The Allman Brothers Band: The Road Goes on Forever
BETTS Berry played a huge role in the band’s arrangements. “Whipping Post” was a ballad when Gregg brought it to us. It was a real melancholy, slow minor-key blues, along the lines of “Dreams.” Oakley came up with the heavy bass line that starts off the track, along with the 6/8-to-5/8 shifting time signature. Oakley called a halt to the rehearsal and said, “Let me work on this song tonight, and let’s get back to it tomorrow.” By the next day, he had that intro worked out. When he played that riff for us, everyone went, “Yeah! That’s it!” Oakley morphed a lot of those songs into something different.
The band’s first real musical breakthrough was the extensive use of guitar harmonies. Betts, with his knack for crafting memorable melodies, generally played the line first. Allman, with his perfect pitch and spot-on ear, picked up anything and created a harmony on the spot.
BETTS We got those ideas from jazz horn players like Miles Davis and John Coltrane and fiddle lines from western swing music. I listened to a lot of country and string [bluegrass] music growing up. I played mandolin, ukulele and fiddle before I ever touched a guitar, which may be where a lot of the major keys I play come from. But I also always loved jazz, and once the Allman Brothers were formed, Jaimoe really fired us up on jazz, which is all he listens to. He had us listening to a lot of Miles Davis and John Coltrane, and a lot of our guitar arrangements came from the way they played together.
Duane and I had an immense amount of respect for each other. We talked about being jealous of each other and how dangerous it was to think that way, that we had to fight that feeling when we were onstage. He’d say, “When I listen to you play, I have to try hard to keep the jealously thing at bay and not try to out-do you when I play my solo. But I still want to play my best!” We’d laugh about what a thin line that was. We learned a lot from each other. Duane had a strong belief in himself, and he was damn good. I was damn good too; I just didn’t believe in myself the way Duane did.
WARREN HAYNES The Allman Brothers Band is based on the fact that no one onstage can rest on their laurels; you have to bring it. That’s where that fire comes from, and it certainly emanates from the intensity of having two great lead players like Dickey and Duane throwing sparks off of each other. Obviously, jazz and blues musicians have been doing this for decades, but I think they really brought that sense that anyone onstage can inspire anyone else at any given time to rock music.
ALLMAN Duane was all about two lead guitars. He loved players like Curtis Mayfield and wanted the bass, keyboards and second guitar to form patterns behind the solo rather than just comping. Duane also loved jazz guitarists like Wes Montgomery, Tal Farlow and Kenny Burrell.
But the main initial jazz influence came from Jaimoe, and Jaimoe really got all of us into Coltrane, which became a big influence. I brought the blues to the band, and what country music you hear in our sound came from Dickey. We all dug this different stuff, and we all started listening to the other guys’ music. What came out was a mixture of all of it.
BETTS Duane and Gregg had a real “purist” blues approach, but Oakley and I, in our band, would take a standard blues and push the envelope. We loved the blues, but we wanted to play in a rock style, like what Cream and Hendrix were doing.
Duane was smart enough to see what ingredients were missing from both bands. We knew that we didn’t have enough of the purist blues, and he didn’t have enough of the avant-garde/psychedelic approach to the blues. So he tried to put the two sounds together, and that was the first step in finding the sound of the Allman Brothers Band.
The band moved to Macon, Georgia, and spent countless hours living and playing together, in the process forming a real brotherhood. Their self-titled debut, featuring five Gregg Allman originals and covers of Muddy Waters and Spencer Davis songs, was released in November 1969. It heralded the arrival of a new voice on the American music scene, but few were listening.
WALDEN The first album sold less than 35,000 copies when it was released.
BETTS We were just so naïve. All we knew is that we had the best band that any of us had ever played in and were making the best music that we had ever made. That’s what we went with. Everyone in the industry was saying that we’d never make it, we’d never do anything, that Phil Walden should move us to New York or L.A. and acclimate us to the industry, that we had to get the idea of how a rock and roll band was supposed to present themselves.
Of course, none of us would do that, and thankfully, Walden was smart enough to see that would just ruin what we had. We just stayed on the road, playing gigs and getting tighter and better.
ALLMAN We sure didn’t set out to be a “jam band,” but those long jams just kinda emanated from within the band, because we didn’t want to just play three minutes and be over. And we definitely didn’t want to play nobody else’s songs like we had to do in California. We were going to do our own tunes, which at first meant mine, or else we were going to take old blues songs like “Trouble No More” and totally refurbish them to our tastes.
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