First formed in Jacksonville, Florida in 1969, The Allman Brothers Band's original lineup of founding members consisted of the following:
Howard "Duane" Allman (slide and lead guitar), (November 20, 1946 - October 29, 1971, Nashville, Tennessee) - a blues lead guitarist and session musician. Allman is best remembered for his slide guitar, improvisational skills and most importantly -- for his brief but influential tenure in the band that he helped co-found.
Gregory "Gregg" Lenoir Allman (vocals, organ), (born December 8, 1947, Nashville, Tennessee) - younger brother to Duane; rock and blues singer, keyboardist, guitarist and songwriter.
Forrest Richard "Dickey" Betts (guitar, vocals), (born December 12, 1943, West Palm Beach, Florida) - guitarist, singer, and songwriter; brought a blues and Country sound to the mix.
Raymond Berry Oakley III (bass), (April 4, 1948 - November 11, 1972, Chicago, Illinois) - bassist who was raised in the suburb of Park Forest, Illinois.
Claude Hudson "Butch" Trucks (drums), (born May 11, 1947, Jacksonville, Florida) - drummer with roots in classical and Gospel music.
"Jaimoe" Jai Johanny Johanson (drums), (born July 8, 1944, Ocean Springs, Mississippi as John Lee Johnson) - drummer and percussionist with a background in jazz.
Two important events occurred early in Duane and Gregg Allman's lives that ultimately would determine the direction of their careers. The first event occurred in 1959 when the boys were in Nashville visiting relatives and decided to attend a rock 'n' roll concert. After hearing blues artist B. B. King perform, both brothers promptly fell under the spell of his music. Gregg recalls that Duane turned to him and said, "we got to get into this." The defining event came shortly thereafter in 1960. After hearing a neighbor playing country music standards on an acoustic guitar, Gregg was inspired to learn to play the guitar. Motivated by Gregg's example, older brother Duane decided to follow his lead. Gregg has been quoted as saying that after Duane started playing the guitar, "he... passed me up like I was standing still."
Forming a number of small, local groups, the brothers started playing publicly in 1961 as The Escorts. Shortly thereafter, Duane quit high school to stay home during the day and focus on his guitar playing. The Escorts eventually evolved into the Allman Joys. After Gregg graduated from Seabreeze High School in 1965, the Allman Joys hit the road to perform throughout the Southeastern U.S. The band eventually chose Nashville and St. Louis as their base, but had little success.
In early 1967, The Allman Joys relocated to Los Angeles, California, and were signed to Liberty Records, which renamed them The Hour Glass (another not-quite-successful band). Completely ignoring the band's desire to play more blues-oriented material, Liberty tried to market them as a pop band. The Hour Glass produced two albums; however, all the players - Duane in particular - were completely dissatisfied with the results. After the second album, The Hour Glass broke up and Duane wanted to return to the South. Since Liberty Records believed that Gregg might have commercial potential as a solo act, the company agreed to release Duane and the rest of group from their contract and let them leave - on the condition that Gregg stay in California to continue recording. Duane left his brother in L.A. and went south to Alabama to play as a session musician at F.A.M.E. Studios in Muscle Shoals.
In 1968, Gregg traveled to visit Duane on his brother's 22nd birthday. Since Duane was sick in bed with a fever, Gregg brought along a bottle of Coricidin pills for his brother's fever and a birthday gift of the debut album by guitarist Taj Mahal. "About two hours after I left, my phone rang," Gregg states. It was Duane, who said, "Baby brother, baby brother, get over here now!" Gregg returned to find that after pouring out the pills and washing off the label, Duane was using the empty pill bottle as a slide to play "Statesboro Blues," (a cut from the Taj Mahal album) on his guitar. "Duane had never played slide before," says Gregg, "he just picked it up and started burnin'. He was a natural." The song would go on to become a part of the Allman Brothers Band's repertoire, and Duane's slide guitar became crucial to their sound.
