On November 4th 1969, the greatest blues rock band of all time was born. The Allman Brothers Band‘s landmark debut is often described as the first Southern rock album and looms large as a touchstone for the genre.
What became one of the greatest improvisational rock bands of all time. The Allman Brothers Band was a powerful moment in rock history and it came down a to fall from a horse, a stroke of luck and a bottle of pills.
50 years ago today the world was introduced to The Allman Brothers Band’s debut album effectively changing live blues forever.
In 1971 there was no other rock band on the planet, save the Grateful Dead, offering a synthesis of rock, blues, jazz and country quite like the Allman Brothers. And these two bands are, to this day, in a league of their own. This is the story of the birth of the Allman Brothers.
Duane began to learn to play slide guitar on his birthday in 1968. He was recovering from an injury to his left elbow, caused in a fall from a horse – unfortunately not the last serious accident he would suffer. Gregg brought him a birthday present, the debut album by Taj Mahal, and a bottle of Coricidin pills.
When John Hammond – the man who signed Aretha Franklin, Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan – asked Duane how he got so good, he replied, “Man, I took speed every night for three years and practised.”
At this time Gregg was tied up with a strict solo contract on the West Coast. Thus, Duane headed to Florida seeking to fulfil a vision. He linked up with various local bands including the Cream-esque Second Coming, who boasted the red hot guitarist Dicky Betts and renowned bass player Berry Oakley.
Duane was quickly noticed by Wilson Pickett and hired for a session on the Hour Glass album. Allman suggested Pickett cover The Beatles‘ Hey Jude and laid down an absolutely sublime solo.
The cover sold a million units and Duane Allman was quickly a session player in demand but the vision he saw loomed clear and strong. Ever a champion of musical freedom, Duane sought to form a band and it was Otis Redding‘s manager Phil Walden who gave him a shot. Walden told Duane to from a trio and bring them to Macon, Georgia to cut an album with Capricorn Records.
Duane was so excited he turned up with a six-piece having poached Dicky Betts and Berry Oakley from Second Coming. He also recruited two drummers he had done session work with: Jai ‘Jaimoe’ Johanson and Butch Trucks. The final piece in the pyramid was his brother Gregg Allman.
Nurturing a healthy bit of sibling rivalry wen’t a long way pushing the band to new transcendent heights. Also a concoction of wine, weed, and mushrooms went along way to crafting their free-form, jazz induced jams.
Crammed into a two bedroom apartment they would walk down to a cemetery to strum around for ideas giving birth to Dicky Betts phenomenal instrumental composition In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed.
Always a bluesman at heart, Duane encouraged the group to cover Muddy Waters Trouble No More and Spencer Davis’ Don’t Want You No More.
The record also included fan favourites Whipping Post, the psychedelic Dreams, and Black Hearted Woman.
What came next laid the foundation for a whole new style of rock n roll. The debut album blended a bluesy, jazz-tinged soul with a progressive Southern vibe characterised by Gregg’s growling, heartfelt vocals, a dual percussive pulse and the twin guitar lines that traversed from hushed conversations to frenzied, passionate screams.
In celebration, all six members had shrooms tattooed on their legs, which later became their insignia. Far more romantic than the crabs they all shared two months later as they embarked on a goliath tour.
Over the next two years they played an astonishing 500 gigs and effectively lived on the road, pausing only to hook up with Eric Clapton for his Derek & The Dominos album Layla and to record their second album, Idlewild South.
Check out a magnificent live version of Whipping Post below:
Despite increasingly heavy drug use on the road, a bust and tour manager Twiggs Lyndon stabbing and killing a club owner for not paying up, their music continued to get better with their Live At The Fillmore East record being a strong contender for the greatest live album of all time selling half a million copies within a few months.
Tragically, the band continued to unravel with Duane Allman’s death from a motorcycle accident in 1971 being the last straw.
Oakley Berry had been the most affected by Duane’s death. He followed his band leader a year and a week since Duane’s death, and the accidents happened less than a mile apart. Both were 24. The pair of them were buried together, not far from Elizabeth Reed.
Nonetheless, The Allman Brothers Band endure as one of the most original rock bands of all time and are a touchstone for live alchemy. Their self titled debut album is a high moment in blues-rock history and a moment of raw chemistry for the ‘enlightened rogues’ that were The Allman Brothers Band.