Allman Brothers Band
Probably the foremost “Southern Rock” (not a title they liked) band, the Allman Brothers Band was formed in Macon, Georgia in 1969, by Duane Allman, already an accomplished session guitarist; his younger brother Gregg was the final recruit on keyboards in their original line-up. Famous for their live jams and improvisations, and their twin lead guitars (Allman and Dickey Betts) with twin percussionists (Butch Trucks and Jaimoe), their first two studio albums did nothing much at the time, but they made their breakthrough with 1971’s live LP At Fillmore East. However, tragedy struck in late 1971 when Duane Allman was killed in a motorcycle accident, and just over a year later, bassist Berry Oakley (who had probably never got over Duane’s death) died in the same way, and in almost the same place. Having recruited keyboardist Chuck Leavell and bassist Lamar Williams as replacements, the band cut Brothers and Sisters (1973), which became a best-seller and put the ABB firmly at the top of the rock tree. However, it was all downhill from there, with the new-found wealth and heavy drug habits unpicking the communal ethos that had strengthened the band in their early struggles. Greg Allman relocated to Los Angeles, a reversal of the band’s early determination to stay in the South. This line-up recorded its last studio album, the underwhelming Win, Lose or Draw, in 1975, did one last difficult tour, and split up in 1976, the final straw being a falling-out over Gregg Allman’s testifying against his own personal road manager, who was charged with drug supply offences (though Allman claimed it was at the road manager’s suggestion).
The band reformed in 1978, minus Leavell and Williams, but managerial and label changes couldn’t mask (and indeed ended up exacerbating) the loss of magic in the music, exemplified in three studio albums that all missed the mark, and the band grew apart again, even firing long time roadie Red Dog and percussionist Jaimoe before splitting up again in 1982.
The band reformed again in 1989 on their 20th anniversary (Jaimoe and Red Dog both back in harness); this was the core of Allman, Betts, Trucks and Jaimoe plus some new additions, most notably Warren Haynes. There was a return to recording form (Seven Turns (1999), Shades of Two Worlds (1992)), and to some live form (An Evening with the Allman Brothers Band: First Set (1992)). In a return to one of their original habits, their third post-reunion studio album, Where It All Begins (1994) was recorded live-in-the-studio.
However, the band was plagued by poor internal relations, mainly between Allman and Betts, that caused other members to leave (Haynes went in 1996), until Betts was forced out in 2000. Haynes rejoined in 2001, and the band finally settled down. The last studio album, Hittin' the Note, was released in 2003, and the band toured throughout the 2000s to large audiences.
Ill health, particularly Allman’s, began to take its toll at the end of the decade, and in 2014 the band decided to call it a day, with a final concert at New York’s Beacon Theatre, where they had done a residency every spring since 1992 (save 2010 when the theatre was unavailable). This final concert on October 28, 2014 was their 238th consecutive sell-out at the venue.
Theirs is a story of rise and fall, and then of a substantial recovery. They merited far more than the mere “Southern rock” epithet with which they are often saddled. Multi-racial long before it was accepted, they melded influences from blues, jazz and country to make a heady brew that briefly ruled the world. I was lucky enough to see them at Knebworth in 1973 (the first Knebworth). They headlined, they were at the top of their game, and they played for an eternity. They were brilliant. And can I say that I also like Wipe The Windows....I know we're not supposed to, but I do.
The original line-up is almost gone. There is a curious symmetry about them – two who died in motorcycle accidents aged 24; two who passed away in 2017 both aged 69 (Greg Allman of liver cancer, Butch Trucks by his own hand); and two survivors, both aged 76, both still playing.
The longevity data for the band’s original line-up is shown below.
Average DOB: 25 June 1946
Current average age: 57 years 0 months