The Allman Brothers Band defined Southern rock in the ’70s, but they were far more than just some rock band from the South. They blended elements of blues, jazz, R&B, country, and rock and created their own unique sound. Just listen to their classic rock staples like ‘Ramblin’ Man,’ ‘Midnight Rider,’ ‘Melissa,’ and ‘Whipping Post.’ When keyboardist and singer Gregg Allman announced that the band’s appearance in October of 2014 would be the last time the Allman Brothers Band would appear in concert, fans were downtrodden.
The band’s members were moving on to solo side projects. But this split was the finale of a wild 45-year ride that was riddled with tragedies. The American rock band from Jacksonville, Florida, formed in 1969. Duane and Gregg Allman, Dickey Betts, Berry Oakley, Butch Trucks, and Jai Johanny “Jaimoe” Johanson faced major ups and downs. And it all started when Mr. Allman was killed when the boys were just two and three years old.
This is the history of The Allman Brothers Band.
The Allman Brothers Band’s first real commercial success was its 1971 two-album L.P. titled ‘At Fillmore East.’ It was hailed as one of the best live concerts ever. By then, the members of the band had tightly bonded, as though they were all brothers (and not just Gregg and Duane Allman). They were living together in a cabin, living the life on the road, playing hundreds of low-budget gigs.
But the group’s story begins in Daytona Beach, Florida, where Gregg Allman and his older brother Duane developed a deep love for music. Gregg was the first one to pick up the guitar, but it didn’t take long for him to surpass him, dropping out of high school to practice constantly.
The brothers were influenced by the British Invasion of the mid-’60s and decided to form a band of their own. They started a garage band called the Escorts, which didn’t last very long. Their amateur band then became The Allman Joys, a band that played blues and soul music. Then that group evolved into the Hour Glass. They were signed by Liberty Records, moved to L.A. and recorded two L.P.s.
But those albums went nowhere. That’s when the brothers parted ways. Duane decided to move to Muscle Shoals, Alabama, to pursue a career as a session musician. Gregg, on the other hand, stayed in Hollywood because he was bound by contractual obligations with Liberty. According to Liberty, Gregg was the one they believed in and thought he could hold a solo career.
Long before Gregg and Duane formed the Allman Brothers Band, and became pioneers in blues, rock, and jazz sound, the brothers survived a childhood scarred by tragedy. The boys were just toddlers (Duane was three and Gregg was two) when their father, Willis Turner Allman, was murdered one night after Christmas, in 1949. It happened in Norfolk, where the Allmans were living at the time.
Willis, a 31-year-old second lieutenant in the U.S. Army, had been stationed at Fort Story. On the night of the murder, his wife, Geraldine, and their boys were visiting family for the holidays in North Carolina. Willis and another officer, 28-year-old Robert Buchanan, met a hitchhiker in the Oriental Gardens restaurant. The three played shuffleboard and had several drinks.
The hitchhiker asked for a ride to a certain spot, but once arriving there, the man, who was sitting in the back of the car, asked them to then take him home. But he directed them to an open field. It was there that the hitchhiker drew a small automatic pistol and told Allman and Buchanan to get out of the car. He took their wallets and their shoes and ordered them to walk farther into the darkness.
Once they were told to lie face down on the ground, Allman was said to have lunged for the gun. And that’s when Buchanan ran to a farmhouse off in the distance, hearing two gunshots behind him. When he ran back, the hitchhiker sped off in the car as Allman lay in the field, succumbing to his wounds.
Twenty years later, Allman’s sons, who grew up with their mother in Tennessee and Florida in the aftermath of their father’s death, formed the Allman Brothers Band. But tragically, Duane would not live long enough to even reach the age his father was at the time of his death. Duane died in 1971 after suffering the injuries of a motorcycle accident. He was 24.
His younger brother Gregg, lacking the important men in his life, married several times and dealt with drug addictions that plagued him for most of his life. Like the blues that influenced him, Gregg Allman would explore musically with the idea of how brutal life can be. But the story of his father had the roots of a blues song long before he and his brother ever picked up a guitar or sat down at a keyboard.
It was when Liberty declined the third album that Duane went back South. And it was the first time in a year that the brothers were apart from each other. Duane became a star session guitarist at FAME Studios in Alabama, where he backed up R&B giants like Wilson Pickett and Aretha Franklin. It was there that Duane came up with an idea to create a band with two drummers and two guitarists.
