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Allman Brothers

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From the opening notes of the Allman's debut album in November 1969, it was clear that this was a band like none before.

The exquisite slide guitar of Duane Allman,  the gravelly blues voice of brother Gregg,  the mellifluous lead guitar of Dickey Betts and killer rhythm section of Butch Truck, Berry Oakley, and Jaimo Johansen  combined to create genre-crossing music. It was blues, it was soul, it was the original Southern fried rock, it was jazz, but most of all, it was beyond brilliant.

Both the eponymous debut and the follow up, Idlewild South, were superb sets, featuring classics like "In Memory of Elizabeth Reid," "Whipping Post," "Midnight Rider," and "Dreams." The Allmans built up a huge live following, typically playing 3 or 4 hour shows.

All superb musicians from Macon, Georgia, the Allmans were able to improvise for half an hour or more on a single tune with a seeming telepathy. This found its fullest expression on the classic Fillmore East live album. From the stinging "Statesboro Blues" to the cataclysmic version of "Whipping Post," this represented a band at the peak of its form.

Musically brilliant, Fillmore stands as a testament to the genius of the band and in particular to guitarist extraordinaire Duane Allman, nicknamed "Skydog" for the sheer supremacy of his playing.

Tragically, Duane was killed in a motorcycle accident on 29th October 1971. He was just 24 years old.

In his short life he had contributed much to the pantheon of rock 'n' roll, not least of which was the riff on "Layla," while he was with Derek and the Dominoes.

The band didn't try to replace him. He was irreplaceable. He had already recorded three songs for the double album Eat A Peach which came out in February 1972. It was their first top 5 album and featured superb blues like "Ain't Wastin' Time No More" and, for the first time, a more country flavor on Dickey Betts' "Blue Sky."

More tragedy struck, when Berry Oakley died in November 1972, again in a motorbike accident only a few blocks from where Duane had suffered the same fate. Stunned, the band struggled on with Lamar Williams replacing Berry.

1973's Brothers and Sisters had a more countrified flavor, gave them their first hit single with "Ramblin' Man." The album went to #1 in the States. Its follow up, Win Lose or Draw was also a top 5 record but the band fell apart acrimoniously when Gregg Allman was accused of testifying against drug trafficker and road manager "Scooter" Herring.

So it was 1979 before they could swallow their differences with the Enlightened Rogues album, albeit with a slightly revised line-up.

The 80s were lean years for the band who, like many of their 60s and 70s contemporaries, were perceived as anachronistic. They split again in '81 and pursued solo projects.

When they reassembled in 1989, Gregg, Dickey, Jaimo and Butch had added Allen Woody on bass and Warren Hayes on guitar.

Seven Turns and Shades of Two Worlds were major returns to form. Hayes' fat guitar sound and Duane-ish slide guitar  breathed new life into the band.  Two superb live sets followed.

From day one, in the background, there were various ongoing addictions which eventually took their toll. Recently Dickey Betts was ousted and replaced with Butch Trucks' young nephew Derek an old-school player with tremendous tone and touch.

Their 2003 release Hittin the Note was a splendid addition to the Allmans' canon. Gregg can surely lay claim to being the among the finest white blues singers alive and the dual guitar of Hayes and Trucks has set crowds alight all year.

Still a super-popular live band, the Allmans are one of the the original jam bands and, against all odds, they're still alive and kicking. 

© 2004