The limits of full-time session playing at Muscle Shoals frustrated Duane. Fortunately, the few months spent there were by no means a waste - in addition to meeting great artists and other industry professionals, Duane also rented a small, secluded cabin on a lake where he spent many solitary hours perfecting his playing. Perhaps most significantly, at F.A.M.E. Duane hooked up with R&B and jazz drummer "Jaimoe Johanson who came at the urging of Duane's manager Phil Walden (former manager of the late Otis Redding). Walden wanted to build a three-piece band around Duane, so along with Jaimoe, Duane persuaded bassist Berry Oakley to come up from Florida and jam with them as a trio. Unfortunately, Berry had a previous commitment to the Second Coming (his rock band with guitarist Dickey Betts) and had to return south.
Some of the artists whose recordings Duane played guitar on included Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin, Clarence Carter, King Curtis, Otis Rush, Ronnie Hawkins, Arthur Conley, Lulu, Herbie Mann, Boz Scaggs, John Hammond, Delaney & Bonnie, and Derek & The Dominos.
In March, Duane took Jaimoe with him back to Jacksonville, Florida, where they both moved in with Butch Trucks. Soon these three were jamming along with Betts, Oakley, and Reese Wynans when something almost magical took place and a special bond was forged among everyone present. Gregg, who was still in California fulfilling his Hour Glass obligation, was increasingly miserable working for Liberty Records. In March 1969 when Duane called him from Jacksonville to say that he had assembled a band that needed a singer, Gregg jumped at the opportunity. In addition to singing, Gregg learned that he would also be replacing Wynans on keyboards. (Wynans went on to later fame as an organist with Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble.) Gregg, who had long wanted to play the Hammond Organ, was given one immediately upon joining the band. Needless to say, he had to learn to play in a hurry. The sextet soon relocated to Macon, Georgia, to be in close proximity to their manager Walden and his Capricorn Sound Studios. The Allman Brothers Band was born.
After months of nonstop rehearsing and gigging (including some fondly remembered free shows performed in Macon's Central City Park and Atlanta's Piedmont Park), the group was ready to start recording. In September 1969, their debut album, The Allman Brothers Band, was recorded in New York and released shortly thereafter. Most of the album had a blues-rock sound and was met with critical acclaim, but at the time it enjoyed little commercial success. Fortunately, the spacy "Dreams" (which later provided framework for some of the band's best jams) and "Whipping Post,"-- both of which became standards in the Allmans' legendary live shows -- ultimately helped morph the band's first release into a cult classic.
The band's second album, Idlewild South (Capricorn, 1970) was released to critical acclaim and was quite lucrative - quickly hitting the Billboard charts. The Allman's improved songwriting combined with the raw sound displayed in their debut album was greeted with massive mainstream approval. The upbeat "Revival" and moody "Midnight Rider" were standouts that proved the band was getting more adept at shorter, radio-friendly numbers.
In March 1971, The Allman Brothers Band recorded "At Fillmore East", which was rated by Rolling Stone magazine to be among the top 50 albums of all time; in fact, it is widely viewed as one of the finest live albums in rock history. The Allman Brothers received the honor of being the last act to play the Fillmore East before it closed in June 1971. The final shows there achieved legendary status, partly due to bands' literally playing all night. (Later in a 2005 interview, Gregg related how the jamming musicians would lose track of time, not realizing it was dawn until the side doors of the Fillmore were opened and the morning light poured in.)
Whenever he could during this time, Duane continued to contribute session work to other artists' albums. According to Skydog: the Duane Allman Story, Duane was in the habit of spontaneously dropping in at recording sessions and contributing to whatever was being taped that day. He received cash payments but no recording credits, making it virtually impossible to compile a complete discography of his works.
The Allman Brothers Band went on to become one of the most influential rock groups of the 1970s, described by Rolling Stone's George Kimball in 1971 as "the best damn rock and roll band this country has produced in the past five years."
On October 29, only months after the summer release and great initial success of At Fillmore East, Duane was in Macon taking a break from touring and recording. While riding his Harley, he lost control when an oncoming truck suddenly stopped in mid-intersection. Allman was thrown from the Harley, which landed on top of him, crushing internal organs. The Allman Brothers Band lost its talismanic leader when Duane died several hours later, just weeks before his 25th birthday.
