Duane and Gregg Allman's Ill-Fated Psychedelic Soul Outfit the Hour Glass
Thirteen-year-old Gregg Allman spent the summer of 1960 working as a paperboy, using the $21 he saved to purchase his first guitar, a Silvertone from Sears. Before long he had "proceeded to wear that son of a bitch out. I wouldn't eat or sleep or drink or anything. Just play that damn guitar." His older brother Duane also became fascinated with the instrument, leading to some tension in their Daytona, Florida, household. "Pretty soon we had fights over the damn thing," Gregg told Rolling Stone in 1973. "So when it came around to our birthdays – mine was in December and his was in November – we both got one." Duane dropped out of school in the 10th grade, and music became his all consuming passion. Together they spent the early Sixties playing in local groups with names like the Shufflers and the Y-Teens. Their first proper band, the Escorts, played Top 40 hits and R&B at local clubs – even opening for the Beach Boys – and recorded a demo in the back of an old cottage on Ormond Beach.
Following Gregg's high school graduation in 1965, the group changed their name to the Allman Joys and hit the road, playing six straight sets, seven nights a week throughout the Southeast. "We had our own sound system, amps and a fucking station wagon," Gregg recalled. "Big time. Our first gig was in Mobile, at a place called the Stork Club. Boy, it was a nasty fucking place. I was homesick and the band had broken up about 14 times before we got there." After their multi-week residency, they moved on to Pensacola, Florida; Nashville; St. Louis; and beyond. According to Gregg, "We would rehearse every day in the club, go have lunch, rehearse some more, go home and take a shower, then go to the gig. Sometimes we would rehearse after we got home from the gig too, just get out the acoustics and play. The next day, we'd go have breakfast, go rehearse, and do it all over again. We rehearsed constantly."
Their gigging earned them label attention, and in 1966 the Allman Joys recorded material for Dial Records, including a single, which Gregg later described as a "terrible psychedelic" version of Willie Dixon's "Spoonful." Despite the song's dismal chart performance, the band was persuaded to travel to Los Angeles the following year to chase national stardom. Signed to Liberty Records, the label rebranded them as the Hour Glass – "a pendulum of psychedelic and soul" according to the liner notes of their debut – and cherry-picked songs for them to record. While these included tracks by the likes of Carole King and Jackson Browne, the commercial pop makeover didn't suit the Allmans. "We were misled," Duane later said. They released a pair of albums, which Gregg later referred to as "a shit sandwich."
Effectively broke after the records didn't sell, the Allmans were despondent. "Duane got fed up and when my brother got fed up, he got fed up," remembered Gregg. "'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!'" By 1968 the elder Allman left town, venturing to the legendary FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, to try his hand as a session man. While Gregg remained out west to fulfill contractual obligations to Liberty, Duane set about sowing the seeds of what became the Allman Brothers Band. In March of 1969, Gregg drove east to rejoin his brother in this new venture, remembering it as "one of the finer days in my life. I was starting to feel like I belonged to something again."