The 1968 album misleadingly labeled Duane and Gregg Allman was actually a collaboration between Duane and Gregg and drummer Butch Trucks’ folk rock band the 31st of February. Vanguard Records rejected this effort, but it’s very solid, including the first version of Gregg’s “Melissa” and the only take of Gregg’s moving “God Rest His Soul,” written to honor Martin Luther King Jr. It also included a great take on the apocalyptic folk song “Morning Dew,” popularized by the Grateful Dead.
Berry Oakley and Dickey Betts were playing psychedelic blues rock in the Second Coming before the formation of the Allman Brothers Band and the earlier group is heard to good effect on a cover of Cream’s “I Feel Free,” with Betts nailing Clapton’s guitar parts and singing well but unrecognizably.
The above three songs were all included on the excellent box set, Dreams, compiled by Kirk West, the photo editor of One Way Out: The Inside History of the Allman Brothers Band.
Many listeners, including Eric Clapton, first heard Duane Allman on Wilson Pickett’s “Hey Jude.” Though just his second session as guitarist at Muscle Shoals Alabama’s Fame Studios, Duane suggested that the r&b great cover the Beatles’ current hit.
“I had become aware of [Duane] when I heard Wilson Pickett’s ‘Hey Jude,’” Eric Clapton says on page 82 of One Way Out. “That break at the end just blew me away and I immediately made a call to Atlantic Records to find out who it was. It was one of the few times in my life where I had to know who that was— now!”
The six-piece Allman Brothers Band formed in Jacksonville, Florida in March, 1969, and by August they were in New York recording their self-titled debut album.
The newly formed band threw down a gauntlet of precision and deep blues feeling, from the very first moments of their 1969 debut album, The Allman Brothers Band. The instrumental “Don’t Want You No More,” a cover of The Spencer Davis Group, was transformed from a light pop song into a hard- driving, organ- fueled song which led directly into the pained majesty of Gregg’s “It’s Not My Cross to Bear.”
”Dreams” highlights the band’s love of jazz, specifically John Coltrane and Miles Davis, with a walking bassline right out of Miles’ “All Blues.” “I played the exact licks and fills on there that Jimmy Cobb played on ‘All Blues,’” recalls Jaimoe. Duane plays both solos here.
The debut album closes with “Whipping Post,” one of the most intense rock songs ever recorded. The group worked the song up from Gregg’s original slow blues, led by bassist Berry Oakley.
“’Whipping Post’ was a ballad when Gregg brought it to us; it was a real melancholy, slow minor blues, along the lines of ‘Dreams,’” says Betts. “Oakley came up with the heavy bass line that starts off the track, along with the 6/8- to- 5/8 shifting time signature.”
A revamped version of Muddy Waters’ “Trouble No More” was the first song that Gregg Allman played with his new band after arriving in Jacksonville, where the group had been rehearsing without him for several weeks. On their debut album, the song defines the manner in which the Allman Brothers could remake the blues while maintaining the music’s essence.
The group showed marked growth on their second album, Idlewild South, which introduced Betts as a second songwriter, with his opening “Revival” and the majestic instrumental “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed,” which opened up vast new terrain for the band to explore. As Betts notes, however, the original studio version is “awfully sparse” compared to what was to come on stage.
The album also included Gregg’s “Midnight Rider,” which didn’t make much of a dent on its initial release, but has become a landmark song.
Idlewild also features several of Gregg’s most soulful tunes: “Don’t Keep Me Wondering,” which features Thom Doucette’s harmonica playing a funky groove in tandem with Duane’s slide atop a hard-riving rhythmic groove. “Leave My Blues At Home” opens with Gregg’s piano before kicking into another deeply funky rhythm.
Gregg’s “Please Call Home,” recorded in New York’s Atlantic studios with jazz producer Joel Dorn, is one of the singer’s great songs, merging blues feeling and singer/songwriter lyrical approaches into a heady brew.
After recording their second album, Duane Allman returned to Miami’s Criteria Studio to cut sides with one of his heroes, Eric Clapton and his new band, Derek and the Dominos. Duane ignited the sessions.
“We had two leaders then,” recalls keyboardist Bobby Whitlock. “We had Eric and Duane. Eric backed up and gave Duane a lot of latitude, a lot of room, so he could contribute up to his full potentiality, and Duane was full of fire and ideas. He’d just go, “Hey, how about we try ‘Little Wing’?”— that was completely his idea and he came up with the intro by himself. He just started playing it. ,”
The title track of the album became on e of rock’s most beloved tunes. “Layla” was ignited by a Duane guitar lick and the song’s coda closes out with Allman’s fluttering “bird call.”