Biographer Alan Paul held hundreds of interviews with the band for his book ‘One Way Out: The Inside History of the Allman Brothers Band.’ In the book, he described Duane’s vision for the band. “Duane was all about two lead guitars. He loved players like Curtis Mayfield and wanted the bass, keyboards, and second guitar to form patterns behind the solo rather than just comping.”
Duane was both inspired and encouraged by Otis Redding and his former manager, Phil Walden. Duane started to assemble what would become the Allman Brothers Band. He recruited bassist Berry Oakley and two drummers: Butch Trucks and Jai Johanny Johanson (later known as Jaimoe). Dickey Betts then joined as the other guitarist. Then, the two brothers who had been apart for a while, finally reunited.
The group was joined by Gregg, who came back to Florida to be the band’s vocalist and keyboardist. Gregg was the final piece of Duane’s puzzle, creating the final product in what would become their signature sound. The group signed with Capricorn Records and moved from Jacksonville to Macon, Georgia, in the spring of 1969.
Their debut album, ‘The Allman Brothers Band,’ came after months of rehearsals and touring. It was well-received and generated some buzz, but it didn’t make a dent in the charts. But songs like Muddy Waters’ ‘Trouble No More’ and ‘Whipping Post,’ which were written by Gregg, gave people a hint of what was to come.
Their follow-up album the next year, ‘Idlewild South, saw only slightly better results than their debut. While the charts weren’t really recognizing the young band, others were. Duane’s guitar playing caught the attention of Eric Clapton, who asked Duane to contribute to Derek and the Dominos’ album, ‘Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs.’ Duane obviously agreed and played slide and acoustic guitar on 11 out of the 14 tracks.
Duane was happy to contribute to anything Eric Clapton was making, but he refused when Clapton asked him to become a member of his band. The Allman brother was dedicated to his own band and never planned on leaving it. After missing several shows to collaborate with Clapton, Duane returned to the Allman Brothers Band. But their band wasn’t happy with how their albums were going.
Frustrated by the less-than-amusing sales of their two studio albums, the band realized that much of their magic came from their live work, on stage. “We realized that we got a better sound live and that we were a live band,” Gregg later admitted. “We were not intentionally trying to buck the system, but keeping each song down to 3:14 just didn’t work for us.”
That’s when the band came up with the wise decision to make a live album. New York City’s Fillmore East was the best place for the group to record live. ‘At Fillmore East’ was thus recorded there over three nights in March of 1971. The best takes were then released as a double album in July that year. And it turns out that they were right.
The live album was an instant hit, reaching #13 and earning a gold record. The band was finally reaching the kind of fame they always hoped for. But what comes up must come down, as the old adage goes. As the band met hard-earned success, they were also struck with a tragedy that would haunt them forever.
On October 29th, 1971, Duane Allman was riding on his Harley-Davidson Sportster in Macon, Georgia. As he was headed towards an intersection, a flatbed lumber truck suddenly blocked his path. Duane maneuvered to try and get out of the truck’s way, but it was too late. He hit the truck and was thrown off the bike.
The motorcycle flipped in the air, landed on Allman, and then skidded another 90 feet as Allman was pinned underneath. The impact crushed his internal organs. While he was alive when he arrived at the hospital and underwent emergency surgery, he died just a few hours later as he succumbed to his injuries. Duane Allman was just 24 years old.
After Duane’s death, the rest of the band held a meeting to discuss their future. Things were looking dim as their founding member, Gregg’s own brother, had just lost his life way too soon. “We thought about quitting because how could we go on without Duane? But then we realized: how could we stop?” Butch Trucks explained later.
They discussed the option of taking six months off, and they even tried it. But after a few weeks of feeling too lonely and depressed, they got back together. “We were all just devastated, and the only way to deal with it was to play,” as Butch put it. It was clear that they all wanted to continue, and after a short period, the band hit the road again.
“We all had this thing in us, and Duane put it there. He was the teacher, and he gave something to us – his disciples – that we had to play out,” Butch continued. The band returned to Miami in December of 1971, less than two months after Duane’s accident, to complete the work on their next album, ‘Eat a Peach.’
