It’s March 26, 2020. Happy 51st birthday Allman Brothers Band! Let’s celebrate with an excerpt from One Way Out: The Inside History of the Allman Brothers Band detailing their formation.
DICKEY BETTS: It says a lot that Duane’s hero was Muhammad Ali. He had Ali’s type of supreme confidence. If you weren’t involved in what he thought was the big picture, he didn’t have time for you. A lot of people really didn’t like him for that. It’s not that he was aggressive; it was more a super-positive, straight-ahead, I’ve-got-work-to-do kind of thing. If you didn’t get it, see you later. He always seemed like he was charging ahead and it took a lot of energy to be with him.
THOM DOUCETTE: I couldn’t get enough of that Duane energy. If Duane put out his hand to you, you had a hand. There was no bullshit about him at all. None.
GREGG ALLMAN: My brother was a real pistol. He was a hell of a person… a firecracker. He knew how to push people’s buttons and bring out the best.
JOHNNY SANDLIN: He was a personality you only see once in a lifetime. He could inspire you and challenge you, with eye contact, smiles… little things. It would just make you better and I think anyone who ever played with him would tell you the same thing. You knew he had your back, and that was the best feeling in the world.
BUTCH TRUCKS: One day we were jamming on a shuffle going nowhere so I started pulling back and Duane whipped around, looked me in the eyes and played this lick way up the neck like a challenge. My first reaction was to back up, but he kept doing it, which had everyone looking at me like the whole flaccid nature of this jam was my fault. The third time I got really angry and started pounding the drums like I was hitting him upside his head and the jam took off and I forgot about being self conscious and started playing music and he smiled at me, as if to say, “Now that’s more like it.”
It was like he reached inside me and flipped a switch and I’ve never been insecure about my drumming again. It was an absolute epiphany; it hit me like a ton of bricks. I swear if that moment had not happened I would probably have spent the past 30 years as a teacher. Duane was capable of reaching inside people and pulling out the best. He made us all realize that music will never be great if everyone doesn’t give it all they have and we all took on that attitude: why bother to play if you’re not going all in?
REESE WYNANS: Dickey was the hottest guitar player in the area, the guy that everyone looked up to and wanted to emulate. Then Duane came and started sitting in with us and he was more mature and more fully formed, with total confidence, an incredible tone and that unearthly slide playing. But he and Dickey complemented each other – they didn’t try to outgun one another – and the chemistry was obvious right away. It was just amazing that the two best lead guitarists around were teaming up. They were both willing to take chances rather than returning to parts they knew they could nail and everything they tried worked.
RICHARD PRICE: Dickey was already considered one of the hottest guitar players in the state of Florida. He was smoking in the Second Coming and always had a great ability to arrange.
WYNANS: I remember one time Duane came up to me with this sense of wonder and said, “Reese, I just learned how to play the highest note in the world. You put the slide on the harmonic and slide it up and all of a sudden it’s birds chirping.” And, of course, that became his famous “bird call.” He was always playing and pushing and sharing his ideas and passions.
JAIMOE: Duane had talked about a lot of guitar players and when I heard some of them I said, “That dude can’t tote your guitar case” and he was surprised. He loved jamming with everyone.
DOUCETTE: None of them could hold Duane’s case except Betts.
JAIMOE: Duane loved guitar players. I only knew two people Duane didn’t like: Jimmy Page and Sonny Sharrock. He played on the Herbie Mann Push Push sessions [in 1971] with Sonny and he hated him and the way nothing he played was ever really clear. He also didn’t like Led Zeppelin, though I don’t know why. Anyhow, Duane liked Dickey and the two of them clicked and started working on songs and parts immediately.
WYNANS: Berry was very dedicated to jamming and deeply into the Dead and the Airplane and these psychedelic approaches and always playing that music for us – and it was pretty exotic stuff to our ears, because there were no similar bands in the area. Dickey was a great blues player with a rock edge; he could play all these great Lonnie Mack licks, for instance. And then Duane arrived, and was just on another planet. And the power of all of it combined was immediately obvious.
