were also the guys that got arrested en mass for possession of marijuana and heroin in the fall of '71. Drugs were a part of the scene plain and simple. In the mid seventies however, the mounting pressures of fame drove the band members deeper into their drug habits, and in turn brought a halt to the high level of productivity that had never really stopped come hell or high-water from their 1969 debut until the Brothers and Sister release in the fall of '73. After the relatively poorly received, albeit highly underrated follow up to Brothers and Sisters, Win Lose or Draw, The Allman Brothers Band would not record together in the studio until 1979.
In 1975, a federal drug probe was launched into the activities of several Macon Georgia pharmacists and some members of the Allman Brothers Band organization, including Gregg Allman himself. Gregg was offered immunity from prosecution if he would testify against his former bodyguard John "Scooter" Herring. Gregg accepted the deal, and his testimony that he had bought drugs from Scooter on fifteen separate occasions, sent Herring to prison for several years. The rest of the band was outraged that Gregg would sell out his friend to save himself. Dickey Betts announced that he was going to form his own band, and did so in the form of Great Southern. Jaimoe, Leavell and Williams then formed a band of their own called - in a play on Chuck's name - Sea Level. Gregg fled to Los Angeles where his then wife Cherwas living and vowed never to return to Macon again. The Allman Brothers Band was no more. The splintered Allman Brothers Band released a slew of new material, averaging two solo/side project albums a year between 1973 and 1979. Even the Allman Brothers roadies released an album as the band Grinderswitch. These new albums were hit and miss, but were never as good as what the band members achieved together. Perhaps the most interesting of the bunch, although not great musically, was the 1977 release Two The Hard Way by Allman & Woman. If you haven't guessed, Allman & Woman was the name Gregg and Cher had decided to use when recording together.
More relevant to the continuing story of the Allman Brothers Band however is the line-up of Dickey Betts new band, Great Southern. On their debut self titled album, Dickey began a collaboration with guitarist Dan Toler, who would be a key player in the Allman's lineage, in one form or another from that point on. An interesting aside regarding the first Great Southern album is that Dickey co-wrote several songs for the album with a struggling songwriter that he was friends with, Don "Miami Vice" Johnson! For their second album, Atlanta's Burning Down, Dickey began working with Dan's brother David on drums, as well as with a bassist named David Goldflies. While Dickey and other Allman Brothers Band members had been publicly vocal about their displeasure with Gregg since his trial, the hatchet was buried in early 1977 when Gregg and Dickey ran into each other for the first time in years, at President Jimmy Carter's inauguration. After roughly a year and a half of discussion, all four founding members of the band agreed that they wanted to play together again, and Gregg Allman returned to Georgia. The rest of the band however would once again be revamped.
When invited to rejoin the Allman Brothers Band, and recreate the Brothers and Sisters era line-up, both Lamar and Chuck refused saying that what they were doing in Sea Level was closer to where they wanted to be with their music. Replacements were found quickly and easily by raiding the Great Southern roster. David Goldflies became the new bassist in the Allman Brothers Band. Replacing Chuck and becoming the first guitar player to play opposite Dickey in the band since Duane passed away was Dan Toler. The reunion officially began at the Capricorn picnic in Central Park in July 1978. While Great Southern were playing that afternoon, Gregg and Butch joined them onstage and within months, the new band was in the studio with their long-time collaborator Tom Dowd handling the production. The resulting album, Enlightened Rogues, was the first of three that the band released between 1979 and 1982. It was the most successful of the bunch, both critically and commercially, and the band was selling out 20,000 seat arenas nightly.
Over the next two years, the band's passion and their popularity began to fade. Dickey Betts himself said, "I think Enlightened Rogues is a good album, but the way I feel is, from that point on it was less fire and less inspiration .Reach for the Sky had some nice moments, but by the time we got to Brothers of the Road you could tell that whatever it was we had, was over." Jaimoe was the first member of the band to quit, which he did before the recording of Brothers of the Road. His replacement was none other than Dan Toler's brother David, who had been in Great Southern just before the Allmans reunited. Dissatisfied fans mocked the band during this period by calling them the Toler Brothers Band. The Allman Brothers Band broke up for the second time in 1982.
According to Dan Toler, the very same day the Allman Brothers called it quits, the Gregg Allman Band was formed. Dan and his brother David both joined Gregg putting them in the unique position of having played in the Allman Brothers Band as well as in Gregg and Dickey's solo bands. There is one other figure in Allman's history that worked with all three groups, but he enters into the story a little later. Roughly four years went by after the 1982 break-up before a very interesting package tour hit the road. The 1986 tour featured both the Dickey Betts Band, and The Gregg Allman Band. One band would play for an hour, then the other, and then the show would end with a jam session featuring members of both bands. These joint performances, which included the Toler brothers, featured four of the six members of the Allman's 1982 line-up, and led to two separate one-night-only Allman Brothers reunion concerts - one that July at a Charlie Daniels Volunteer Jam and one on Halloween at Madison Square Garden as a part of the Crackdown on Crack concert. Ironically, these mini reunions sparked both Gregg and Dickey's solo careers, and put the real Allman Brothers re-union on hold for several more years.
