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The Allman Brothers Story

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The Allman Joys crumbled in St. Louis in early 1967. They were drummerless, and the new bass, Billy Canell, enlisted in the Navy to beat the draft. The pickup bass was caught trying to make off with the brothers' equipment. "We stole his bass and told him to get the fuck out," Gregg says. "Sent his ass home."

Which is pretty much the way the Allmans handled such problems a few years ago. Things have changed a bit. When the fired drummer, Portwood, went out on the road a few months ago with a new band, he billed himself as "the original drummer for the Allman Brothers Band," a cheap but embarrassing gimmick that raised hackles on Gregg's neck. "We sent an attorney out there to talk that over with him," he says without particular emphasis, as if this is the way civilized folks deal with irritating problems.

 

In '67, following the demise of the Joys, Gregg and Duane were living out of a van without so much as a telephone to contact a lawyer, or anyone else. They cruised on down to Nashville, and combined forces with drummer Johnny Sandlin, keyboard artist Paul Hornsby, and a "cat called the Wolf" on bass: part of another fragmented band called the Five Minutes. "They were a strong outfit," Gregg says, "and they were stuck without a singer or a guitarist. It all fell together and we started cooking." The new band played Nashville as the Five Minutes, then rambled back up Highway 41 to St. Louis and used the name Allman Joys.

"There were posters all over," Gregg says. "The Allman Joys Are Back! That band was really tight, playing R&B and Yardbirds tunes by the hundreds. Duane loved the early days of Jeff Beck."

One night the then high-riding Nitty Gritty Dirt Band stopped into a St. Louis club to hear the Allman Joys. Their manager, Bill McKuen, was impressed. He told the group that they didn't have to play the Southern club circuit, and that they could easily make it nationally. All they had to do was come out to California and he would take them under his wing. "Just come out and see what you think. . . . "

Gregg wasn't so sure it was all that good an idea. He was happy playing live club dates to wildly enthusiastic audiences and had the gut feeling that he wasn't going to get to play in California.

"I said, 'No, Duane. that's a jive lick. Let's don't do it.' He said, 'C'mon man, we'll go to L.A. We'll see all those pretty women and fine looking cars.' What could I say? It was unanimous."

In the end, it was Gregg who was right. The group signed with Liberty Records under the name of Hour Glass. "The record company's line," Gregg says, "was, 'We'll make you the next Rolling Stones.' All we wanted to do was play, but they wouldn't let us do live dates. We would have done small clubs in the valley, but they told us we'd blow the whole image if we did that. What did we know? They'd dress us up in these funny fucking duds and we just felt silly."

Liberty picked the material for the two Hour Glass albums, Hour Glass ("a pendulum of psychedelic and soul . . . " read the liner notes), and Power of Love. Though the material was good – Jackson Browne and Carole King compositions were included – it was not the Allmans' music. Furthermore, they hadn't played enough to live audiences and it sounded stiff, like the tracks on the Liberty LPs.

"We were misled," Duane once said of the Liberty period. Gregg is a bit more blunt. "Together those two records form what is commonly known as a shit sandwich." Neither record sold, and the band was in debt. "Liberty was paying all our expenses for us until we earned enough to pay them back." But a company pays only so much money on losing items and soon Hour Glass was "groveling for money just to get a burger." It got worse.

"We stayed first at the Mikado Motel, then at the Cahuenga down by the Hollywood Bowl. A real garbage motel. and all of us in one room. The manager caught us and we moved down to an even worse joint on Lash Lane. This place had no name at all. I got up the first morning we lived there, thinking I'd go swimming. As I'm walking down the hall, there was this door open. I happened to look in and there's this cat lying on the floor, covered up with a blanket. Cop standing there. The cat had left a note and downed 95 Seconals. It was the first dead person I'd ever seen."

The dead man in that sleazy room weighed on the brothers' minds. The same kind of down, dead thing was happening to their spirits and their music. "I think that's when we knew the whole L.A. scene had gone sour on us. Duane got fed up and when my brother got fed up, he got fed up. 'Fuck this' he kept yelling. 'Fuck this whole thing. Fuck wearing these weird clothes. Fuck playing this goddamn 'In a Gadda-da-Vida' shit. Fuck it all!'"

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