The Allman Brothers Band: The Road Goes on Forever
TRUCKS One day we were jamming on a shuffle, going nowhere, so I started pulling back and Duane whipped around, looked me in the eyes and played this lick way up the neck like a challenge. My first reaction was to back up, but he kept doing it, which had everyone looking at me like the whole flaccid nature of the sound was my fault. The third time I got really angry and started pounding the drums like I was hitting him upside his head. The jam took off, and I forgot about being self-conscious and started playing music. Duane smiled at me, as if to say, “Now that’s more like it!”
It was like he reached inside me and flipped a switch, and I’ve never been insecure about my drumming since. It was an absolute epiphany; it hit me like a ton of bricks. I swear, if that moment had not happened, I would probably have spent the past 30 years as a teacher. Duane was capable of reaching inside people and pulling out the best. He made us all realize that music will never be great if everyone doesn’t give it all they have, and we all took the attitude that if you don’t do that, why bother?
BETTS Duane was a natural leader, and if he got knocked down, you’d feel compelled to do everything you could to get him back up and going again. He and I talked a lot about that and decided that would be the difference in our band as compared to every other band we’d ever been in: when someone falls, instead of talking about him or taking advantage of him, we’d pull him back up. Whenever we needed a leader, someone would step forward and lead.
TRUCKS One day, the five of us had just played this incredible jam, and Duane went to the door and said, “If anyone wants to leave this room, they’re going to have to fight their way out.” We all knew we had something great going, but we didn’t have a singer.
PHIL WALDEN They had this great instrumental presence but no real vocalist. So Duane called Gregg and asked him to come down.
Gregg was still living in Los Angeles, having remained there after the breakup of Hour Glass, a band he and Duane had formed and which had recorded for Liberty Records. The records had little success, and Duane returned to the South, “where we belonged,” says Gregg.
GREGG ALLMAN I didn’t have a band, but I was under contract to a label that had me cut two terrible records with these studio cats in L.A. They had me do a blues version of Tammy Wynette’s “D-I-V-O-R-C-E,” which can’t be done. It was really horrible. They told us what to wear, what to play…everything. I hated it, so I was excited when my brother called and said he was putting a new band together and wanted me to join. I was doing nothing, going nowhere.
Duane said he was tired of being a robot on the staff down in Muscle Shoals [Sound Studio], even though he had made some progress and gotten a little fame from playing with great people like Aretha and Wilson Pickett. He wanted to take off and do his own thing. He said, “I’m ready to get back on the stage, and I got this killer band together. We got two drummers, a great bass player and a hell of a lead guitar player, too.” And I said, “Well, what do you do?” And he said, “Wait’ll you get here and I’ll show you.”
I didn’t know that he had learned to play slide so well. We were not together for the 11 months after he left L.A.—the only time we were ever apart—and that’s when he really learned to play slide. He sent me a ticket, but I didn’t have any money, so I cashed it in, stuck out my thumb on the San Bernardino Freeway and got a ride all the way to Jacksonville.
I walked into rehearsal on March 26, 1969, and they played me the track they had worked up—Muddy Waters’ “Trouble No More.” It blew me away. It was so intense. I got my brother aside and said, “I don’t know if I can cut this. I don’t know if I’m good enough.” And he starts in on me: “Oh, you little punk, I told these people all about you, and you don’t come in here letting me down.” He handed me the words to the song, all written out. I said, “Count it off, let’s do it,” and I did my damnedest. I’d never heard or sung this song before, but by God I did it. I shut my eyes and sang, and at the end of that there was just a long silence. At that moment we knew what we had. Duane knew which buttons to push. He kinda pissed me off and embarrassed me into singing my guts out.
WALDEN Aside from a true vocal presence, Gregg brought these really important foundation songs that the band was really built around.
ALLMAN They asked if I had any songs, and I showed them 22. They rejected them all except “Ain’t My Cross to Bear” and “Dreams” and told me to get busy writing. And within the next five days I wrote “Whipping Post,” “Black-Hearted Woman” and a few others. I got on a real roll there. Those songs came out of the long struggle of trying so hard and getting fucked by different land sharks in the business—just the competition I experienced out in L.A. and being really frustrated, but hanging on and not saying “fuck it” and going into construction work or something.