Completing the album kept the band focused and even raised their spirits. “The music brought life back to us all, and it was simultaneously realized by every one of us. We found strength, vitality, newness, reason, and belonging as we worked on finishing Eat a Peach,” said Gregg Allman. But you can’t deny the fact there was some fear that without Duane that the sound would be different.
Despite the understandable fear that their music would change, the energy and the music was still there. As Gregg himself put it: “it was still the Allman Brothers Band.” Eat a Peach was released in February of 1972, becoming the band’s fourth album, but second, hit. It shipped gold and peaked at number four on Billboard’s Top 200 Pop Albums chart.
“We’d been through hell, but somehow we were rolling bigger than ever,” were the words Gregg used to describe it. Although the band was suddenly rich and successful, many of the members found themselves struggling with heroin addictions. Four of them – Duane, Berry, and roadies Robert Payne and Red Dog Campbell – checked themselves into rehabilitation in October 1971, the same month that Duane died.
The band completed Eat a Peach with Dickey Betts, who picked up for Duane on lead and slide guitar. Chuck Leavell joined on as the pianist rather than a second guitarist. The double album reached #5 on the charts. Its closing number, the song ‘Little Martha,’ was the only Allman Brothers track credited solely to Duane.
With Dickey Betts as the band’s unofficial leader, the next record, ‘Brothers and Sisters,’ marked their move to country rock, diverting from their original blues roots. The album was released in February of 1972, and topped the charts thanks to the hit single’ Ramblin’ Man’ and the instrumental ‘Jessica.’ Both songs were written by Betts. The band was doing well, and they were going places.
The group performed about 90 shows the following year, touring as a five-piece band. They also bought 432 acres of land in Juliette, Georgia, for $160,000. They nicknamed it “The Farm,” and the place soon became the group hangout. But this band’s story reads like a roller coaster ride. They had their ups and downs, and after the high of their last two albums, they were about to face another low.
The Farm was doing its job of fulfilling bassist Berry Oakley’s communal dreams. But the guy was clearly suffering from the death of his best friend. He was filling his days with drinking and doing drugs, and he was losing weight quickly, which started to really concern his friends and bandmates.
According to Oakley’s friends and family, it looked like he lost “all hope, his heart, his drive, his ambition, and his direction” after Duane’s death. A roadie by the name of Kim Payne had this to say about Oakley: “Everything Berry had envisioned for everybody, including the crew, the women and children, was shattered on the day Duane died, and he didn’t care after that.”
Oakley’s main goal was to “get high, be high, and stay high,” as those close to him quietly worried about his mental and physical health. It was only a matter of time until he would submit to his addiction. The band, which had already been to hell and back, faced yet another blow. Tragedy struck again on November 11th, 1972, when bassist Berry Oakley got into an accident of his own.
It looks like motorcycle accidents have plagued The Allman Brothers Band because Berry Oakley was the next band member to be fatally killed in an accident. On November 11th, 1972, the slightly drunk and overjoyed Oakley (who was happy to be leading their planned jam session later that night) crashed his motorcycle into the side of a bus.
The creepy part about it – the accident occurred just three blocks away from where Duane had been killed. Nevertheless, Oakley had something of a death wish. Why? Because he declined to receive hospital treatment and went home instead. But the bassist gradually grew delirious. He was then taken to the hospital and soon after died of cerebral swelling caused by a fractured skull. Oakley was buried next to Duane at Rose Hill Cemetery in Macon.
The band knew tragedy a little too well. They also knew all too well that music was their savior. So they unanimously decided to carry on after losing their friend and bassist. They started to arrange auditions for new bassists, with a renewed passion and determination. A bunch of bassists auditioned, but they chose Lamar Williams, who was an old friend of Jai Johanny Johanson’s from Mississippi.
Williams, at the time, was two years removed from an Army period in Vietnam. While he replaced Oakley as the bassist, the band seemed to be running out of steam. The Allman Brothers Band was still touring, even playing bigger venues and making more money, but they were experiencing less friendship, more miscommunication, all filtered with drug abuse.
There was a backstage brawl when the band was playing with the Grateful Dead in Washington in June 1973. The fight resulted in the firing of three of the band’s longtime roadies. By 1974, the band was making $100,000 per show and was renting a customized Boeing 720B called the Starship, which was also used by Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones.