The Dickey Betts Band circa 1988, was ground zero for what would be the next decade of The Allman Brothers Band. Including a guest performance by Butch Trucks, Dickey's album Pattern Disruptive featured four of the seven musicians that would make up the newest incarnation of the Allman Brothers Band the following year. The other future Allman Brothers in the band were keyboardist Johnny Neel, and the guitar player that would dominate the Allman Brothers Band like no non-founding member had ever done before him - or since, Warren Haynes. A final point of interest in this supergroup that no one realized was a supergroup at the time, was drummer Matt Abts. Abts, while never a member of the Allman Brothers Band himself, is a member of the extended family. He figures into this story again, about seven or eight years down the line.
Although he had been around for a few years having cut his teeth in country singer David Allen Coe's band, Warren was very excited to be playing with Betts. "As a kid, the Allman Brothers were a huge influence on me," Warren admitted, "So the first time that Dickey and I ever played together was a real big thrill." Haynes, being the person I alluded to earlier, also worked with the Gregg Allman Band. He didn't play with Gregg, but he co-wrote some of the music including the title track of Allman's 1988 solo album Just Before the Bullets Fly.
When the Allman Brothers were preparing for a full-on reunion tour in 1989, Warren was a natural choice to step in as the second guitar player. He and Dickey had been flooring audiences around the country, plus he and Gregg were building a strong relationship as a songwriting duo. With the four original members and both Neel and Haynes on board, all that was needed was a bassist. Enter Allen Woody. Woody who was a true virtuoso of stringed instruments (he played most of the ones you know of and actually invented a few, like the bass sitar he had custom built in the mid nineties) came to the attention of drummer Butch Trucks when the two were introduced by a mutual friend, former Lynyrd Skynyrd drummer Artimus Pyle. Butch encouraged Woody to try out for the Allman Brothers which he did and subsequently got the job. The twentieth anniversary reunion of the Allman Brothers in 1989 was a huge success. Audiences everywhere fell in love with the band all over again, and a surprising number of new fans joined the fold. Although the band had broken up and gotten back together in the past, 1989 marked the true second coming of the Allman Brothers Band. Unbeknownst to anyone at the time, the reunion, tour, and new album released that year (Seven Turns) kicked off the longest period of continued existence and productivity in the band's history, and they haven't stopped since!
All that aside, the real milestone moment of 1989 came on September 27th, when the band took the stage at New York's Beacon Theatre for the first time ever. It was naturally the first night of a multi-night residency at the venue. Over the past sixteen years, the Beacon has become synonymous with the Allman Brothers Band. Every March since 1992, the Allmans have taken over the venue for as many as 19 nights (1999). They've recorded two complete live albums, sections of two other live albums and a feature length DVD at the venue. After their run next month, the Allman Brothers Band will have played more than 150 gigs at the Beacon Theatre!
Sometime after the Seven Turns album was released, Johnny Neel left the group. At the same time a percussionist from Spyro Gyra named Marc Quinones joined up after Butch Trucks announced to him after a gig one night that he was going to steal him away. The resulting seven man, three drummer (yeah yeah, two drummers and a percussionist) line-up would continue unchanged for the next several years, (save the one night in 1992 when Dickey got arrested and the band played a one-time-only gig replacing him with Ozzy Osbourne's guitarist, Zakk Wylde!) During this period, the band would release two studio albums, Where It All Begins and Shades of Two Worlds, and two live albums, An Evening With The Allman Brothers Band 1st Set and 2nd Set, which are as good if not better than ANY live material the band has EVER released. It really was a second coming for the Allman Brothers Band as their popularity exploded all over again.
The band changed dramatically in 1997. A few years earlier, Allan Woody and Warren Haynes had formed a side band with Warren's old Dickey Betts Band band mate, drummer Matt Abts. The band, named after an off the cuff remark by Jaimoe about James Brown's wife's behind, was called Gov't Mule. Until '97, Mule was strictly a side project, but that year, Warren and Woody decided that they wanted to pursue it full time, and left the Allman Brothers Band in order to do so. To fill the two holes in the Allman Brothers Band that were formed by the birth of the Mule, the Brothers first turned to guitarist Jack Pearson, who while he never recorded with the band, was a member of the group for the next two years. For their new bassist, the Allmans selected Oteil Burbridge a member of Frogwings, Butch's side band. Oteil debuted with the Allman Brothers Band on June 20th 1997 and remains a member of the group to this day.
