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When I first picked up a bass guitar and started taking lessons, one of the first songs that I wanted to learn on the instrument was “Ramblin’ Man” by the Allman Brothers Band.
Bassist Berry Oakley’s line in that song is a bouncy, melodic groove that taught me a lot about building bass lines that can weave through a song’s chords without distracting or taking away from other instruments. Learning “Ramblin’ Man” spurred an interest in learning more about the Allman Brothers Band and its history.
The Allman Brothers Band and its members are the stuff of southern rock legend. Their live shows often became jam sessions, showcasing the individual talents of each member. The band was one of the best at blending blues, jazz, and country into a musical tapestry that had the flavor of a sweet Georgia peach.
In this article, I’ll take a look at the Allman Brothers Band history, its members, the hardships they faced, and how the band carried on after splitting up multiple times. Grab your headphones and listen in as we take a journey through the music of the Allman Brothers Band.
Bottom Line Up Front
- The Allman Brothers Band was formed in Jacksonville, Florida, in 1969.
- The group’s original lineup included six members: Gregg Allman, Duane Allman, Dickey Betts, Berry Oakley, Jaimoe Johnson, and Butch Trucks.
- The band’s At Filmore East album ranks among the best live albums ever released.
- “Ramblin’ Man” and “Jessica” are two of the band’s biggest hits and are frequently played on classic rock radio stations.
Members of the Original Lineup
Gregg Allman was the Allman Brothers Band’s keyboardist and main vocalist. He also wrote some of the group’s most successful songs, like “Midnight Rider” and “Melissa.” In addition to performing with the Allman Brothers Band, he had a successful solo career that saw him release eight studio albums. He died on May 27, 2017.
Duane Allman was one of the lead guitarists for the Allman Brothers Band. He started playing the guitar at 14 and eventually became a session musician before starting the Allman Brothers Band with his brother, Gregg Allman. As a guitarist, he was skilled at slide technique and improvisation, leading to the band’s reputation as a great jam band on their live album At Fillmore East. He died on October 29, 1971, at the age of 24.
Dickey Betts, like Duane Allman, played lead guitar in the Allman Brothers Band. He also sang and wrote lyrics, making him a driving force within the band, especially after Duane’s death. Along with Duane, Dickey reimagined the role of the electric guitar in rock bands and how two guitarists could play together.
He wrote and sang one of the band’s biggest hits, “Ramblin’ Man,” and also wrote the instrumental “Jessica,” which became the opening theme of the TV show Top Gear.
Raymond Berry Oakley III was born in Chicago but later moved to Florida, where he met Dickey Betts and ended up joining his band. Oakley didn’t play the bass guitar like a traditional bass player who mainly stuck to roots and simple rhythms.
Instead, he was known for long melodic runs and bass lines that bounced their way through the band’s tracks. Oakley was great friends with Duane Allman and was buried beside him after his death on November 11, 1972.
Jai Johanny “Jaimoe” Johanson was one of two drummers for the Allman Brothers Band. Like the band’s dual lead guitar approach, having two drummers imbued the band’s sound with drive and energy that only multiple percussionists could provide.
Before playing with the Allman Brothers Band, Jaimoe played in backing bands, most notably for Otis Redding and Patti LaBelle. He is still touring today.
Butch Trucks was a drummer in the Allman Brothers Band, joining forces with Jaimoe Johanson. While Jaimoe infused more jazz and intricate flourishes into the band’s rhythm section, Trucks’ drumming was more powerful and straightforward.
His drumming was the foundation on which Jaimoe and the rest of the band built their sound. Trucks died on January 24, 2017.
The Early Years
The Allman Brothers Band was formed in 1969 in Jacksonville, Florida, after Duane Allman invited any of his musician friends to join in on some jam sessions. The band wasn’t complete until Gregg Allman returned from a stint in Los Angeles on March 26, 1969, at which point he joined rehearsals and was pressured to sing by his brother.
The first performance by the founding members of the Allman Brothers Band (Duane, Gregg, Dickey, Berry, Jaimoe, and Butch) was at the Jacksonville Armory. Shortly after that performance, the group moved to Macon, Georgia. They were a radical image in the small Bible Belt town that had just been integrated – all of the white members had long hair and Jaimoe was black.
That didn’t stop the band from performing locally, rehearsing for hours, and doing psychedelics in the small apartment they all shared called the Hippie Crash Pad. To record their first studio album, the band headed north to New York City. The recording experience was good for the band, and mixing was done quickly.
Their self-titled debut album was released in November 1969, but despite the time they had spent rehearsing, writing, and getting to know each other as a band, the album was a commercial flop. Before recording their second studio album, Idlewild South, the band would move twice. The first time, they rented a house outside of Macon, where most of the material for Idlewild South was written.