But according to Gregg Allman, getting that “goddamn plane… was the beginning of the end.” Allman and Betts recorded some well-received solo albums in 1974, and the band started to fall apart. 1975’s ‘Win, Lose or Draw’ was the last album by the original Allman Brothers Band. But after its release, the album was considered subpar and sold a lot less than the others. The band later said that they were “embarrassed” about the album.
By 1975, Allman moved to Hollywood, where he met and married pop diva Cher. The two made music together, resulting in their 1977 flop of a song called ‘Two the Hard Way,’ which was actually released under the very descriptive name of “Allman and Woman.” While he was still struggling with drug addiction, Allman sporadically went back to Macon to record vocals for the disappointing album, ‘Win, Lose or Draw.’
The band was still able to draw huge crowds across the country, but the brotherhood they formed when Duane and Berry were still around was quickly disintegrating. The breaking point came in 1976 when the trial of their road manager, Scooter Herring, took place. Scooter Herring was busted for cocaine distribution.
Allman’s drug use was by no means a secret, and he had to choose between testifying against Herring or end up facing prosecution himself. Allman ultimately testified. Allman always maintained that Herring told him to take the deal (and testify) to turn the evidence and that he (Herring) would take the fall. But it was the last straw for the rest of the band members.
Betts, Trucks, and Jaimoe committed to never play with Allman again, whom they now saw as a snitch who ratted out their friend. Herring was convicted of five counts of conspiracy to distribute cocaine and sentenced to 75 years in prison. But it was later reduced after pleading guilty to a lesser charge.
But the damage to the band had been done. And without those three, the band simply couldn’t go on. The Allman Brothers broke up, and it was the end of an era. Leavell, Williams, and Jaimoe kept playing together as the Sea Level band, while Betts formed Great Southern. Allman formed the Gregg Allman Band.
Hungry for a product, Capricorn Records released a two-record live collection of The Allman Brothers’ ‘Wipe the Windows, Check the Oil, Dollar Gas’ in 1976. The album was basically seen as “the last gasp of a dying band,” which was pretty crappy for the now-floundering Capricorn Records, a company that desperately needed the band to stay afloat. But in 1978, Capricorn’s Phil Walden managed to get the band to make a truce. Albeit a superficial one.
By the workings of Walden, the band agreed to reunite, while Leavell and Williams chose to remain with Sea Level. Guitarist Dan Toler and bassist David Goldflies were taken in as replacements. And so The Allman Brothers’ 1979 album called ‘Enlightened Rogues’ reunited the band with producer Tom Dowd and brought them back to the Top 10.
As for Capricorn, the record company had to file for bankruptcy. By 1979, the southern rock was starting to fade out on the country’s radio stations. There was a new trend happening where disco and New Wave was taking over the charts. When the reunited group moved to Arista Records for the 1980’s ‘Reach for the Sky,’ they were met with even more drama.
The band members fought with Jaimoe’s personal manager, Candace Oakley, who was his then-wife and also the sister of the late Berry Oakley. Jaimoe was then fired by the band, and they replaced him on drums with guitarist Dan Toler’s brother, Frankie. Their next Arista album came in 1981 with ‘Brothers of the Road.’
And after the band made a live performance on ‘Saturday Night Live’ in January of 1982, the band broke up yet again. Throughout the ‘80s, the guys were scattered among a variety of groups. But in 1986, when the Gregg Allman Band and the Dickey Betts Band did a joint tour, something clicked. The formerly resentful band members forgave Allman for being a snitch, and a real truce was finally made.
For their 20th anniversary in 1989, the band got together for a summer tour. Jaimoe returned on the drums, and guitarist Warren Haynes joined. Pianist Johnny Neel and bassist Allen Woody also teamed up. They had a new contract from Epic Records, and classic rock radio’s had a renewed interest in their music. Thus, the Allman Brothers were back.
The band did 87 shows in 1991, and 77 the year after. They released a live album, ‘An Evening with the Allman Brothers Band: First Set,’ in 1992. Then, during a 1993 tour, the band grew combative. Betts was arrested when he pushed two police officers. Haynes became agitated himself as he was both opening with his own band and also headlining with the Allman Brothers. He started to consider leaving the band, mostly because of their increasing lack of communication.
