In Jacksonville, FL, Duane and Gregg Allman loved soul and R&B, but they also liked rock and roll. Their first group was a local Daytona Beach garage band called the Escorts. They sounded a lot like the Beatles and Rolling Stones. They later became the Allman Joys, and went into some British blues. When they changed into The Hour Glass, they portrayed a more soul-oriented outfit. This group landed a contract with Liberty Records with help from the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, but wasted the chance on a pair of over produced albums that failed. The group split up after Liberty rejected a third LP.
Duane Allman made his reputation in Muscle Shoals, AL working as a session guitarist at Fame Studios. With coaxing from Phil Walden, Duane gave up the session work in 1969, and began putting together a new band. Jaimoe Johanson came aboard, then Allman’s friend Butch Trucks joined them. Another Allman friend, Berry Oakley, joined along with Dickey Betts. This made up Duane’s band except for a singer. The last one to join was Duane’s brother Gregg. The Allman Brothers Band signed with Walden’s new Capricorn label.
The band traveled over Florida and Georgia, working out their sound, before trying to record an album. The debut album was a self-titled album that didn’t even sell 50,000 copies. It was a solid blues-rock album with a sharp edge. This group was Southern, and had an understanding of blues with added elements of jazz. This album introduced one of the band’s most popular numbers, “Whipping Post”.
With the twin guitar sound, the soulful voice of Gregg, and a busy rhythm section, the second album, “Idlewild South” done in Macon GA, was magical. This album contained an instrumental tribute to Miles Davis, which turned into a highlight of their shows. It also had a Gregg Allman number “midnight Rider”, which also became one of their most popular pieces.
This band could jam in 40 minutes or more to a single song without wasting a single note. The band combined the techniques of jazz and classical into their playing. In 1971, the band played a set of shows at the Filmore East that were recorded for posterity. They were later transformed into their third album, “At Filmore East”. This album became an instant classic, and although it never cracked the Top Ten, it was certified as a gold record. Rolling Stone magazine hailed them as “the best damn rock and roll band this country had produced in the past five years.”
Fourteen days after the album was certified gold, Duane Allman was killed in a motorcycle accident. The album was midway through its next album, “Eat a Peach”. They completed the album as a five-piece band. This album became another instant classic, and the first album to reach Top Ten, peaking at number 5.
The group was still together in name only. Rather than try to replace Duane Allman, they added a piano, played by Chuck Leavell. They were working on a long-delayed follow up to “Eat a Peach” when Oakley was killed in a motorcycle accident only a few blocks from where “Allman was killed.
Lamar Williams was recruited on bass and the new lineup continued with concert shows. They set to work finishing the next album, “Brothers and Sisters”. This album was released in 1973. During the gap in releases, they combined the debut album, and the second album, to make a double LP called “Beginnings”, which charted higher than either individual release.
A new era was marked with “Brothers and Sisters”. This album was more laid-back, less bluesy, with more country music sound. The group’s sound was now pushing the distinct country-rock, because Dickey Betts was doing all the lead and slide parts. This altered the balance of the group’s sound. Betts also became the reluctant leader of the band, because he seemed to have the stability and creative input to take it on.
“Brothers and Sisters” was a more laid-back sound, relaxed compared to the breakthrough work on the previous albums. But this did not matter, based on the popularity they had gained with their first four albums. The group was now playing bigger crowds than ever.
In 1974, the band began falling apart. Gregg Allman and Dickey Betts both began solo careers. Allman married Cher (twice), an event that set him; up in a Hollywood lifestyle that caused problems with the band members. The other members had personal habits-drugs and alcohol had always been part of their lives. Their next album really showed the band’s difficulties. “Win, Lose or Draw” did not have the zest of their other work. Gregg Allman’s involvement with Cher, and his drug problem, kept him from being present, and his vocals had to be added separately.
The band finally came apart in 1976 when Allman was in the midst of a federal drug case against a supplier and agreed to testify against a friend and band employee. Two of the members formed “Sea Level” which became a moderately successful band, cutting four albums. Betts pursued a solo career. All of them vowed to never to work with Gregg Allman again.
The band was reactivated in 1989, and restored the band’s original double-lead-guitar sound by adding Warren Haynes alongside Betts. The new lineup recharged the band. “Seven Turns” was issued in 1990. It got some of the best reviews they’d had in more than a decade. Two live albums, “An Evening With The Allman Brothers Band” and “2nd Set” were steady but not big sellers.
The group has stayed together since 1989, overcoming health and drug problems, preventing them from making new music. They remain a big concert attraction, easily drawing more than 20,000 fans at a time. They have been consistent over the years, altering the music style slightly. They lean more today toward country music than hard rock.
The Allman Brothers Band received a Grammy Award for Best Rock Instrumental Performance 1996. They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995. They made Rolling Stone Magazine’s “Greatest of all Time” lists.
If any band in history ever went on a roller coaster ride of success, it was the Allman Brothers Band. For almost 30 years, they’ve been at the top, in the middle, and almost to the bottom. When they got close to the bottom, they started back up. They reached the 21st century as one of the most respected rock bands of their era. The Allman Brothers Band mixed blues music, country music, jazz music, and even classical into their concert performance. With the distinct Southern voice, they opened a wave of rock acts south of the Mason-Dixon Line.