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The Allman Brothers Band

+ {Hour Glass}

Pioneers of the plentiful southern rock movement of the early 70s, The ALLMAN BROTHERS BAND were not only gifted siblings Duane and Gregg Allman, but an all-encompassing wider “family” unit that embraced its jam-indulgent alumni with a sense of brotherhood – beyond just mere companionship. This was proved in spades when the band continued to push on after the tragic loss (October ’71 and November ’72 respectively) of two of their “kin”, Duane and bassist Berry Oakley. As in life/as in death, their similar motorbike accidents were separated only by a few streets. Spooky, or what.
Sex and drugs and rock and roll, Gregg and his remaining Allmans seemed never far from the column inches, and with all the in-fighting, numerous fixes (heroin and groupies), management tangles over unpaid royalties and controversial drug busts, their rock’n’roll soap was over bar the shouting in ‘76. But like all good brothers (the beholden LYNYRD SKYNYRD for one), The ALLMANS got together again between 1978 and 1982, and again in 1991 continuum.
Raised in Daytona Beach, Florida, blond-maned brothers Duane (lead guitar) and Gregg (organ) cast aside their aspirations to become a garage group (The Escorts), to realise another dream as The Allman Joys; others comprised Bob Keller (bass) and Billy Canell or Maynard Portwood (drums). Taken under the wing of singer-songwriter/hit-maker, JOHN D. LOUDERMILK, the years 1965-66 were spent between auditioning for Bob Johnston at Columbia and performing in small local clubs; an exploitative album, “Early Allman – Featuring Duane And Gregg Allman”, charted in ‘73.
Switching locations to the in-vogue Los Angeles, the brothers teamed up with rival Alabama combo, The Men-its (Paul Hornsby, Johnny Sandlin and Mabron McKinney) to duly form HOUR GLASS. A residency at a venue in St. Louis, Missouri (c. early ’67), led to a chance meeting with country-folk ensemble, The NITTY GRITTY DIRT BAND and their manager, Bill McEuen, who set them up with a contract at Liberty Records and gigs supporting BUFFALO SPRINGFIELD and The DOORS. Miles apart from the Allmans, the lightweight bubblegum-soul of eponymous set HOUR GLASS (1967) {*5}, didn’t bode too well among the rock fraternity. With only one composition credited to teenage vocalist Gregg (`Got To Get Away’), the remaining ten numbers were down to JACKSON BROWNE, CURTIS MAYFIELD, DEL SHANNON, Goffin-King, etc. But there was no doubt that Gregg possessed a powerful bourbon-soaked voice, the southern equivalent to PROCOL HARUM’s Gary Brooker – at least at this stage.
Jesse Williard “Pete” Carr was in place for the departing McKinney on the quintet’s sophomore album, POWER OF LOVE (1968) {*6}. An altogether different proposition in that it showcased Gregg’s blues/country-esque songwriting prowess (`To Things Before’ featured BUFFALO SPRINGFIELD’s NEIL YOUNG), it was again taken over by several covers, this time from Dan Penn & Spooner Oldham, Eddie Hinton & Marlon Greene, Don Covay & John Berry; listen out for Duane’s sitar on their funky re-vamp of The BEATLES’ `Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)’. GREGG ALLMAN assumed the position of accredited leader on further flop 45s; `I’ve Been Tryin’ being the last to emerge in early ’69. A third album was shelved when DUANE ALLMAN chose the life of an in-house, Muscle Shoals session man for the likes of WILSON PICKETT, ARETHA FRANKLIN, KING CURTIS, etc. It was clear that the HOUR GLASS’s time had run out.
Impressing OTIS REDDING manager Phil Walden enough for him to come out of retirement, bottleneck guitar ace Duane formed The ALLMAN BROTHERS BAND, almost immediately mobilizing his brother Gregg (vocals/organ), plus long-time friends Dickey Betts (guitar), Berry Oakley (bass) and dual drummers Butch Trucks (from the 31st of February outfit) and Jaimoe Johnson (from the Otis Redding band). Adopting Macon, Georgia, as their new home (in which they shared a mansion), the southern-psychedelic sextet inked a deal with Walden’s freshly-founded Capricorn Records (through Atco/Atlantic). From dingy dives to fixtures at Bill Graham’s Fillmore venues, 1969 saw them draw on all of Gregg’s songwriting abilities for their self-titled debut LP, THE ALLMAN BROTHERS BAND {*9}.
All the elements that would make the Allmans a legend were in place; the smooth fluidity of the guitar runs, bible-belt country and gospel in abundance, jazz-influenced explorations and dyed in the wool southern-soaked vocals. From the raucous opening bars of SPENCER DAVIS’ `Don’t Want You No More’ to the Delta blues of their MUDDY WATERS re-vamp, `Trouble No More’, the die was cast. It was said that Gregg would take inspiration from writing in a nearby graveyard and, with that in mind, it was no surprise that it virtually unearthed `It’s Not My Cross To Bear’, `Black Hearted Woman’ and `Every Hungry Woman’. If these gravel-voxed “grave-diggers” didn’t grab your bag, then the album’s final two gemstones were sure to turn over the odd tombstone; the drooling `Dreams’ (their piece de resistance) and the wigged-out `Whipping Post’, securing their place in rock’s hall of fame forever… and ever!