Despite the tension, Haynes hung around, and Betts came back. They made a third post-reunion record, ‘Where It All Begins’ in 1994, which was recorded entirely live – something they knew worked. Haynes described how “The Allman Brothers was a year-by-year thing. There was no indication that it was capable of staying together for years to come. We all looked at it as each tour could be the last one, and there was no reason to think otherwise.”
By 1995, they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but Gregg Allman was severely drunk and couldn’t make it through his acceptance speech. The embarrassing thing was that the ceremony was broadcast on television, and when Allman saw it, he was mortified. It became the catalyst for his final and successful attempt to quit drugs alcohol.
During a 1996 performance at the Beacon Theater, things came to a breaking point between Allman and Betts. Their fight nearly caused a show’s cancellation, causing yet another band breakup. “We were upstairs in our dressing rooms. I’m sitting there thinking, ‘This is it. This is how it finally ends,'” Trucks said. Haynes and Woody figured it was over and left to focus on Gov’t Mule, their own rock band.
The group brought in Oteil Burbridge to replace Woody on bass, and Jack Pearson on guitar. It came to the point that people were complaining about the increasing loudness of Allman Brothers shows, which were largely centered on Betts. After Pearson left in 1999, Trucks got his 20-year-old nephew, Dereck Trucks, to join the band for their 30th-anniversary tour.
The Beacon show in 2000, seen on Peakin’ at the Beacon, was considered among the band’s worst performances. Tensions grew even higher among the members. “It had ceased to be a band. Everything had to be based around what Dickey was playing,” said Allman. The guys became increasingly angry towards Betts, which led to all of the original members sending him a letter.
They informed him of their intentions to tour that summer without him. All of the ones involved in writing the letter held the notion that the break was to be temporary, but Betts responded by hiring a lawyer and suing the band. The split then became a full-on divorce. “I had no idea that I would be snapped out of the picture. I thought it was cruel and impersonal,” Betts later admitted.
Allman was finally sober and thinking clearly, and he felt that doing more miserable shows with Betts would be a waste of time and energy. Betts received a cash settlement and went on to record new music with a new band. Jimmy Herring then joined the band for their summer tour, but the fans weren’t pleased.
Fans were saying that shows by an Allman Brothers Band without Betts was just pointless. Herring felt guilty about replacing Betts and exited shortly after the tour. That August, a former member of the band, bassist Allen Woody, was found dead in a hotel room in New York City. Warren Haynes formed a benefit show for Woody, which featured the Allman Brothers Band.
The Allman Brothers Band released their final studio recording,’ Hittin’ the Note’ in 2003, to critical acclaim. It was the first album to feature the young Derek Trucks and the only album to not feature Betts. They toured throughout the 2000s as a top touring act, regularly attracting more than 20,000 people. They even got to celebrate their 40th anniversary as a band. The show featured special guests, including Eric Clapton.
In 2010, Gregg Allman had a liver transplant and was starting to suffer health setbacks for the following two years. The prescription meds were becoming a real problem for the former addict. And as habit would have it, Allman had to check himself into rehab in 2012 for his addiction to his pain medication.
On June 4th, 2011, David “Frankie” Toler died at hospice care in Bradenton, Florida, after a long illness following a liver transplant. Toler was 59. The Allman Brothers Band played their final show on October 28th, 2014, at the Beacon Theatre. It was the 238th straight sellout for the band at that theater. The sets ran into the early morning hours.
The group joined together center stage and took a bow, and Allman recalled the group’s first rehearsal 45 years earlier. He said on stage: “I was called to come and meet these guys in Jacksonville, Florida, on March 26th, 1969. Now, we’re gonna do the first song we ever played.” They then played “Trouble No More” by Muddy Waters.
On January 24th, 2017, Butch Trucks died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound in his home in West Palm Beach, Florida. He was 69, and reportedly, it came “after years of financial strife.” After Trucks died, it was Allman’s turn. Gregg Allman died in his home in Richmond Hill, Georgia, on May 27th, 2017. Like Trucks, he was also 69 years old. He passed away due to complications from liver cancer.
His funeral was attended by many, including his once-estranged bandmate Dickey Betts, his ex-wife Cher, and the former President Carter, among others. According to Rolling Stone, mourners were wearing jeans – as per Allman’s request. And hundreds of fans were wearing Allman Brothers shirts and listening to the band’s music as they lined the route along the funeral procession.