After the funeral and weeks of mourning, the five surviving members of the band managed to carry on, resuming live performances and finishing recording work. They released their next album, Eat a Peach in February, 1972. The name refers to one of Duane's interview lines given in response to the question, "How are you helping the revolution?" Duane said, "There ain't no revolution, only evolution, but every time I'm in Georgia I eat a peach for peace." The double album includes a side of Duane's live and studio tracks, two sides of "Mountain Jam," recorded with Duane at the Fillmore, and a side of tracks by the five surviving band members. A widely circulated urban legend is that "Eat a Peach" referred to what was being carried by the truck that killed Duane; however, this belief is without foundation.
Less than 13 months later in a bizarre and tragic coincidence, bassist Berry Oakley died in a similar motorcycle crash with a city bus, just three blocks from the site of Duane Allman's fatal accident. A commonly retold legend that Oakley's accident occurred at the exact same site as Duane's death is also incorrect. Berry Oakley's remains were laid to rest beside Duane Allman's in Macon's Rose Hill Cemetery.
During this time, The Allman Brothers Band - with their influential blend of hard rock, blues, and jazz -- helped pave the way for other Southern rock groups and jam bands such as the Marshall Tucker Band and Lynyrd Skynyrd to rise to prominence. Shortly after Duane's death, Ronnie Van Zant of Lynyrd Skynyrd dedicated the song "Free Bird" to the memory of Duane Allman. Although many people assume this song was written about Duane, it was actually written before his death. (Allen Collins wrote the song after his then girlfriend asked him the question, "If I leave here tomorrow, would you still remember me?")
Although Duane's death hit the group hard, they achieved the peak of their commercial success with 1972's Eat a Peach followed by the release of Brothers and Sisters in 1973. In fact, by this time, The Allman Brothers Band had become one of the country's top concert draws. On July 28, 1973 at the Summer Jam outside Watkins Glen, New York, their joint appearance with The Grateful Dead was arguably the band's most celebrated performance. An estimated 600,000 enthusiastic fans were in attendance at this massive outdoor festival.
Eventually, internal tensions, solo aspirations, and personal problems within the band led to a string of uneven albums. Gregg and Dickey Betts both began solo careers and personality conflicts were tearing the band apart. The group finally disbanded amidst a storm of publicity, then reformed to produce a strong 1979 release of Enlightened Rogues. Faced with financial woes and flagging popularity, the band members spent the next ten years disbanding, reforming, going solo and disbanding again.
It wasn't until 1989 that The Allman Brothers Band reunited and returned to popularity - spurred in part by Gregg Allman's recent FM radio solo success, the band's regular appearances on the American summer outdoor amphitheatre circuit and PolyGram's release of the band's archival material. Founders Gregg, Betts, Jaimoe and Trucks were now joined by newcomers Warren Haynes (guitar, vocals), Johnny Neel (keyboards and harmonica), and Allen Woody (bass guitar).
Finally, after a 20th Anniversary tour and four more years of lineup changes and turmoil it seemed that the band was entering a new period of stability and productivity. In 2003 and 2004 The Allman Brothers garnered back-to-back Grammy Award nominations in Best Rock Instrumental category for performances of "Instrumental Illness" from Hittin' The Note and One Way Out. In 2003, Duane Allman, Warren Haynes, Dickey Betts, and Derek Trucks were named to Rolling Stone Magazine's list of 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time. Duane was listed at #2 and Trucks was noted as the youngest guitarist on the list.
Although the group has undergone a myriad of lineup changes, according to allmanbrothersband.com, the group currently consists of Gregg Allman on vocals and organ, Butch Trucks on drums and percussion, Jaimoe on drums, Marc Quiñones on percussion, Oteil Burbridge on bass (Burbridge claims to have played with The Allman Brothers Band longer than any other bassist), and Derek Trucks and Warren Haynes on lead and slide guitar.
Reminiscing about The Allman Brothers Band history in a 2008 interview with Lawrence Specker, Gregg said, "To say the band has had some lineup changes is an understatement." (The band's website lists twelve former members, starting with Allman's legendary brother Duane.) "But the unit is solid," he continued.
When questioned about the band's role today, Allman said he imagined it this way - "if it plays for an audience of 20,000 and each person out there has one problem on his or her mind, that's 20,000 problems. But, for about five hours, we're going to make 'em forget about those problems," he said. "'Cause they're going to be busy shaking their bootie and having a good time and that's what music is about."