Named after their stately home, their inaugural Top 40 entry IDLEWILD SOUTH (1970) {*8} brought in new grooves by way of Dickey’s `Revival (Love Is Everywhere)’ – a minor hit – and `In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed’. The high spot was Gregg’s `Midnight Rider’, a country-blues mantra that was miles from his blistering blues workout of WILLIE DIXON’s `Hoochie Coochie Man’. Many pundits would see `Please Call Home’ and `Leave My Blues At Home’ as inspiration for the likes of LITTLE FEAT, LYNYRD SKYNYRD and a hundred other southern-rockers to replicate. During this hectic time for the band, Duane continued his session work for the likes of LAURA NYRO and DELANEY & BONNIE, as well as lending an unmistakable hand to ERIC CLAPTON on Derek & The Dominos’ `Layla’ project (yes, that most famous of English rock refrains was created by the blond-maned all-American boy).
Like their spiritual cousins The GRATEFUL DEAD, it was in a live setting that The ALLMAN BROTHERS BAND could really cook up a soulful gumbo stew and AT FILLMORE EAST (1971) {*9} was possibly the band’s defining moment, as well as one of blues-rock’s great live albums. A sprawling double LP, the free-flowing jams often tripped out on their own momentum and despite being spaced out over a whole side of vinyl, `Whipping Post’ (all 23 minutes of it!), lost none of its hypnotic power; fresh and exclusive renditions were drawn from BLIND WILLIE McTELL’s `Statesboro Blues’, ELMORE JAMES’ `Done Somebody Wrong’. T-BONE WALKER’s `Stormy Monday’ and a 19-minute re-tread of WILLIE COBB’s `You Don’t Love Me’.
A matter of months later, the band were dealt a potentially fatal blow when Duane was killed in a motorbike accident on October 29, 1971. Bloodied but unbowed, and drip-fed drugs to compensate their loss, Gregg and the remaining four (Betts took on slide guitar) delivered EAT A PEACH (1972) {*9}. A mixture of live tracks left over from the Fillmore recordings and new studio material recorded after Duane’s death (`Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More’, `Les Brers In A Minor’ and `Melissa’), it immediately rocketed to No.5. Another double set, a couple of tracks had been recorded prior to the accident, including Duane’s fragile instrumental, `Little Martha’. The indulgence of the side-and-a-half-long DONOVAN adaptation, `Mountain Jam’ (whipping up 34 minutes!), was balanced by the pastoral beauty of tracks like Betts’ `Blue Sky’, the cover of `Trouble No More’ and SONNY BOY WILLIAMSON’s `One Way Out’.
Having assumed leadership of the group after Duane’s untimely death, Berry Oakley met his maker on November 11, 1972, in a tragic motorbike crash, hauntingly reminiscent of the elder Allman; meanwhile, a second keyboard player, Chuck Leavell, had been found that September. Betts’ influence was even more pronounced as the band struggled bravely on with the triumphant and chart-topping BROTHERS AND SISTERS (1973) {*8} album. Although Oakley appeared on the set’s opening two tracks (Betts’ glorious country-flavoured `Ramblin’ Man’ provided them a Top 3 hit, Gregg’s `Wasted Words’ was a UK B-side), new boy Lamar Williams played on the remaining cues. But for a cover of Trade Martin’s `Jelly Jelly’, the rootsier sounding album gave Betts and The ALLMAN BROTHERS BAND another feather to the boa in minor hit `Jessica’, a record that subsequently fuelled countless boy-racer fantasies after it was used as the theme to Britain’s “Top Gear” TV show.
The band then returned to their natural habitat, the tour bus, playing a landmark gig on July 28, 1973, to a crowd of over half a million people in New York’s Watkins Glen Grand Prix racetrack, alongside The GRATEFUL DEAD and The BAND. Patchy studio solo projects followed in the shape of GREGG ALLMAN’s “Laid Back” (1973) and RICHARD BETTS’ “Highway Call” (1974), while the next ALLMAN BROTHERS BAND effort WIN, LOSE OR DRAW (1975) {*4} signalled that their infamous fast living was beginning to sap their creativity. Despite the presence of MUDDY WATERS’ `Can’t Lose What You Never Had’ (Billy Joe Shaver’s `Sweet Mama’ was just poor), Betts’ epic instrumental `High Falls’ and the soft-rock title track, the LP still managed to crack the Top 5. Manager Walden at Capricorn Records was alleged to be owing them royalties, and this led to ructions within the already tenuous group of divided musicians.
