The Allman Brothers Band

Gregg Allman looks back

Remembering the good and the bad times; Gregg Allman looks back on years of triumph, trouble

By Larry Widen
5 July 2005
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, page E1

There haven’t been any brothers in the Allman Brothers Band for 34 years now, at least not any related by blood.

Just as the band was coming into its own in 1971, co-founder and lead guitarist Duane Allman was killed at age 24 in a motorcycle accident, leaving his younger brother Gregg to carry on by himself.

“Eat a Peach,” the band’s triumphant double album that featured Duane’s signature guitar licks, was released after his death to critical acclaim. One year after Duane Allman’s death, bass player Berry Oakley was killed in an eerily similar motorcycle accident just blocks away from the intersection where Duane died.

Again Gregg pulled his band together and astounded fans and critics alike with the album “Brothers and Sisters,” which spawned the hit song “Ramblin’ Man.”

But later, fueled by too much money, alcohol and cocaine, the band members turned on each other and in the process came close to destroying what they loved best. Another album, “Win, Lose or Draw,” showed flashes of the old magic, but things would never be quite the same.

Guitarist Dickey Betts (who performs at 10 p.m. July 9 at the Potawatomi Bingo Casino Classic Rock Stage) spent the 1980s battling alcoholism and was eventually asked to leave the band he helped found. Replacing Betts in 1988 was Warren Haynes, who divided his time between the Allman Brothers and his own band Gov’t Mule.

Now the Allman Brothers Band is a drug- and alcohol-free environment, an example set by Gregg Allman, who is going on his 10th year of sobriety.

Gregg Allman recently talked about the band, which is part of a 3 p.m. show today at the Marcus Amphitheater.

Q: Your early influences include Elmore James, Muddy Waters. Where did you first pick up that stuff?

A: I honestly don’t know. It was always there, so we must have grown up with it. Duane latched onto a lot of stuff that worked its way into our music.

Q: You and your brother had a tough childhood in Nashville.

A: Well, I was 2 when my dad was killed, so I never knew him and never really had an idea of what it was like to grow up with a father. My idea of a father was when I’d go over to a friend’s house and some drunken bastard would be beatin’ the hell out of him. I was thankful I didn’t have one of those. Only time I missed having a dad was for Boy Scouts or somethin’ like that.

Q: Was your father’s murderer ever apprehended?

A: Oh yeah, they got the guy. My dad had just come back from Korea and he picked up this hitchhiker who shot him. Years later, after I became famous, I started getting all these letters from the guy who killed him. I guess he wanted my forgiveness, I don’t know. I never wanted anything to do with it.

Q: Your mom moved you guys to Daytona Beach in 1958.

A: Yeah. I was 11, Duane was 12. I wanted a guitar so bad by that time, so I got a paper route to pay for one. I worked all summer and earned about 20 bucks. I got one at Sears and just played that thing like crazy. At that time Duane wanted a motorcycle more than he wanted a guitar, so he got a little Harley and just rode the hell out of that thing. But when I wasn’t around, he’d be playing my guitar. Pretty soon we’d be arguing over that thing so much, our mom gave him an electric one for his birthday in 1960.

Q: What kinds of things were you playing then?

A: It was Duane who was just practicing night and day. He got real good, real fast. He was playing these Chuck Berry and Robert Johnson albums over and over and over until he had it down. I went to a guy who taught guitar and told him I wanted to learn some Chuck Berry music.

Q: Your first recording experience was something of a fiasco.

A: We went to L.A. at the invitation of Liberty Records, a division of United Artists. They gave us all apartments and whatever we wanted. Pretty soon they came back and said we owed them like $48,000. Duane was fed up, and he went back to Muscle Shoals to do some session stuff for Atlantic. We were young and nave, and had no idea how this business worked. I stayed in L.A. to work off the debt by playing in their studio band. But then Duane called me and told me to get home. He was putting a band together but nobody could write songs and they needed me to get it started. I think that was the nicest compliment I ever got! I hung up the phone and was on the San Bernardino (Calif.) Freeway the next day. I stuck out my thumb and got a ride all the way east.

Q: Did Duane’s session work give you guys the boost you needed?

A: Oh yeah. While I was sweating it out in L.A., Duane was playing guitar for Aretha (Franklin), Wilson Pickett, bunch of other people. He’d gained a real name for himself by then.

Q: He gave up a job with Eric Clapton to form a band with you. He must have really loved you.

A: Well, our band was already formed by the time Duane was asked to join Derek and the Dominos on a permanent basis, but yeah, we were very close. We were closer than brothers. We were friends, and friends stay together. We shared the same goals, loved the same music.

Q: How about the gospel sound that you bring to the band with the (organ Hammond) B3? Where did that come from?

A: Well, I’ve always had a certain amount of spirituality, and that kind of music emanates from somewhere deep inside you.

Q: Is playing music just a job after all these years, or is it still fun?

A: It’s fun and it’s a privilege. We’ve got a great band right now with a rhythm section that you won’t believe. I’m playing a lot of guitar on this tour!

Copyright 2005, Journal Sentinel Inc. All rights reserved.

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