The second move was to a larger home in Macon they called the Big House. Idlewild South came out in September 1970 as the band was finally beginning to gain steam. It included two of the band’s most famous songs: “Midnight Rider” and “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed.”
At Fillmore East
Word of mouth about the Allman Brothers Band’s performance, plus two studio albums, started generating more and more interest in the band, even outside of the southeast. The band, noticing that a live audience was integral to their performances, decided to do a live album. This fateful decision is what ended the band’s commercial woes.
The Allman Brothers Band recorded three nights of live performances at the Fillmore East in New York City. The final result, At Fillmore East, came out in July of 1971 and climbed the pop music charts all the way to number 13, eventually going gold.
The Allman Brothers were finally a hit – commercially, critically, and even culturally. At Fillmore East was added to the Library of Congress in 2004 for preservation due to its significance as a live album. Unfortunately, the success At Fillmore East would be short-lived as tragedy struck just a short time later.
Duane Allman’s Death and Eat a Peach
Shortly after the release of At Fillmore East, Duane Allman was involved in a deadly motorcycle accident upon returning to Macon. He was thrown from his bike, which landed on top of him, leading to damage to his internal organs.
He arrived at the hospital alive, but the damage was too much. He died on October 29, 1971. He was only 24 years old.
Duane’s death hit the other members of the band hard, but they decided to carry on after a period of mourning. They finished and released their third studio album, which was the last to feature Duane’s guitar playing. They chose the title Eat a Peach from a quote of Duane’s where he mentioned eating peaches for peace.
Eat a Peach was a huge hit upon its release in early 1972. It went on to reach number 4 on Billboard’s Top Pop Albums chart and went gold, just like At Fillmore East. Following the release, the band toured relentlessly. Their newfound popularity was making wealthy men out of the formerly struggling musicians, and with that money, the band bought a huge plot of land in Juliette, Georgia.
Despite all of their successes, Duane’s death still hung like a cloud over bassist Berry Oakley. By this point, he was drinking and using drugs more and more often, which lead to him losing a lot of weight. The other band members and his family became increasingly worried about his health. Unfortunately, tragedy would strike the band twice – in the same way, in nearly exactly the same place.
Berry Oakley’s Death and Brothers and Sisters
On November 11, 1972, Berry Oakley was involved in a deadly motorcycle accident with a bus, only a few blocks away from the spot where Duane was killed. Just like Duane, Berry initially survived the crash. He refused to go to a hospital and instead returned home, where he became delirious and had to be rushed to the hospital anyway. It was there that he died from brain swelling due to a fractured skull.
Again, tragedy had struck the Allman Brothers Band, and again the band decided to carry on. They brought in new bass players to audition and eventually settled on Lamar Williams. Dickey Betts began to take on a larger role in the band, eventually becoming the leader figure that Duane had been during his time with the band.
Betts’ influence on the band became evident with the release of its fourth studio album, Brothers and Sisters. The album was a huge success, finding its way all the way to number 1 on the charts. Four of the album’s seven songs were penned by Betts, including “Ramblin’ Man” and “Jessica.” “Ramblin’ Man” found radio success as well, peaking at number 2 on Billboard‘s Hot 100 list.
The First Breakup
The money and success were going to everyone’s heads. A low point for the band was a show in Washington D.C. with the Grateful Dead, in which members of the band and their crew were involved in a fight. They soldiered on, however, continuing to tour and making increasingly more money for each live performance, most of which were in arenas and stadiums.
Gregg Allman and Dickey Betts were also busy pursuing solo careers. Gregg spent most of his time in L.A., and the separation of the band’s members led to a widely-panned fifth studio album, Win, Lose, or Draw. After a few more months of heavy touring, the other members of the Allman Brothers Band reached their breaking point.
During the trial of Scooter Herring, a member of the band’s security team, Gregg Allman testified. This lead the other members of the band to consider him untrustworthy, and death threats were even involved. Herring was eventually found guilty of intent to distribute cocaine, though his sentence was reduced by President Jimmy Carter through a presidential pardon.
The trial was the last straw for a tired and angry Allman Brothers Band. The band broke up and the members went on to perform with different groups for a time.
Reunion and Enlightened Rogues
By the time 1978 rolled around, tensions had cooled enough for Gregg Allman to contact Dickey Betts about getting the band back together.
Allman, Butch Trucks, and Jaimoe Johanson were the first to reunite, playing a gig together in Central Park that summer in support of the band Great Southern. Out a guitarist and a bass player, Great Southern’s Dan Toler and David Goldflies were asked to join the band.
The band’s final record with Capricorn Records, the Macon-based recording label they were signed to, was Enlightened Rogues.
The album did okay sales-wise, but as far as instrumentation and chemistry, the members of the Allman Brothers Band felt it wasn’t that great. Amid legal and financial troubles, Capricorn Records collapsed, leading the band to sign with Arista Records.
