The new album, Brothers And Sisters, was begun last spring, and keyboard artist Chuck Leavell joined the band early in the sessions. He has added to the Allman sound, and freed them from an exclusive blues base. "I don't think I've changed the band as much as broadened them," Leavell says.
Most of the Brothers believe that it was the new musical direction that brought Berry Oakley out of a year-long depression he had suffered after Duane Allman's death. "When Duane died," Red Dog says, "Berry died. He loved and idolized Duane. For quite a few months, that's all he thought about. He was obsessed with Duane."
Oakley's playing degenerated, and though the band doesn't admit it, there had been some vague thought given to perhaps replacing him. "He wasn't himself during that time," Jaimo says. "He had lost all interest. Then when we got Chuck in the band, it was like seeing the light. He was back being the old Berry again, playing his ass off. Then it happened."
Not long after the band cut the best-selling "Ramblin' Man," Berry Oakley's motorcycle slammed into a Macon city bus. He was thrown 20 yards and died several hours later of a brain concussion. The accident occurred only three blocks from the site of Duane Allman's fatal crash, a year and two weeks later. Both were 24. Both are buried at Rose Hill Cemetery.
"It was so hard to get into anything after that second loss," Gregg says. "I even caught myself thinking that it's narrowing down, that maybe I'm next."
Typically, the Brothers chose to drown this kind of morbid speculation in hard work. Three weeks after the accident, the band began auditioning bassists. Lamar Williams had played with some soul groups before his Capricorn audition, but he had listened hard to the previous Allman records. At one point in the jam, Lamar stopped a band member and tactfully pointed out that he hadn't played his part correctly. Williams got the job, and now, almost a year later, says he feels "quite at home."
Still, it was a difficult thing in get in the studio and finish up Brothers And Sisters. Sometimes the band would spend a month on a single rhythm track. The record was finally released. It was an overnight gold record that gathered well-earned critical praise.
Recently, both Dicky Betts and Gregg Allman have been working on solo albums – Gregg's Laid Back was recently released. Rumors that either of them will soon embark on a solo career "are horseshit," Gregg says. Betts, who has taken to dressing a bit like a young Nashville sideman, has established the North American Indian Foundation, an organization designed to "raise money for the Indian people through benefits and fund-raisers."
Gregg still dresses in the patchy street style of his shuffling days. Last month he took a fancy to a $44,000 burgundy-black Rolls-Royce. He strolled into the New York showroom on little more than a whim and informed the salesman that he'd write a check for the Rolls in the window.
"I should have known they'd want cash," Gregg says. "Fucking cash! They must figure I go around carrying a suitcase full of bucks. I told them to stick it. Good Lord, to get that much money from my bank up there they wanted 20%. Isn't that shitty?"
Maybe so, but it's also a far cry from being 95¢ short on a $21.95 guitar.
This story is from the December 6, 1973 issue of Rolling Stone.
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