Live At Ludlow Garage 1970 captures just another night of peak Allmans' alchemy. “Mountain Jam” unwinds for 44 minutes, twisting and turning in countless directions as drummers Butch Trucks and Jaimoe keep powering on, never allowing the train to go off the tracks. A great illustration of the magic the band was creating night in and night out.
At Fillmore East was the Allman Brothers Band’s third release, and the record that finally broke them, making them stars. More than forty years after its release, At Fillmore East still sounds completely fresh, totally inspired, and utterly original. It is the gold standard of blues- based rock and roll.
“We realized that we got a better sound live and that we were a live band,” says Gregg Allman… “And that the audience was a big part of what we did, which couldn’t be duplicated in a studio. A light bulb finally went off; we needed to make a live album.”
Adds Betts, “We could really hit the note. There’s not a single fix on there… Everything you hear there is how we played it.”
”In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” takes Dickey Betts’ masterful instrumental a year after it was recorded in the studio and stretches it every which way. I watched the minds of brilliant musicians be blown wide open through this song and have heard tell of correspondents when hitching rides through war torn African countryside. Nothing surprises me. Nothing else better captures the Allman Brothers’ musical magic.
The band smokes a fairly straight reading of “Stormy Monday” before just demolishing the traditional blues of ”You Don’t Love Me.” Thom Doucette is on board for this blast that starts out as a hyper-charged straight blues reading of the Willie Cobb song before Betts goes nuts on an extended solo that helps roll the song for almost 20 minutes of sonic bliss.
The song is a perfect illustration of what Betts meant when he said, “My style is just a little too smooth and round to play the blues stuff straight, because I’m such a melody guy that even when I’m playing the blues, I go for melody first.”
After recording just three songs on Eat A Peach, Duane Allman died in a motorcycle accident on October 29, 1971 and the band finished the album without their guiding light, making a crucial transitional step.
“Blue Sky” was written by Dickey Betts and was his first lead vocal with the group. “I wrote ‘Blue Sky,’ for my then- wife Sandy Blue Sky, who was Native American,” recalls Betts in One Way Out. “But once I got into the song I realized how nice it would be to keep the vernaculars— he and she— out and make it like you’re thinking of the spirit, like I was giving thanks for a beautiful day. I think that made it broader and more relatable to anyone and everyone.
“Blue Sky” one of the last songs Duane recorded with the Allman Brothers Band. The glorious guitar break, featuring individual solos and gorgeous harmony playing between Allman and Betts, is one of the greatest instrumental passages in rock history.
Gregg responded to his brother’s death by writing the gorgeous “Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More,” a wistful pledge to carry on, but one that carries a frightening hint of things to come: “Look outside yourself and if you don’t see what you want, maybe sometimes then you don’t just leave your mind alone and just get high.”
Betts also made a defiant statement by playing slide for the first time on this song, making it clear that he wouldn’t back down.
The group cut one of their best-loved songs, “Melissa” after Duane’s death. Gregg had written in 1967 and says that it was always one of his brother’s favorites.
The album closes with the only piece of music Duane was ever credited with writing: the gorgeous acoustic guitar instrumental “Little Martha.”
Even while recording the group’s follow-up, Gregg was cutting his first solo album, which became Laid Back, in the same studio at the same time. It’s probably the best solo album by any ABB member. The soulful, folk- infused rock always resonates. “These Days” and “All My Friends” are masterful interpretations of songs by Jackson Browne and Scott Boyer respectively.
“Queen of Hearts” and “Multi–Colored Lady” display another side of Gregg – soulful, lushly orchestrated, beautifully evocative.
On Live at Macon City Auditorium, 2/11/72, you can hear the band valiantly pushing forward without Duane. There’s a big hole in the center of the music, but they do a remarkably good job, especially Betts, who was suddenly faced with playing all guitar parts. His then-new “Les Brers in A Minor” is both a triumph and the sound of a band in mourning.
As they began recording a follow-up to Eat a Peach, the group made a brilliant decision to add pianist chuck Leavell rather than replacing Duane with another guitarist. Just two songs into the sessions, bassist Berry Oakley was killed in another motorcycle accident just blocks from the site of Duane’s crash.
