The Allman Brothers Band is a Southern rock band based in Macon, Georgia. The band was formed in Jacksonville, Florida in 1969 by brothers Duane Allman (slide guitar and lead guitar) and Gregg Allman (vocals, organ). While the band has been called the "principal architects of Southern rock, they also incorporate elements of blues-rock and hard rock, and their live shows have jam band-style improvisation and instrumental songs.
In 1971, the Rolling Stone's George Kimball hailed them as "the best damn rock and roll band" of "the past five years. The band has been awarded eleven Gold and five Platinum albums between 1971 and 2005. Rolling Stone ranked them 52nd on their list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time in 2004. The band continues to record and tour to the present day.
The band was formed in Jacksonville, Florida on March 26, 1969, and consisted of Duane Allman (slide guitar and lead guitar), Gregg Allman (vocals, organ), Dickey Betts (lead guitar, rhythm guitar, vocals), Berry Oakley (bass), 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 on Johnny Jenkins Ton-Ton Macoute! album behind him (it was to be Duane's first solo album before the ABB was formed) —started jamming with Dickey Betts, Butch Trucks and Berry Oakley in Jacksonville. Eddie Hinton, with whom Duane Allman had played in Muscle Shoals, was considered to play guitar, but Hinton refused in order to join the Muscle Shoals studio band. Duane brought in Jaimoe, a drummer he had played with in the past. The nucleus of the band was now formed. Gregg was in Los Angeles, fulfilling the Hour Glass 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 shows in the south before releasing their debut album, The Allman Brothers Band to great critical acclaim, though the blues-rock album found few listeners, attracting only a cult following. Most of the record had a blues-rock sound, but "Dreams", a spacy number in 12/8 time, would provide the framework for some of their live jams.
Idlewild South (1970), the followup, produced by Tom Dowd, was a massive critical success, and managed to be quite lucrative, as well. The upbeat "Revival" and the moody-but-resolute "Midnight Rider" showed the band getting more adept at shorter, radio-friendly song forms. (It was after the release of Idlewild South that Duane Allman joined in the recording of the classic Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs with Eric Clapton's Derek and the Dominos group.)
1971 saw the release of a live album, At Fillmore East, recorded on Friday and Saturday March 12 and March 13 of that year at the legendary rock venue the Fillmore East. The album was another huge hit. Rolling Stone listed At Fillmore East as one of Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time . It showcased the band's unique mixture of jazz, classical music, hard rock, and blues, with arrangements propelled by Duane's and Betts' dual lead guitars, Oakley's long, melodic "third guitar" bass runs, the rhythm section's pervasively percussive yet dynamically flexible foundation, and Gregg Allman's gritty Ray Charles-like vocals and piano/organ play which all completed the band's wall of sound. The rendition of Blind Willie McTell's "Statesboro Blues" was a straight-ahead opener, the powerful "Whipping Post" (with its famous 11/8 bass opening) became the standard for an epic jam that never lost interest, while the ethereal-to-furious "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed" and the complex and surpassingly subtle rhythms in the driving "One Way Out" kept beat-counters, as well as all others, at once puzzled and mesmerized.
The Allman Brothers received the honor of being the last act to play the Fillmore East before it closed in June 1971. The final shows there achieved legendary status, partly due to bands' literally playing all night; in 2005 Gregg Allman would relate how the jamming musicians lost track of time, not realizing it was dawn until the side doors of the Fillmore were opened and the morning light poured in. The band continued to tour; decades later, a special-order recording of one of their final concerts in this lineup, S.U.N.Y. at Stonybrook: Stonybrook, NY 9/19/71, would be released. It reveals that Duane Allman's slide guitar playing on "Dreams" and other songs was touching the farthest reaches of both that instrument and his imagination.
Duane Allman died not long after the Fillmore East album was certified gold, killed in a motorcycle accident on October 29, 1971 in Macon, Georgia (at the corner of Hillcrest and Bartlett) when he lost control avoiding collision with a flatbed truck used to carry heavy pipe. The loss of their leader was hard for the group to bear, but they quickly decided to carry on. The album continued to gain FM radio airplay, with stations even playing 13-minute and 23-minute selections.
