Special to the Cleveland Plain Dealer
It’s a contented Gregg Allman who is calling from Denver. The Allman
Brothers Band has played the big annual biker gathering in Sturgis, N.D.
Recently married (on May 3) to the woman he’s been with for six years,
clean and sober, and newly relocated to Savannah, Ga., from San
Francisco, Allman declares “My life is great. I’m as happy as I’ve ever
Anyone who knows even a little about the 32-year history of the Allman
Brothers Band knows it’s a wonder there still is an Allman Brothers Band.
Keyboard player Gregg and his guitarist brother Duane formed the band in
1969 in Macon, Ga., along with bassist Berry Oakley, drummers Jaimoe
Johanson and Butch Tricks and guitarist Dickey Betts.
The band quickly became legendary, and commercially successful, with
its special brand of Southern-fried blues rock.
It was driven by soaring twin lead guitars that extended tunes like
“Whipping Post” and “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” into the stratosphere.
Within little more than two years, it recorded the music that guaranteed
its place in rock history and a 1995 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall
of Fame. But Duane Allman and Oakley were both killed in motorcycle
crashes in the early ’70s;
Oakley’s replacement, Lamar Williams, died of cancer in 1983. And the
other band members left a trail of drug habits, brushes with the law and
broken marriages in their wake. The band broke up in 1976, reformed in
1978 and then broke up again in 1981, remaining inactive until the end of
Since reforming in 1989, it has toured and recorded steadily, despite
suffering the departure of yet another founding member, Betts, under
cloudy and seemingly acrimonious circumstances last year.
“We can’t really talk about that for legal reasons,” says Allman. “Dickey
left and we’ve got Warren Haynes back and everything’s fine.”
Allman and drummers Johanson and Trucks have been joined by bassist
Oteil Burbridge, percussionist Mark Quinones and guitarists Derek Trucks
(Butch’s nephew) and Warren Haynes. Haynes worked with the Allmans
in the early and mid- ’90s before leaving to devote time to his own project,
Gov’t Mule. He’s available, sadly, due to another tragedy – the death of
Gov’t Mule bassist Allen Woody earlier this year.
Its live performances have always been an Allman Brothers Band strength.
The group’s most recent album, “Peakin’ at the Beacon,” released late
last year, is yet another in a string of live albums for the band that began
with 1971’s “The Allman Brothers Live at the Fillmore East.” The
“Fillmore” album is widely considered one of the best live albums of all
With a reputation for changing its set list from night to night and
constantly tinkering with its material, it’s no surprise the band has found
favor with the young hippie crowd. In 1994, it went out with the Horde tour,
a multiband festival-style tour aimed at fans of Grateful Dead-style jam
bands. Although the Allman Brothers Band doesn’t fit in that mode, its
improvisational spirit and its mix of blues and country roots appealed to
“It worked real well for us,” says Allman. “We’ve got all kinds of people at
On its current tour, which brings it to Blossom Music Center tonight, the
band is playing some new material. It’s road-testing tunes for a new studio
album which may turn up sometime next year.
“We haven’t started working on it yet, but we’re playing some new songs
live now,” says Allman. “But first, as soon as this tour is over, I’ll be doing
another album of my own.”
Pantsios is a free-lance writer in Cleveland Heights.