Gregg had already began a torrid on/off marriage to singer CHER in 1975 (the couple released an album together in ’77). The turning point, however, came when the Gregg testified against his road manager/pusher, John “Scooter” Herring, who was up on a serious drugs rap. After Scooter was sentenced to 75 years in prison, the rest of the band turned their backs on their singer; the all-brothers-together bravado gone, at least until an unexpected reunion. Meanwhile, both the GREGG ALLMAN BAND (for “Playin’ Up A Storm”) and DICKEY BETTS & GREAT SOUTHERN (on an eponymous set and “Atlanta’s Burning Down”) appeased their fading fanclub; the others formed SEA LEVEL.
The ALLMAN BROTHERS’ platinum-selling comeback, ENLIGHTENED ROGUES (1979) {*7}, was just the ticket for old acolytes to get back on board. Gregg, Dickey, Butch and Jaimoe, plus “Great Southern” refugees Dan Toler on guitar and David Goldflies on bass, rolled away the years and the tears on the likes of Top 30 hit `Crazy Love’. It was indeed a joyous return to basics, featuring as it did, covers of B.B. KING’s `Blind Love’ and an old FLEETWOOD MAC nugget, `Need Your Love So Bad’; check out also the almost horizontal `Just Ain’t Easy’ and the perky `Try It One More Time’.
With Capricorn bust and now signed to Arista Records, their studio output trawled a creative nadir and veered towards country/gospel-flavoured soft-rock on the proceeding two sets, REACH FOR THE SKY (1980) {*4} and BROTHERS OF THE ROAD (1981) {*4}; the latter Top 50 entry not worthy of a UK release, although it added a seventh member in Dan’s brother, drummer David “Frankie” Toler. Sadly, Lamar Williams died of cancer in ’83.
Splitting again into solo factions from 1982 to 1989, The ALLMAN BROTHERS BAND (the main four, plus guitarist Warren Haynes, keyboardist Johnny Neel and bassist Allen Woody) were back in action for the Epic Records/Tom Dowd-produced SEVEN TURNS (1990) {*7}. A southern-rock rebirth of the blues, the Top 60 set restored fans’ faith; the ghosts of “Idlewild” coming through `Low Down Dirty Mean’, `Shine It On’ and the 8-minute `True Gravity’.
SHADES OF TWO WORLDS (1991) {*7} – highlighting a twangy take of ROBERT JOHNSON’s `Come On In My Kitchen’ – and the live-in-concert AN EVENING WITH THE ALLMAN BROTHERS BAND: FIRST SET (1992) {*6}, proved they could still put bums on seats in the American heartlands.
The dual guitar licks of Betts and Waynes was at its pinnacle on the ambitious live-in-the-studio Top 50 album, WHERE IT ALL BEGINS (1994) {*6}, although by now Neel had made way for congas/percussionist specialist, Marc Quinones. The BO DIDDLEY beats on `All Night Train’ and Betts’ `No One To Run With’, stretched the band beyond mere mortals. AN EVENING WITH THE ALLMAN BROTHERS BAND: 2nd SET (1995) {*7} continued to mix the old (`In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed’ and `Jessica’) with the new, solidifying their reputation as God’s gift of the live circuit.
Their Southern fried innovation was given official recognition in 1995 when they were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. In fact they were still cutting it live come the dawn of the new millennium, as PEAKIN’ AT THE BEACON (2000) {*5} testified. Recorded with newbie slide-guitarist Derek Trucks (nephew of Butch) at one of their annual gigs at New York’s Beacon Theater, the record was notable for the last stand of DICKEY BETTS, who was subsequently replaced by bassist Oteil Burbridge. While there were rumours that the guitarist was allegedly dropped due to a poor performance on stage, that didn’t stop the Allmans trawling through all twenty seven and a half minutes of the man’s `High Falls’.
In the event, Betts’ absence didn’t prevent The ALLMAN BROTHERS BAND from turning in one of their best studio outings in the last two decades with HITTIN’ THE NOTE (2003) {*7}. A US Top 40 entry no less, the record was as gritty, soulful, and ambitious as many of their 70s classics, particularly on the more acoustic, country-flavoured tracks like `Old Before My Time’; even a cover of The ROLLING STONES’ `Heart Of Stone’ was startling in its delivery.
2004’s ONE WAY OUT: LIVE AT THE BEACON THEATRE {*8} was yet another live double, the second to originate from dates at the NY venue. Delivering dual guitars by way of Derek and Warren, and old-school drumming from Jaimoe and Butch, the gritty growl of Gregg plays the power-trip on some usual suspects, including lengthy déjà vu/full circle/’69 debut encores, `Dreams’ and `Whipping Post’. Real classic rock.
© MC Strong 1994-2006/GRD-BG/MCS // rev-up MCS Feb2013-Aug2014

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