In 1999, just after the tremendous 19-night run at the Beacon, Jack Pearson left the band, and was replaced by another Frogwings band member, one who was slightly closer to Butch than Oteil was. The newest member of the Allman Brothers Band was the 21-year-old guitar prodigy, who also happened to be Butch's nephew, Derek Trucks. This line-up would last for just one year, producing just on live album, before controversy and death would step in and rearrange the Allman Brothers for the final time to date. After the 2000 Beacon run, the Allman Brothers Band made an announcement that shocked their fans, and that many people thought would signal the end of the band. They had decided to fire Dickey Betts! Initially, the announcement that the band made was that Dickey would be sitting out the summer tour, but would return to the band in time for the following year's Beacon shows. As of this writing, five years have passed and Dickey Betts has never rejoined the Allman Brothers Band. If things had went differently on another branch of the Allman's family tree, that may not have been the case.
For that initial summer tour without Betts, the band enlisted Jimmy Herring, who had previously played in a Grateful Dead cover band and would soon join the real Dead when they reunited in 2003. Although without a doubt, backlash from the Betts firing was to blame rather than Herring's playing, the Allman Brothers' 2000 summer tour was not as successful as years past. Things didn't look good for the Allman Brothers when all of a sudden tragedy struck, which in essence saved the band. That summer, Gov't Mule was on tour supporting their third studio album, Life Before Insanity. After a gig at Croton Point Park in Westchester County, New York, bassist Allen Woody headed back to his hotel room in Queens. A few days later his body was discovered. Although the cause of Woody's death has never been determined, in a recent interview, drummer Matt Abts stated that Woody was just two weeks away from a scheduled trip to rehab when he passed away. Insanity had arrived for Gov't Mule.
No one was really sure at that point if there would still be a Gov't Mule. A benefit concert called One For Woody was held at New York's Roseland Ballroom to raise money for Allen's wife and young daughter. The Allman Brothers Band were one of the participants in the concert. A few months later, it was announced that Warren Haynes would rejoin the band for the Beacon Theatre shows. The man that had once successfully filled Duane Allman's spot in the band was now going to take Dickey Betts' place. The combination of Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks proved to be an explosive one (as Mule fans knew it would be from hearing them jam together several times in the past including on Mule's second live album, Live with a Little Help from our Friends which also features Jimmy Herring and ex-Allman Chuck Leavell). The Beacon run was a success and Warren was asked to rejoin the band permanently. Haynes decided that he would re-join the Allmans, a move he admits never would have happened if Woody were alive, but that he would also continue Gov't Mule. The reason for going on with Mule he once said was, that if the Allmans hadn't gone on after their guys had died, then he never would have met Woody in the first place. For several years, Gov't Mule consisted of Warren Haynes, Matt Abts and dozens of revolving bassists, including Les Claypool (Primus), George Porter Jr. (The Meters), Mike Gordon (Phish), Flea (Red Hot Chili Peppers) and none other than Warren's new Allman Brothers band mate, Oteil Burbridge. Gregg Allman and Derek Trucks also added guest spots to Gov't Mule's first post-Woody album, The Deep End Vol. 1.
The lineup of Haynes, Burbridge, Trucks, Quinones, Trucks, Jaimoe and Allman, was the tenth version of the Allman Brothers Band since 1969, and that's not including the lineups that never released an album together (Pearson, Herring, Wylde etc). Now, five years later, this version remains in tact, and as I've mentioned, they are gearing up to hit the Beacon in March. Their set (well, sets since they often do two a night) consist usually of old blues tunes, new Allman Brothers songs from their 2003 studio album Hittin The Note, the occasional Gov't Mule song, and older Allman Brothers songs that don't credit R. Betts as their author. In other words, they don't play Ramblin Man, they don't play Blue Sky, and they don't play Jessica. To hear those songs, one simply has to go to a gig by the recently reformed Dickey Betts and Great Southern, which features Betts, and his old friend/former Allman Brother Dan Toler.
Just about everyone agrees that the current line-up of the Allman Brothers Band is exceptionally good. Haynes and Trucks are hands down two of the best guitar players alive, and are the best active guitar duo in rock and roll. The one thing that they can't do however is make true Allmans fans say, "Dickey who?" It seems that every conversation I have about the band eventually comes around to the question of whether or not Betts will rejoin. At the 2004 Jammy awards, there was no ovation greater than when he stepped on stage along side Warren and Derek as part of an all-star finale. Gregg, Jaimoe and Butch did not appear at the event. Regardless, speculation was running wild a few weeks later that Dickey was going to join them at the Beacon. It never happened, but most fans just kept their chin up and said "there's always next year!" Well, it seems next year is upon us, and although there's much less whispering that the ramblin man will return this time around, you just never know.