BETTS: All of us were playing in good little bands, but Duane was the guy who had Phil Walden — Otis Redding’s manager! — on his tail, anxious to get his career moving. And Duane was hip enough to say, “Hey, Phil, instead of a three-piece, I have a six-piece and we need $100,000 for equipment.” And Phil was hip enough to have faith in this guy. If there was no Phil Walden and no Duane Allman there would have been no Allman Brothers Band.
The unnamed group began regularly playing free shows in Jacksonville’s Willow Branch Park, joined by a large, rotating crop of musicians. They went on to play in several local parks.
PRICE: It was Berry’s idea to play for free in the parks for the hippies.
TRUCKS: The six of us had this incredible jam and he went to the door and said, “If anyone wants to leave this room they’re going to have to fight their way out.” We were playing all the time and doing these free concerts in the park and we all knew we had something great going, but the keyboard player was Reese Wynans not Gregg and we didn’t really have a singer. Duane said, “I need to call my baby brother.” I said, “Are you sure?” Because he was upset that Gregg had stayed out in L.A. to do his solo thing and I was upset that he had left when I thought we had something going with the 31st of February project the year before. He said, “I’m pissed at him, too but he’s the only one strong enough to sing with this band.” And, of course, he was right. Whatever his issues, Gregg had the voice and he had the songs that we needed.
PHIL WALDEN, original ABB manager; founder/president of Capricorn Records: They had this great instrumental presence but no real vocalist. Berry, Dickey and Duane were all doing a little singing. That was a lot of a little singing and no singer. So Duane called Gregg and asked him to come down.
JAIMOE: Duane was talking about Gregory being the singer in the band from the beginning. Very early on, Duane told me, “There’s only one guy who can sing in this band and that’s my baby brother.” He told me that he was a womanizer. He said Gregg broke girls hard and all the rest of it, but that he’s a hell of a singer and songwriter – which obviously was accurate and is to this day.
LINDA OAKLEY: We were all sitting in our kitchen late one night after one of these jams. They were all so psyched about what they were building and Duane said, “We’ve got to get my brother here, out of that bad situation. He’s a great singer and songwriter and he’s the guy who can finish this thing.”
WYNANS: For quite a while, we were all just jamming and guys from other bands would often be there singing, or Berry would sing, Duane would sing a little, “Rhino” Reinhardt would sing. [Guitarist Larry “Rhino” Reinhardt, who was in Second Coming and went on to play with Iron Butterfly.] Then all of a sudden there was talk of this becoming a real band, and Duane was talking about getting his brother here to sing. Everyone was excited about it, but I knew Gregg played keyboards and figured that might be the end of it for me. It was personally disappointing, because the band was really going somewhere and obviously had a chance to do something great. It was kind of a drag but this was Duane’s brother, so what can you say? You wish them good luck and move on to the next thing. It was a thrill to be a part of.
BETTS: We had all been bandleaders and we knew what we now had.
Gregg was still in Los Angeles, having stayed there after the breakup of Hour Glass. Liberty Records had recorded and released a second album with Gregg backed by session musicians after Duane, Sandlin and the rest of the band left California.
ALLMAN: I didn’t have a band, but I was under contract to a label that had me cut two terrible records, including one with these studio cats in L.A. They had me do a blues version of Tammy Wynette’s “D-I-V-O-R-C-E,” which can’t be done. It was really horrible. I hope you never hear it. They told us what to wear, what to play, everything. They dictated everything, including putting us in those clown suits. I hated it, but what are you gonna do when they’re taking care of all your expenses? You end up feeling like some kind of kept man and it was fuckin’ awful. I was excited when my brother called and said he was putting a new band together and wanted me to join. I just wrote a note that said, “I’m gone. If you want to sue my ass, come on after me.”
BETTS: We were all telling Duane to call Gregg. We knew we needed him. They were fighting or something, which they did all the time – just normal brotherly stuff.
JAIMOE: Duane finally called Gregg when he got everyone that he thought would work, because he needed to give him as much time as possible to resolve the contract issues with Liberty. Once everyone else was in place, Duane called him and said, “You’ve got to hear this band that I’m putting together. You need to be the singer.”
