The Allman Brothers Story

Page 4 of 5

The Allman Brothers Band moved to Macon, where manager-label president Phil Walden was setting up Capricorn studios. In the first weeks they lived in a house at 309 College Street: two rooms with a bath and a kitchen that didn't work. Walden bought five or six double mattresses, and the whole band lived there with occasional female visitors from nearby Wesleyan College.

Twiggs Lyndon, the band's first road manager, remembers that, "The band lived there a while and when we began to get $100-a-night gigs, Duane moved a block and a half away and Dicky moved down the street. At the foot of College Street is this old cemetery, Rose Hill. We all used to go down there and have a good time. Dicky would sometimes go down there at night with his acoustic guitar and write songs." In fact, most of the songs from the first album, The Allman Brothers Band, came out of writing done at Rose Hill.

The most famous of the Rose Hill songs is Betts' "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed." "I wrote that song for a certain person," Dicky says, "but I didn't know what to call it. There was a tombstone nearby that read In Memory of Elizabeth Reed, so that's what I called the tune. Some writer once asked me how I wrote the song and Duane said, 'Aww, he fucked some girl across a tombstone and that's what it's about.' Don't you know that got printed in an instant. You can imagine how the girl I wrote it for felt after that."

With the new material rehearsed, the band chose an agent and set out on the road doing nearly 500 dates in two years. "For a long time," says Butch Trucks, "our only mode of travel was an Econoline van. Eleven of us, with nine sleeping in the back on two mattresses. The only way we made it was with a great big old bag of Mexican reds and two gallons of Robitussin HC. Five reds and a slug of HC and you can sleep through anything."

The first two or three tours bombed but, says Trucks. "Phil Walden had complete faith in us, and I'll respect him forever for that. I think he sunk about $150,000 in us. He was close to bankruptcy a lot of the time and Atlantic kept telling him we didn't have a chance. But during that first three years, Phil never once tried to change us."

The Allman Brothers Band was released in 1970. It was a moderate critical success, but didn't do much for the band's financial status. "We found out in New York once that we had to be at the Fillmore West in a week," Twiggs remembers. "We barely had enough money to make it and when we came across the Golden Gate Bridge, we couldn't scrape up the toll between 11 of us. We had to park and go around hitting up people. 'Hey, we're the Allman Brothers and we're playing the Fillmore. We'll let you in free if you give us a dime. . . . '"

By the time Idlewild South, the second Allman Brothers album, was released, the band had picked up a growing and dedicated audience. More attention was focused on the group after Duane's work with Eric Clapton on Layla. Even though Duane appeared once or twice with Derek and the Dominoes, roadie Red Dog says, "He never forgot about the Allman Brothers Band. He might be out there playing for a week, a week and a half, then he'd have to come back. . . . He was the father of the family."

By October of 1971, the third album, The Allman Brothers Band at the Fillmore East, was on its way to the top of the charts and million-selling status. There were overflow crowds at every stop, and it seemed time, after two years on the road, to take a short vacation and enjoy some success.

It was on that vacation that Duane Allman was fatally injured in a motorcycle accident. "The night before he got killed," says Red Dog, "Duane and I were talking. We had just gotten into Macon a couple of days before. 'We've got it made now,' he said. 'We're on our way. Ain't gonna be no more beans for breakfast.'"

The next day, October 29th, 1971, Duane visited the Oakley house to wish Berry's wife, Linda, a happy birthday. Shortly after leaving the house – about 5:45 PM – he swerved to avoid a truck which was moving in the same direction, but which he had apparently not seen in time after it turned onto the street. The cycle skidded and flipped over, dragging Allman nearly 50 feet. He died of massive injuries at the age of 24.

Stricken and grieving, the band returned to Macon from various vacation sites. There was no question in anyone's mind: The band would carry on. They played at the funeral in Macon's Memorial Chapel: a hollow, moving set; and joined hands with folks like Dr. John and Delaney Bramlett to sing "Will the Circle Be Unbroken."

A month later, they made good on two scheduled Carnegie Hall dates, then threw themselves into feverish work completing the fourth album, Eat A Peach, released in early 1972. And success, like tragedy, dogged the band.

But the real question, as Gregg Allman puts it, is not why the Brothers are popular; it is how they managed to survive the loss of their driving force, the focus of their energy, the "father of the family."

"I think," says a close friend of the Brothers, "that Duane's loss was much more traumatic than anyone realizes. He was pretty arrogant sometimes, and I think one critic said he had 'an ego that could fill the Grand Canyon,' but he had a talent to match. Most of the guys at that funeral were stuporous with grief, but they handled it beautifully, and I think you really have to look at it communally. Duane's death was like an amputation. The organization cauterized the wound and tried to forget about it. They had to.

"See, most of the Brothers are from rural areas in the South, from tight, close-knit families. They took their new identity partially from Duane and partially from the band. When Duane died, the question of identity became paramount. They switched their total allegiance to the family: The constant mention of brothers and sisters isn't any sham. It's a necessity.

"But if the band hadn't made it, it would have fractured the structure of their identities. They had to be successful, and if they hadn't – in 1971 anyway – I think each and every one of those guys could have tumbled off the deep end in some way."

For a while there was talk that the Brothers were looking for a replacement for Duane, but the idea was never discussed within the band. Betts tells why. "I think replacing Duane would have been one of the most uncreative morbid moves anyone could make. It would have cheapened our whole organization to hire someone and teach him Duane's licks."

The first few tours in 1972 weren't easy for the band. "We played some blues, let me tell you," Trucks says, sadly. "We still do. There's one place in our set . . . and it's for Duane. I'm not going to tell you exactly what or where it is, but it's always there. I feel it every night we play. We all do."

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