Dickey Betts filled Duane's former role in completing the last album he participated in, Eat a Peach. The album was often softer ("Blue Sky", "Little Martha") and wistful in tone ("Melissa", "Ain't Wastin' Time No More"), capped by the 34-minute "Mountain Jam" reverie taken from the Fillmore East concerts. Writer Greil Marcus described parts of Eat a Peach as an "after-the-rain celebration... ageless, seamless... front-porch music stolen from the utopia of shared southern memory."
The group played some concerts as a five-man band, then decided to add Chuck Leavell, a pianist, to gain another lead instrument but without directly replacing Duane. This new configuration debuted on ABC's In Concert late-night television program.
Just over a year later, on November 11, 1972, Berry Oakley died in another motorcycle accident, only three blocks from the site of Duane's accident (near Napier Avenue and Inverness Street). The common retelling that it was at the exact same site as Duane's death is incorrect, as is the legend that the Eat a Peach album is named for what was being carried by the truck involved in Allman's accident.
Dickey Betts was becoming the bandleader. Brothers and Sisters included the group's best known hits, "Ramblin' Man" and "Jessica"; the former reached #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 as a single, while the latter was a seven-minute instrumental hit. The album was accessible with a sense of urgency, no doubt from the deaths of their band-mates, and the new band exploded nationally.
The Allman Brothers Band had become one of the top concert draws in the country. Probably their most celebrated performance of the era took place on July 28, 1973 at the Summer Jam at Watkins Glen outside Watkins Glen, New York, in a joint appearance with The Grateful Dead and The Band. An estimated 600,000 people made it to the racetrack where this massive outdoor festival took place.
In the wake of the Allman Brothers Band's success during this time, many other Southern rock groups rose to prominence, including the Marshall Tucker Band (who played as the Allman Brothers Band's opening act for many shows on their 1973 Brothers and Sisters tour) and Lynyrd Skynyrd.
Another peak of the Allmans' success came on New Year's Eve, 1973, when promoter Bill Graham arranged for a nationwide radio broadcast of their concert from San Francisco's Cow Palace. New arrangements of familiar tunes such as "You Don't Love Me" went out over the airwaves, as the show stretched out over three sets, with Boz Scaggs sitting in, along with Grateful Dead members Jerry Garcia and Bill Kreutzmann (The Allmans and Grateful Dead members guested at each others shows multiple times in the early 1970s).
Personality conflicts started to tear the band apart, however. Gregg Allman and Dickey Betts both began solo careers, while Allman married Cher, separated quickly, reconciled, and eventually separated again, all in a storm of publicity; drug abuse took its toll on the entire band. Musically, Betts and Leavell were pulling in opposite directions, with Allman trying to mediate. The tension resulted in the uneven Win, Lose or Draw (1975), with some members not participating on all tracks or doing so only from afar. The few stand-out tracks included a stop-start take on Muddy Waters' "Can't Lose What You Never Had", Betts' instrumental "High Falls", and Allman's Jackson Browne-influenced title song. 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 tour manager and bodyguard for the band, John "Scooter" Herring. Leavell, Johanson, and Williams formed Sea Level, while Betts worked on his solo career. All four swore that they would never work with Allman again.
The group reformed in 1978 and released the strong Enlightened Rogues (1979). It featured new members Dan Toler (guitar) and David "Rook" Goldflies (bass), who replaced Leavell and Williams, both of whom concentrated on Sea Level instead. "Crazy Love" was a minor hit single, and the instrumental "Pegasus" got some airplay, but overall The Allman Brothers Band was no longer as popular as before, and financial woes plagued both the group and Capricorn Records, which collapsed in 1979. PolyGram took over the catalogue, and the Allman Brothers Band signed to Arista Records. The group released a pair of critically-slammed albums, firing Jaimoe in the process, and then disbanded once again in early 1982.
Allman quickly formed the Gregg Allman Band with the Toler brothers in 1982 and began touring small venues and clubs. Betts, Leavell, Trucks and Goldflies formed the band Betts Hall Leavell Trucks (BHLT). Neither garnered attention from any record labels. BHLT would dissolve two years later.
