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The Allman Brothers Band Biography

Inductees: Duane Allman (guitar; born November 20, 1946, died October 29, 1971), Gregg Allman (vocals, organ, piano; born December 8, 1947), Dickey Betts (guitar, vocals; born December 12, 1943), Jai Johanny “Jaimoe” Johanson (drums; born July 8, 1944), Berry Oakley (bass; born April 4, 1948, died November 11, 1972), Butch Trucks (drums; born May 11, 1947).

As the principal architects of Southern rock, the Allman Brothers Band forged this new musical offshoot from elements of blues, jazz, soul, R&B and rock and roll. Along with the Grateful Dead and Cream, they help advance rock as a medium for improvisation. Their kind of jamming required a level of technical virtuosity and musical literacy that was relatively new to rock & roll, which had theretofore largely been a song-oriented medium. The original guitarists in the Allman Brothers Band - Duane Allman and Dickey Betts – broke that barrier with soaring, extended solos. Combined with organist Gregg Allman’s gruff, soulful vocals and Hammond B3 organ, plus the forceful, syncopated drive of a rhythm section that included two drummers, the Allman Brothers Band were a blues-rocking powerhouse from their beginnings in 1969.

The group’s marathon concerts, best captured on the classic The Allman Brothers Band At Fillmore East (1971), are the stuff of rock legend. Surviving ups and downs, including the deaths of several members, the Allman Brothers rank among rock’s greatest performing entities. Moreover, their success paved the way for other bands from the South, including Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Marshall Tucker Band, and the Charlie Daniels Band. To date, the Allman Brothers Band have had ten gold albums, four of which have been certified platinum (At Fillmore East, Eat a Peach and Brothers and Sisters) or multiplatinum (A Decade of Hits).

The group formed around the nucleus of Gregg and Duane Allman. Younger brother Gregg initially taught and encouraged Duane to pick up the guitar. With Duane dropping out of school in order to master the instrument, the brothers played in bands around Daytona Beach, Florida, as far back as 1961. They formed the Allman Joys in 1965, combining the Southern blues and soul influences that they’d grown up hearing with the with rocking new sounds of the British Invasion bands (especially the Yardbirds). Evolving into the Hourglass, the brothers and their bandmates recorded a pair of albums in Los Angeles for the Liberty label, one of which (Power of Love, 1968), foreshadowed the sound that would fully emerge with the Allman Brothers Band.

The Allman Brothers Band evolved out of jams in Jacksonville, Florida, involving Duane and members of the Second Coming (guitarist Dickey Betts, bassist Berry Oakley) and the 31st of February (drummer Butch Trucks). Another drummer, Jai Johanny Johanson (a.k.a. “Jaimoe”), was a veteran of the soul-music circuit, having played with Otis Redding and others. A magical five-hour jam among the musicians at Trucks’ house cemented the union and prompted this remark from Duane Allman: “Anybody who doesn’t want to be in my band is going to have to fight his way out the door.” Gregg was summoned back from California, where he was unhappily fulfilling a contractual obligation as a solo artist. The Allman Brothers Band were officially formed in March 1969 and signed to Phil Walden’s fledgling Capricorn label, which became the main driving force of the Southern-rock insurgence of the Seventies.

During the early stages of the Allman Brothers Band, Duane also worked as a session musician at Fame Recording Studios, where he acquired a reputation as the guitar player in the South. From 1968 through 1970, his blazing fretwork graced records by the likes of Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, King Curtis and Clarence Carter. His contributions to the double album Layla...and Other Assorted Love Songs, by Derek and the Dominos (led by Eric Clapton), cannot be overestimated. Jerry Wexler, producer and vice-president of Atlantic Records, had this to say about Duane Allman’s prowess as a sideman: “He was a complete guitar player. He could do everything: play rhythm, lead, blues, slide, bossa-nova, with a jazz feeling, beautiful light acoustic – and on slide guitar he got the touch. Duane is one of the greatest guitar players I ever knew and one of the very few who could hold his own with the best of the black blues players.”