KIM PAYNE, one of the ABB’s original roadies: I met Gregory in LA when I was working for another band that played with him and we became good friends, running around, staying with chicks until we got kicked out and drinking cheap wine. Almost every day we were together, Gregg would bitch about his brother. He’d say, “He’s calling me again asking him to join his band, but there ain’t no way because I can not get along with my brother in a band.” He said that to me countless times.
JON LANDAU: When I was in Muscle Shoals I was sitting in the office with Duane, Rick and Phil and Duane picked up the phone, dialed a number and said, “Brother, it’s time for us to play together again.” I was a fly on the wall and could obviously only hear one end of the conversation, but it seemed very positive.
ALLMAN: My brother only called me one time and I jumped on it.
JOHN McEUEN: As I recall, Duane kept calling Gregg saying, “You got to get down here. The band has never sounded better.” He called enough times and Gregg went. I have to give Duane credit for having the vision to do this thing. I know the L.A. years were not great ones for them, but I think it was something they had to go through to discover their path.
PAYNE: Gregg kept telling me, “I’m not going down and getting involved with that.” You have to remember he was coming off a very bad band experience; he hated the way the Hour Glass went and how it ended up and he may have connected that with being Duane’s fault. I think he also felt like Duane and the other guys turned on him and blamed him for staying in LA, when he thought he had to.
SANDLIN: It kind of bothered me that Gregg stayed out in LA, but I didn’t know if he wanted to, or was being forced by management.
PAYNE: At the same time, he was looking at his future – he was driving an old Chevy with a fender held on with antenna wire. Whenever we ran out of money, he’d go down and sell a song. We were living hand to mouth.
ALLMAN: My brother said he was tired of being a robot on the staff down in Muscle Shoals, even though he had made some progress, and gotten a little known playing with great people like Aretha and Wilson Pickett. He wanted to take off and do his own thing. He said, “I’m ready to get back on the stage, and I got this killer band together. We got two drummers, a great bass player and a hell of a lead guitar player, too.” And I said, “Well, what do you do?” And he said, “Wait’ll you get here and I’ll show you.”
I didn’t know that he had learned to play slide so well. I thought he was out of his mind, but I was doing nothing, going nowhere. My brother sent me a ticket, but I knew he didn’t have the money, so I put it in my back pocket, stuck out my thumb on the San Bernardino Freeway and got a ride all the way to Jacksonville, Florida – and it was a bass player I got a ride from.
PAYNE: I know that Gregg remembers hitchhiking across the country, but the thing is, I’m the guy who drove him to the airport.
McEUEN: My brother bought a Chevy Corvair for Gregg to drive around LA – the most unsafe car ever invented. One day Gregg comes by the house, a little duplex in Laurel Canyon, looking for my brother, who wasn’t there. He said, “Hey, John, the man pulled me over. You know how they are. He doesn’t believe this is my car and is going to impound it. I got to take the pink slip to the judge.” So I said, “I know where the pink slip is.” I gave it to him and he took it and sold that car and bought a one-way ticket to Jacksonville. Maybe I’m responsible for the Allman Brothers Band! Gregg came back about six years later when the Brothers were playing the Forum, and gave my brother a check for the car.
TRUCKS: I don’t know how he got there but a few days after Duane said he was calling Gregg, there was a knock on the door and there he was.
ALLMAN: I walked into rehearsal on March 26, 1969, and they played me the track they had worked up to Muddy Waters’ “Trouble No More” and it blew me away. It was so intense.
BETTS: Gregg was floored when he heard us. We were really blowing; we’d been playing these free shows for a few weeks by that point.
ALLMAN: I got my brother aside and said, “I don’t know if I can cut this. I don’t know if I’m good enough.” And he starts in on me: “You little punk, I told these people all about you and you don’t come in here and let me down.” Then I snatched the words out of his hand and said, “Count it off, let’s do it.” And with that, I did my damnedest. I’d never heard or sung this song before, but by God I did it. I shut my eyes and sang, and at the end of that there was just a long silence. At that moment we knew what we had. Duane kinda pissed me off and embarrassed me into singing my guts out. He knew which buttons to push.
The group played their first gig on March 30, 1969 at the Jacksonville Armory. Gregg had been in town for four days.
Excerpt adapted from One Way Out: The Inside History of the Allman Brothers Band. Copyright 2014 Alan Paul. All rights reserved.