The group added bassist Lamar Williams and continued on, remarkably recording their most popular album, Brothers and Sisters, as Dickey Betts rose to the fore. Betts’ new prominence would eventually lead to dissension, but it’s hard to argue with harmonica player Thom Doucette’s observation that “Betts pulled the thing out of the fire.”
One of the songs Oakley recorded before his death was “Ramblin’ Man,” which Betts originally considered too country to cut with the ABB. It became their biggest hit, rising to number two on the pop charts.
Betts wrote “Jessica” after being inspired by watching his baby daughter of the same name crawling across the room and trying to capture her joyous bounce.
“The instrumentals are very studied,” says Betts. “It’s called architecture, and for a good reason. It’s much like somebody designing a building. It’s meticulously constructed, and every aspect has its place. Writing a good one is very fulfilling, because you’ve transcended language and spoken to someone with a melody. My instrumentals try to create some of the basic feelings of human interaction, like anger and joy and love.”
Gregg did not contribute as many songs to Brothers and Sisters, but “Wasted Words” is excellent and “Come and Go Blues” is terrific.
Just after the release of Brothers and Sisters, Betts released his first solo album, Highway Call. Credited to Richard Betts, it was the guitarist’s chance to fully indulge his love for country and Texas swing. Pedal steel guitar and fiddler Vassar Clements complement Betts’s great songs and sweet, melodic guitar on one of the unsung classics in the ABB musical family. “Long Time Gone” kicks off the album in fine fashion.
The Allman Brothers became the biggest band in the world on the heels of Brothers and Sisters but when they gathered to record a follow-up, the crash many had feared finally materialized. Win, Lose or Draw was a dispirited effort, but it still had some highlights: ”High Falls” is another masterful Betts instrumental, while “Can’t Lose What You Never Had” is another strong re-interpretation of a Muddy Waters song.
The live Wipe the Windows, Check the Oil, Dollar Gas is another album that was but which has fared better over the years. It captures the Lamar/chuck lineup live and highlights the brilliance the band displayed in turning in another direction, replacing Duane’s instrumental voice with the sparkling piano of Leavell and reimagining the two-part guitar harmonies as three-part guitar-organ-piano harmonies.
You can hear the new band in great form on the rocking “Southbound” and a new-direction “Liz Reed.”
After breaking up, then reforming in 1979, the ABB recorded three albums of declining quality before splitting again.
“Can’t Take It With You” was a hot blues rocker off the strong comeback album Enlightened Rogues, with Betts again taking the songwriting lead.
”Straight From The Heart,” the first single off Brothers of the Road, their final album of this era, may be the band’s low point.
“There were a lot of forces at work: the label, management, the people in the band and their own desire to have a hit,” says Rook Goldflies, then the ABB bassist. “Looking back, that obviously wasn’t the best thing to do. The band was kind of countercultural the whole time, and attempting to become cultural was a little death, but they got swept up in the prevailing moods.”
When the band got back together in 1989 after a seven-year split, it quickly became clear that this reunion would be different than the previous attempt. The very first track of Seven Turns, “Good Clean Fun” made a statement, driven by Warren Haynes’ snarling slide in tandem with Betts’ guitar, while Allman growled out the lyrics.
The album’s title cut Seven Turns was another sweet, melodic Betts’ tune.
They re-recorded many of the songs on Seven Turns and its excellent follow-up, Shades of Two Worlds, on a pair of live albums: An Evening With, First Set and Second Set. As ever, the songs really come to life on stage.
“End of the Line” is a harrowing Shades tune that Gregg sang with deep, dark conviction. ”Nobody Knows” was an overt attempt to write a “new ‘Whipping Post’” and Betts succeeded remarkably well, penning Gregg a swirling, mystical song that erupts into a guitar frenzy.
“Back Where It All Begins” and “No One to Run With” were two of Betts’s strongest latter day tunes. He and Haynes shine on both, throwing lightning bolt at one another and riding atop a crashing wave of percussive three-drum power. It remains electrifying, but nothing illustrates the power and skill the band was playing with in the early 90s than the off-the-cuff acoustic version of “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” they played at a charity event.
The Allman Brothers have only recorded on e studio album since Dickey Betts’ acrimonious 2000 departure. Hittin the Note is a strong collection featuring Haynes and Derek Trucks. Standout tracks include “Firing Line” and “Who to Believe,” great songs that have rarely been played live.