Duane was also the linchpin of the Allman Brothers Band, lighting a fire under the other members. In Gregg’s words, “My brother was one of the most intense people I’ve ever met. When he was playing, he just pulled it out of you. I don’t care if you were dog-tired or half asleep, something happened. It was like he demanded it from you.”

The group’s first two studio albums - The Allman Brothers Band (1969) and Idlewild South (1970) - contained classic songs like “Dreams,” “Whipping Post,” “Midnight Rider” and “Revival.” Both were hard-hitting announcements of the Southern-rock sound. However, it was in concert that the band burned brightest. Led by Duane Allman’s searing guitar, the Allman Brothers Band’s live shows left devoted fans in their wake. The March 1971 concerts recorded for At Fillmore East in New York caught them at their peak. Sadly, the Allman Brothers Band was dealt a catastrophic blow when Duane Allman was killed in a motorcycle crash in Macon, Georgia, on October 29, 1971. A year later, on November 11, 1972, bassist Berry Oakley died under eerily similar circumstances only a few blocks from where Duane’s accident had occurred.

However, the group regrouped and persevered. Duane was not immediately replaced; instead, a second keyboardist, Chuck Leavell, added a jazzy new dimension. Oakley was replaced by bassist Lamar Williams. As a testimony to the Allman Brothers Band’s resilience, the group’s most commercially successful albums came in the wake of their tragic losses. The double album Eat a Peach (1972), which included Duane’s last three studio performances, reached Number Four, and 1973’s Brothers and Sisters was Number One for five weeks. Guitarist Dickey Betts moved to the forefront, opening up the band’s sound with the country-rock approach of “Blue Sky” and “Ramblin’ Man,” and with the lengthy instrumental pieces he composed, including “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed,” “Les Bres in A Minor” and “High Falls.” The Allman Brothers Band’s pinnacle of popularity came on July 28, 1973, when they performed on a bill with the Grateful Dead and The Band at the Grand Prix Racecourse in Watkin’s Glen, New York, before 600,000 rock fans.

In the mid-Seventies, the road got rocky again for the Allman Brothers Band. Internal dissension and substance-abuse problems triggered a two-year hiatus in the mid-Seventies. However, a joint appearance between the Gregg Allman Band and the Dickey Betts Band in August 1978 led to a full-fledged reunion and the release of Enlightened Rogues in 1979. The reformed Allman Brothers Band reverted to their classic dual-guitar lineup with the addition of Dan Toler on guitar. In 1980, Dan’s brother, Frankie Toler, would replace Jaimoe on drums. This lineup moved from Capricorn to Arista Records, where they released the albums Reach for the Sky and Brothers of the Road.

The Allman Brothers Band disbanded again in 1982. In 1989, the box set Dreams was released, and the group reunited again for what turned out to be one of the most productive chapters in its storied history. The addition of guitarist Warren Haynes and bassist Allen Woody revitalized the band, leading to some of the strongest playing that had been heard since the days of Duane Allman and Berry Oakley. In fact, the most stable lineup in the Allman Brothers Band’s history crystallized in 1991 as a septet comprising Gregg Allman, Dickey Betts, Butch Trucks, Jaimoe, Warren Haynes, Allen Woody and percussionist Marc Quinones. Haynes came closer than any other player who passed through their ranks to capturing Duane Allman’s passion and technique. The Allman Brothers Band released two of the most inspired studio albums of their entire career - Shades of Two Worlds and Where It All Begins – in the early Nineties. This lineup’s six-year run ended with the departure of Haynes and Woody, who devoted themselves full-time to their band Gov’t Mule.

In 1999, the Allman Brothers Band celebrated their 30th anniversary with an 18-night stand at New York’s Beacon Theatre. To this day, they remain an incendiary performing unit for whom (to quote a line from “Midnight Rider”) “the road goes on forever.”

The Allman Brothers Band