In 1969 a band would form that would change rock in America forever. That band would come to be known as The Allman Brothers. It was made up of six members: Duane and Gregg Allman, Berry Oakley, Butch Trucks, Dickey Betts, and Jaimoe. On May 1, 1969, the group moved from Florida to Macon, Georgia and signed a record deal with Capricorn Records, thus, beginning a career unlike any other. Since the 50’s, Rock and Roll had begun to die out in America, but with inspiration from English bands such as The Yard Birds, Cream, and The Rolling Stones, it was The Allman Brothers who led America back to listening to rock, but this time, it had a distinctly Southern sound to it. It was their success in reinventing this genre that led labels to sign similar bands such as Lynyrd Skynyrd and The Outlaws. Despite taking brakes, changing members multiple times, and suffering tragedy, The Allman Brothers have continued to share their revolutionary music with the world to this day.
The Allman Brothers began touring primarily around Florida and Georgia in 1969, and from 1969-71 they had played an average of 500 shows. This hard work paid off because they found their distinct sound which seamlessly blended rock, blues, and country together. So, in the fall of 1969, they released their first album which was self-titled and was both recorded and mixed in the course of two weeks. This album featured the song Whipping Post which is characterized by Gregg Allman’s impressive vocals and several brilliant guitar solos and has become a long-time lasting staple of the Allman Brothers.
Despite not selling many copies of their first album, the attention they did receive from it was overwhelmingly positive which helped them gain more attention for their next album: Idlewild South. This time they got Tom Dowd who had worked with the band Cream to produce it. Dowd masterfully worked with the band to add an acoustic element to their songs which expanded their range even more. This album produced the classic Midnight Rider which became a fan favorite. Melodically, it may be somewhat simple in comparison to the band’s other content, but it’s the songwriting of this one that makes it so unique.
The Allmans specifically became known for their concerts and jam sessions. Often, they would spend up to 30 minutes on a single song. Despite going so long, the Allmans were careful to always let the cental melody anchor the song so that it had unity and never lost their audience. Because of the popularity of their concerts, they released their live album At Filmore East in July of 1971 which caused their carrier to skyrocket. This is arguably one of the best live albums ever made and was placed at #49 on Rolling Stones’ best albums of all-time list published in 2012. By October 25, 1971, it had sold 500,000 copies and was certified golden.
However, tragedy struck four days later when band member Duane Allman was killed in a motorcycle accident. The band was almost finished with their fourth album Eat a Peach at the time, and when it was released, there was a neat three tier element to it. The band included a few tracks from their live performance at Filmore East, and they included the tracks that Duane had worked on with them before his death. The third aspect of the album that made it unique is that they included some tracks they wrote after his death which gave fans a taste of what the band would sound like moving forward. Just like their previous album, Eat a Peach became another iconic work of theirs and was their first album to break the Top 10 and even peaked at #5.
In 1972, pianist Chuck Leavell joined the band to replace Duane. Sadly, tragedy struck yet again when bassist Berry Oakley was killed in motorcycle accident similar to Duane’s. So, the band brought in yet another member, Lamar Williams, to replace Oakley. The band also lost their producer, Tom Dowd, which added to the turmoil. Amidst so much loss, the band managed to headline the highest attended concert fest in history with 600,000 attendees and went on to produce their most successful and popular album: Brothers and Sisters.
Brothers and Sisters was released August 1, 1973, and spent six weeks at #1. This album was different than their previous ones. This was partly due to losing their producer but also partly because Dickey Betts became the band’s main songwriter and singer and favored a more country sound as opposed to the rock and blues that they were accustomed to. Brothers and Sisters produced possibly the band’s most well-known song: Ramblin’ Man. Ramblin’ Man is different than their other songs and favors the same sound of Midnight Rider. Like Midnight Rider, it’s not the most challenging to play, but it’s the lyrics that sets it apart.
Despite their album's success, the band soon began to unravel. In 1974, both Gregg Allman and Dickey Betts started separate solo careers. Allman also married Cher which put additional stress on the band because he primarily lived in Hollywood which led him to not even record their new album Win, Lost, or Draw with the rest of the band. So much disconnect caused the band to break up in May of 1976.
However, three years later they were back together. Despite having their old producer, Tom Dowd, back, their prospects still didn’t look good. Their record label, Capricorn, filed bankruptcy later that same year, so the band was dropped from their contract. They soon signed with another record label and were back to making music; although, this time it didn’t have their signature sound. It sounded like the mainstream music that was being produced, and fans weren’t very accepting of it. So, the band split up yet again.
As fate would have it, in 1989 a box set of their hits was released which put them back in the public eye. The band decided to re-form for a third time and released their album Seven Turns which was received warmly by the public. They gained more success in 1994 when their album Where it all Begins went golden. The next year had even more surprises in store for the band because it received the prestigious honor of being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
In the end, in spite of the ups and downs in The Allman Brothers’ career, they remain one of the most iconic bands of all time. From 1971-2005, eleven of their albums went gold and five went platinum. They were the ones who invented and revolutionized Southern Rock. Their love of music is shown so clearly through their willingness to try different genres, and their commitment to the music itself despite external difficulties. The Allman Brothers were some of the few that got to do what they truly loved. And with that, here is one final beloved song for The Allman Brothers: Melissa.
Written by Elizabeth Morrison