In January 2020, the five surviving members of the band, calling themselves the Brothers, announced that they were going to do a show to celebrate their 50th anniversary in March at Madison Square Garden. The concert lasted over four hours. Dereck Trucks took the place of his uncle on drums, Reese Wynans took the place of Gregg Allman on organ, and Warren Haynes took place for on Allman’s vocals.
In addition, pianist and former member Chuck Leavell joined the band for half the numbers. Dickey Betts was invited to participate, but he declined the offer. Like the final Beacon show, the “Brothers 50” concert was full of material from the group’s first five albums.
And now for some unknown facts about the members of the Allman Brothers Band…
Were you wondering why President Carter was at Gregg Allman’s funeral? Well, they have some history. While Carter was still the Governor of Georgia, he became friends with Gregg Allman and the band and liked to show up at their local shows. When Carter decided to run for President, he didn’t get much financial backing. So Capricorn Records founder Phil Walden collected his artists, including The Allman Brothers, and did some fundraising shows.
The effort was incredibly effective because they raised over $800,000 for Carter’s campaign. Without the funding, Carter didn’t have much of a chance to even get through the primaries. As a thank you gesture, Carter invited Gregg to share the first meal the Carters had in the White House. Moreover, they ate in the residence area, where most folks aren’t allowed.
That’s right – seven times! And three of those happened before his 30th birthday. Here’s the list – and try to keep up! First, he married Shelley Kay Jefts in 1971, divorcing the following year. Then came Janice Blair, whom he married in 1973 and divorced in 1974. He married Cher in 1975 and divorced in 1978. Then he tied the knot with Julie Bindas the following year; divorced in 1981.
Allman then married Danielle Galliano in 1989; divorced in 1994. His longest marriage of all seven was to Stacey Fountain, as they were wed from 2001 to 2008, which were “seven out-of-sight years,” according to Allman. And finally, in 2012, Allman married Shannon Williams, 40 years his junior, in a quiet ceremony in February of 2017 – the same year he died.
In the book “My Cross to Bear,” Gregg Allman wrote that “Every woman I’ve ever had a relationship with has loved me for who they thought I was.” At the time he wrote it, he noted that he was on speaking terms with only two out of his then-six wives, and one of them was Cher.
Allman also fathered four children. His son Devon Allman (born 1972) is from his marriage to Shelley Kay Jefts. Devon is the lead singer of Honeytribe. Allman’s son Elijah Blue Allman (born 1976) is from his marriage to Cher), and he’s the lead singer of Deadsy. Then there’s his daughter Delilah Island Allman (born 1980) from his marriage to Julie Bindas. His other daughter Layla Brooklyn Allman (born 1993), is from his non-marital relationship with radio journalist Shelby Blackburn. Layla is the lead singer of Picture Me Broken.
Have you seen the movie ‘Almost Famous’? Because it has ties to the Allman Brothers. The movie was written and directed by Cameron Crowe, who happened to be a teenage writer for Rolling Stone Magazine and traveled with a number of bands while they toured, including The Allman Brothers. Crowe took combined antics of a number of groups to create the fictional band Stillwater for the film.
The scene where the lead singer jumps off a rooftop into a swimming pool was inspired by the time Duane Allman pulled the same stunt off a three-story Travelodge in San Francisco. There was also a time when Gregg and Betts pulled a prank on the young Crowe, telling him that their contract wouldn’t allow his story to be published – which they told him before the Rolling Stone deadline.
Not only did he shoot himself in the foot – he did it on purpose. Why? Because he didn’t want to go to the army. Both Allman brothers were strongly against the war in Vietnam, and both had terrible memories of being in military school. Duane was exempt from the draft, but when Gregg turned 18, he was meant to be drafted.
One afternoon in 1965, Duane had a “bright” idea to keep his younger brother out of the army. They got drunk at their home in Daytona Beach, Florida, and Duane invited some girls over. They were throwing a “Foot Shootin’ Party.” Gregg got drunk, drew a target on his moccasin shows, drank more, called an ambulance, and finally shot himself in the foot. The very next day, he limped into the recruiter’s office and got a medical exemption.