By: Tom Lounges
For The Northwest Times
Few bands in the history of rock have had such impact on music as the self-named Southern-fried blues group founded by two Nashville-born and Florida-bred brothers named Duane and Gregg Allman.
The Allman Brothers pioneered the use of double-drummers and were among the first to incorporate the twin lead guitar structure that has been copied by many hard rock bands over the years.
“When I first put together Whitesnake back in the late 1970s, a huge blueprint for me was a fabulous American band called The Allman Brothers,” British rock icon David Coverdale said.
Like Coverdale, many have looked to the Allman Brothers for inspiration over the years.
“You look at a great band like The Allman Brothers, who have certainly had their own share of tragedy and have carried on, and you know it can be done,” said Billy Powell, a co-founding member of Lynyrd Skynyrd.
“Our father was killed when I was 2 and Duane was 3, but we had two uncles who loved country music, so we got exposed to music first through them,” Gregg Allman recalled. “As a kid, I loved Johnny Cash, because he dressed in black and looked real mean.”
The boys moved to Daytona Beach, Fla., when they were 9 and 10, but would return to spend summers in Nashville with their grandmother.
“Man, grandma would drag us down every Saturday night to the old Ryman Theatre for the Grand Ole Opry. The seats were old wooden church pews and they were so uncomfortable. Duane was on one side of grandma and I on the other. I just hated it. It’s a wonder I like music at all,” he laughed.
Though well versed in country music, it was the acoustic blues that would ultimately draw the Allman boys into a life of music.
“There was this guy by the name of Jimmy Bain who live across the street from my grandma’s house and he was kind of retarded,” Allman remembered.
“One day ol’ Jimmy was out there painting this old ’49 Packard black with a house paint brush and he was even paintin’ the tires and the chrome. I walked over to watch him and I spotted an old guitar sitting by the swing on Jimmy’s front porch.”
When he finished painting Bain played “She’ll Be Coming Around The Mountain” for young Gregg.
“I thought if someone like Jimmy can learn to play the guitar, than possibly I can too,” said Allman, who went out the next day and got himself a paper route. “I saved every penny until I could go buy myself a Sears Robuck guitar.”
Duane took to playing his little brothers guitar and soon became the better of the two, which is why Gregg later turned to keyboards as his instrument of choice.
“Me and my brothers’ dream when we started this band was to make a living with our music and to leave our mark on music. Duane always knew we were going to do it, but I was always the Doubting Thomas,” Allman said, laughing. “Duane never had any doubts.”
The Allman Brothers Band’s self-titled 1969 album introduced their now trademark blend of blues-drenched soul and guitar-driven rock, delivered in a free-form style that borrowed heavily from jazz cats like John Coltrane and Miles Davis.
That landmark album laid the groundwork for the whole Southern Rock movement soon to follow. It elevated Duane Allman from a Muscle Shoals session player — on recordings by Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, King Curtis and others — to the plateau of “guitar god.”
Sadly, he would not live to revel in it. A year later Duane died in a motorcycle crash. The ABB’s original bassist, Berry Oakley, died in a motorcycle accident almost a year to the day from Duane’s fatality.
The band is back with their greatest post-‘70s release, “Hittin’ The Note,” the first new ABB studio recording in over a decade.
Allman said the album is named in memory of Oakley. “Others (musicians) might say, ‘We’re on the same page . . .’ or ‘We’re playing in the pocket…’ but Berry would always say after a good gig that we were ‘hittin’ the note’. I know he’d have said that about the way the band is playing right now and about this new album. That’s why we’ve called it ‘Hittin’ The Note,’ because for the first time in a lot of years, we are.”
The 11-song set marks a sonic return to the group’s glorious “Eat A Peach” / “Brothers & Sisters”-era. The playing is peerless and Allman’s smokey vocals have never sounded more soulful than on such songs as “Desdemona” and “Old Before My Time.”
“The last seven or eight years have been pretty rough,” said Allman, referring to personnel changes and the ugly split in 2000 with founding guitarist Dickey Betts. “But I’m happy to say that we’re back to business as usual. Since we had the personnel change, playing is such a groove again.”
Stepping in for the ousted Betts was former ABB member Warren Haynes, who has put his Govt. Mule band on hiatus for the time being.
The last five years has seen a major shift in the ABB membership ranks. Only Allman and dual drummers Jaimoe and Butch Trucks remain from the classic ‘70s line-up. Rounding out the ABB these days are Oteil Burbridge on bass, percussionist Marc Quinones and guitarist Derek Trucks. A firebrand string bender, the 24-year-old nephew of founding member Butch Trucks has been hailed by guitar aficionados as the second coming of Duane Allman.
The rejuvenated ABB will spend the summer traveling across the United States and promoting its stellar new disc, which is their first for the U.K.-based Sanctuary imprint.
“Our new label is headquartered in London and I just did a bunch of interviews over there, so something tells me that we might be going to Europe real soon,” Allman said. “That’s all right by me, because we’ve only been there three times in the 33 years we’ve been together as a band.”
Life is good these days for Gregg Allman, who proudly claims nearly eight years of being drug-free and sober.
“I’ve got my senses back, my health back and my band back,” he concluded. “I’m ‘hittin’ the note’ in every way.”