The End of a Jam Band’s Era

45 years have passed since these Ramblin’ Men were "just tryin’ to make a livin’ and doin’ the best they could".

The sad, yet totally expected news of the Allman Brothers Band’s break up after their final Beacon Theater show on October 28 may to many seem like a irreplaceable loss, but maybe founding member Dicky Betts put it best when he said that today’s Allman Brother’s Band was rapidly becoming an Allman Bothers Tribute Band. By closing the book at the Beacon where it all began, was the right gesture.

Not that Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks are not masters of their craft, but without Duane Allman and Dicky Betts on lead guitars, a lot of the jam band flavor that made the Allman Brothers Band’s New York Beacon Theatre Shows so special, was starting to fade. No not to the fans, who always want more of the same, but mostly to the performers, who feel straight jacketed while on the look-out for new and creative expressions.
The early days of hunger and begging for cigarettes and making food arrangements with a soulfood kitchen in Macon, Georgia is long forgotten; money is no longer an issue and the passion to create and explore new directions keeps getting stronger, but the industry professionals and the fans won’t let you move on, so that 40 years later you still find yourself playing what you wrote as a young dude.

I guess that’s why bandmembers Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks decided to call it quits before rigor mortis sets in. Pretty much in the same manner as Robert Plant rejecting an $800 million dollar Led Zeppelin reunion tour earlier this week. The passion to create new experiences is so much stronger than constantly repeating old successes for the sake of more money.

40 years have passed since these Ramblin’ Men were “just tryin’ to make a livin’ and doin’ the best they could”. They accomplished a legacy in their 40+ year career, that few bands can match. Decades of music, stories and brotherhood is what has been left behind and it all started here in Jacksonville Florida in late March of 1969. Woodstock (remember Woodstock?) was still more than 4 months in the future.
The Allman Brothers Band original lineup consisted of brothers Duane Allman (slide guitar and lead guitar) and Gregg Allman (vocals, organ, songwriting) both from Nashville, as well as Dickey Betts (lead guitar, vocals, songwriting) from West Palm Beach, Berry Oakley (bass guitar) Chicago, Butch Trucks (drums), and Jai Johanny “Jaimoe” Johanson (drums). And they were all congregating in Jacksonville Florida. A month after the band was formed however, they moved to Macon Georgia, away from the moniker “Southern Rock” and into the arms of Capricorn Records, which had such a profound impact on Southern Music fusions.

In interesting side note I found was that keyboardist Reese Wynans, one part of Stevie Ray Vaughn’s Double Trouble in the 1980s almost made the cut during one of the many free jam sessions in west Jacksonville’s Willow Branch Park, but in the end Duane wanted his keyboardist brother Greg to sing in the band and did not envision two keyboard players, next to two lead guitars and two drummers. Having two of each was already a stretch in the days that bands had one lead, one rhythm and one drummer.

And now that it’s all over I want to share ABB facts,  some you may not have known about the Allman Brothers Band’s legacy.

1. Duane Allman, Warren Haynes, Dickey Betts and Derek Trucks have all been named as one of Rolling Stone Magazine’s Greatest Guitarists of All Time. In 2003 Duane came in at #2 and Derek Trucks was the youngest on the list.

2. Since 1989 the band has played the Beacon Theater in New York over 173 times known as the annual “Beacon Run” in early Spring. People came from all over the world to see the band play the sets at the Manhattan theater through March and April.
The album “The Allman Brothers Band” released in 1971, is widely considered the best Live Rock album ever released.

3. Duane and Gregg Allman had several shots at fame before they broke big with the Allman Brothers Band.  Their first band Allman Joys released a cover of Willie Dixon’s “Spoonful” and later created a short-lived new band called Hourglass when they exchanged Macon Georgia for a brief stint in L.A.

4. The Allman Brothers Band began when Duane Allman was signed as a solo act to Fame Studios. When Phil Walden started the Southern Rock powerhouse label Capricorn Records he wanted Duane on his label so he bought out the guitarists existing contract. Walden wanted to build a band around Duane and his talents so Allman enlisted his brother Gregg, and friends Trucks, Oakley and Betts as well as a local drummer named Jai Johnson and like that, the Allman Brothers band was born.

5. After three decades of successful albums and singles, the Allman Brothers band finally received their first Grammy in 1998 for the Best Rock Instrumental Performance in their song “Jessica”.

6. Duane Allman and Berry Oakley tragically were killed in motorcycle accidents a year apart from each other on the same Macon, Georgia road. The tragic early loss of Duane Allman on October 29, 1971 after he crashed his motorcycle in Macon, Georgia, shortly after the release of their At Fillmore East album. Berry Oakley did not die on the scene of his accident however. After he lost control of the motorcycle he went to hang out with friends at home and passed away three hours later due to brain hemorrhaging from a skull fracture. Both Duane Allman and Berry Oakley are buried next to each other in the same cemetery as Elizabeth Reed, whose name on a headstone was the inspiration for Dickey Betts’ song “In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed.”

7. Writer and movie director, Cameron Crowe wrote his first cover story on the Allman Brothers Band after he went on tour with them for three weeks when he was 16. His movie Almost Famous is a semi-autobiographical story of his time on tour with the band.

8. The band’s famous mushroom logo was inspired by the hallucinogenic mushroom extract pill that the band used to take in their earlier days. Duane made everyone in the band and the crew get mushroom tattoos on the sides of their legs. Renowned tattoo artist Lyle Tuttle did that up in their room in the Holiday Inn. Warren Haynes is the only band member who does not have the mushroom tattooed on his calf.

9. To not be drafted into the Vietnam War Gregg Allman shot himself in the foot. Duane was exempt from the draft since he was the eldest son and their father passed away when they were very young.

10. These and only these guys have been official members of the Allman Brothers Band
Original Members:
Duane Allman
Gregg Allman
Dickey Betts
Jai Johanny “Jaimoe” Johanson
Berry Oakley
Butch Trucks

Reincarnation Members:
Chuck Leavell
Lamar Williams
David Goldflies
Dan Toler
Mike Lawler
David “Frankie” Toler
Warren Haynes
Johnny Neel
Allen Woody
Marc Quiñones
Oteil Burbridge
Jack Pearson
Derek Trucks
Jimmy Herring

In closing I want to thank the originals and many reincarnations of the Allman Brothers Bands for what in my opinion was probably the best all round musically diversified progressive rock band in history. Listen to a 20 minute jam of R&B inspired “Whipping Post”, then listen to Elizabeth Reed’s Jazz improvisation, Melissa’s Folk-rock blues performance and Country-inspired “Rambling Man” and you may get. Thanks Allman Bros, it was a huge pleasure to live my life alongside your music.

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