The Allman Brothers reunited in 1986 for a pair of benefit concerts for promoter Bill Graham in New York and Macon. Allman, Betts, Trucks, Jaimoe, Leavell, and Dan Toler performed together but no subsequent reunion plans for the band were made. The following year, the Gregg Allman Band and the Dickey Betts Band co-headlined a theatre and club tour. After each band played a set of music, Betts, Allman and the Tolers performed a closing set of Allman Brothers music together.
In 1987, Epic Records signed both Allman and Betts to separate solo contracts. The Gregg Allman Band had a surprise FM hit single with the title track to the 1987 album I'm No Angel. Just Before the Bullets Fly quickly followed from Allman in 1988. The Dickey Betts Band was also formed during this time and released the album Pattern Disruptive in 1988. This series of collaboration among bandmembers and interest from a major label during the late 1980s laid the groundwork for next era of Allman Brothers Band activity and success.
After the 20th Anniversary tour, the band signed to Epic Records and released Seven Turns (1990), which got excellent reviews. This was followed by Neel's departure and a series of moderately-selling, but critically well-received albums including Shades Of Two Worlds (1991) and Where It All Begins (1994, certified Gold by the RIAA 1998), both featuring new percussionist Marc Quiñones. Warren Haynes and Allen Woody formed their own side project Gov't Mule in 1994. In 1995, the band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and in 1996 they won the Grammy Award for Best Rock Instrumental Performance for "Jessica". When Haynes and Woody 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 forced Dickey Betts out for "personal and professional reasons." For this tour, he was replaced by Jimmy Herring. Betts then filed a lawsuit against the other three original members and the summer separation turned into a permanent divorce. Also in 2000, former bassist Allen Woody was found dead on August 26th. The band did release the live CD Peakin' at the Beacon that year which chronicled the now-annual March tradition of a many-night stand at the Beacon Theater in New York City. The band has played the 2900-seat Upper West Side Manhattan theatre 173 times since 1989. The tradition is known as the "Beacon Run" among fans, who travel from across the United States, Canada and Western Europe to see these annual March and April shows.
Warren Haynes began appearing with the Allmans again in 2000 and rejoined full-time in 2001, while also maintaining his active schedule with Gov't Mule. (Haynes also toured extensively in 2004 with former members of the Grateful Dead in their band the Dead). Haynes' return marked a new period of stability and productivity for the band after nearly four years of lineup changes. The Haynes-produced Hittin' the Note was released in 2003 to popular and critical acclaim, as was the Live At the Beacon Theatre DVD film (2003, certified Platinum 2004). The live CD One Way Out (2004) also chronicled the Beacon concerts.
The Allman Brothers garnered back to back Grammy Award nominations in 2003 and 2004 in the category of Best Rock Instrumental for performances of "Instrumental Illness" from Hittin' The Note and One Way Out. In 2003, Rolling Stone Magazine named Duane Allman, Warren Haynes, Dickey Betts, and Derek Trucks to their list of 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time , with Allman coming in at #2 and Trucks being the youngest guitarist on their list.
The Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks lineup continued the band's connection with younger music fans via concert pairings with popular jam bands moe., The String Cheese Incident, and Dave Matthews Band among others. The Allman Brothers were a major attraction at the Bonnaroo Music Festival in 2003 and 2005. Since 2005, the Allmans have staged their own two day Wanee Music Festival at the Spirit of Suwanee Music Park in Live Oak, Florida. The Allmans, Gov't Mule and The Derek Trucks Band perform on different stages along with younger roots artists including the North Mississippi Allstars, Robert Randolph and The Family Band, Medeski, Martin and Wood, Devon Allman's Honeytribe, Nickel Creek, Mofro and others.
Allman Brothers' songs have been used in various advertising campaigns and television programs, with the most well-known use being that of "Jessica" used in both formats of the BBC television series Top Gear.
On March 27, 2008, the band postponed the annual Beacon Run slated for May 5 – 24 due health reasons. Gregg Allman has been recovering from hepatitis C and the treatments have taken a toll on his stamina.