The Second Breakup
The reunion was ill-fated from the get-go. The Allman Brothers Band would go on to release two studio albums with their new label: Reach for the Sky in 1980 and Brothers of the Road in 1981.
They only got one hit out of the two albums – “Straight from the Heart,” which ended up being the band’s last song to land in the top 40. Tensions again were rising in the band, which lead to Jaimoe being replaced by Dan Toler’s brother Frankie Toler.
Constantly being pushed to change their sound by label executives and considering their newer albums to be failures, the band once again broke up. Members of the group would reunite occasionally before 1989, when a second reunion took place.
Continued Turmoil and the Split with Dickey Betts
In honor of the band’s 20th anniversary, the band reunited for a second time, this time with Jaimoe in tow. The new group, which had added Warren Haynes on guitar, Johnny Neel on piano, and Allen Woody on bass, began touring again and released their first studio album in nine years, Seven Turns.
The Allman Brothers Band again became a touring behemoth, playing over 150 shows over a period of two years. Another album was released in 1992 called Shades of Two Worlds. But conflict was never out of the picture very long and reared its ugly head when Dickey Betts was arrested for pushing two police officers.
The band was on the verge of breaking up for the third time but managed to hold it together for a third album, Where It All Begins, in 1994. The next year, the band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Completely drunk and incoherent at the acceptance ceremony, Gregg Allman decided to finally get sober after years of drug and alcohol abuse.
Tensions between Allman and Betts continued to increase, but still, the band stuck together long enough to add new members, including Derek Trucks, a guitarist, and nephew of Butch Trucks.
After runs at the Beacon Theatre in 1999 and 2000, the band had finally had enough of Dickey Betts and sent him a letter telling him they would tour without him the following summer. Betts retaliated by suing the group, eventually receiving a settlement and continuing his career with an entirely different band.
Without Betts, the new-look Allman Brothers Band released their last studio album, Hittin’ the Note, in 2003. This incarnation of the band, featuring Gregg Allman, Butch Trucks, Jaimoe, Warren Haynes on guitar, Marc Quiñones on percussion, Oteil Burbridge on bass, and Derek Trucks on guitar, proved to be a great one.
One of the tracks, “Instrumental Illness,” was even nominated for a Grammy.
The Final Years and the Last Show
The Allman Brothers Band continued to tour throughout the 2000s and into the next decade. As the members of the band grew older, health complications began to pop up more often, like Gregg Allman needing a liver transplant in 2010.
Despite this, the band was able to carry on for a few more years, including starting their own music festival in 2012 called The Peach. Finally, in 2014, the Allman Brothers Band called it quits after its final show on October 28, 2014.
The show was at the Beacon Theatre, where the band had performed dozens of times over the course of its run starting in 1989. It was a fitting end for the group, and their last song was also the first song the original lineup had played together – Muddy Waters’ “Trouble No More.”
The Allman Brothers Band was full of great musicians that brought varied musical styles to the group. The members combined sounds from jazz, rock, southern rock, country, and blues to create an original sound. The group was heavily influenced by blues acts like Muddy Waters and Otis Redding.
The Allman Brothers Band is easily one of the best live bands in rock history. Many Southern rock bands would follow suit, including acts like Lynyrd Skynyrd, ZZ Top, and the Marshall Tucker Band. Later on, they inspired jam bands with their legendary live performances.
But perhaps the most inspiring takeaway from the Allman Brothers Band’s history is that they were able to weather the storm of poor sales and performances to become relevant again in their later years, influencing a whole new generation of musicians, as they did during their first successful run in the 70s.
The living members of the final lineup of the Allman Brothers Band still perform today under the name the Brothers. The sons of founding members Gregg Allman, Dickey Betts, and Berry Oakley founded their own band in 2018 called the Allman Betts Band.
They play original music but carry on the tradition of their fathers by covering some of the Allman Brothers Band’s tunes.
Answer: The final lineup of the Allman Brothers Band at its last performance at the Beacon Theatre consisted of Gregg Allman, Warren Haynes, Derek Trucks, Butch Trucks, Jaimoe, Marc Quiñones, and Oteil Burbridge.
Answer: No, they are not. Their final show was on October 28, 2014.
Answer: The Allman Brothers Band is best known for propelling southern rock into mainstream music.
Answer: The Peach Music Festival is being held in Scranton, Pennsylvania this year (2022). It runs from June 30 through July 3. More information can be found on the official website.
The Allman Brothers Band History: Final Thoughts
Having grown up in the southeastern United States and as a musician, I never really appreciated the Allman Brothers Band’s impact on the cultural fabric of the area until I was older.
As a band, they also serve as a bit of a redemption story, going from astronomical heights in the 70s to lows in the 80s and 90s, only to rise again to fame in the sunset of the band’s run. The Allman Brothers Band will always be remembered as pioneers of the Southern rock sound, and their legacy will carry on for many years to come.