The Allman Brothers Band
It should go without saying that Duane and Gregg Allman were the front men of the Allman Brothers Band. With Duane on guitar and slide guitar, and Gregg on keyboard and vocals (not to mention the fact that he was writing a majority of their songs), the band had a lot going for them. But the other band members were just as important. Jaimoe Johanson and Butch Trucks both added a lot to the band’s rhythm with their drumming, while Berry Oakley completed the rhythm section on bass. The band also owed a lot to Dickey Betts, who played lead guitar and helped Gregg Allman with writing the songs.
The Allman Brothers Band was a bona fide jam band, playing together on the stage as a true brotherhood of musicians rather than as a conglomeration of egos. Even with six members, they were able to improvise as one, utilizing a style that combined jazz and blues conventions with the tenets of country and rock and roll. The manner in which they combined these genre conventions would become known over time as the basic blueprint for southern rock.
The band’s unique style could easily be attributed to the varied tastes of its members. Duane, the older of the two Allman brothers, had a tendency to play the music that he wanted to hear. As it turned out, what he wanted to hear was guitar music unlike any that had been played in the forty or fifty years preceding the band’s formation in 1969. Gregg, his little brother, enjoyed rich soul music and traditional blues. The band’s lineup would change over time, especially after Duane’s untimely death in 1971, but the unique manner in which Duane and Gregg combined their separate musical inclinations was fundamental in setting the band’s style for the future.
It is unlikely that neither of the Allman brothers recognized their importance to the rest of the Allman Brothers Band, but they were still able to gel with the other members without letting ego get in the way. Duane Allman and Dickey Betts were especially notable for their penchant for jamming together, combining each of their guitar styles to form the overall guitar sound associated with the band. In similar fashion, neither Butch Trucks nor Jaimoe Johanson ever attempted to outshine one another. This was the essence of the jam band; they enjoyed playing with each other, not against each other.
Not long before Duane’s death, the band released their live album At Fillmore East. This exemplified their penchant for respecting other musicians, with half a dozen guest musicians involved in the recording. There were supposed to be more, but horn players had to be cut due to their effect on the recording. The album was known for live performances of songs such as “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” by Dickey Betts and an extended version of “Whipping Post” by Gregg Allman. Many listeners did not necessarily know at the time, but just before he agreed to do the recording, Duane Allman had been offered a chance to abandon the band to play with Eric Clapton. He declined in favor of staying with the band he knew and loved.
The band itself would remain active through 1976, and they would revive for at least two multi-year periods afterward. But the essence of the band was in their first few years, when Duane Allman was one of the band’s front men. This is why they never changed their name after 1971, even though Gregg was the only true Allman brother remaining. While the rest of the band may not have been related by blood, they had a fraternal love and respect for one another that redefined the word “brother” as it applied to the band. This was integral in establishing their long-lasting fame as a jam band and as the architects of southern rock.
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