The Allman Brothers Band: The Road Goes on Forever
Allman and Betts worked constantly, recording solo albums even as the ABB began cutting Brothers and Sisters, their follow-up to Eat a Peach, featuring the hits “Ramblin’ Man” and “Jessica.” Pianist Chuck Leavell, who had played on Gregg’s Laid Back solo effort, became a crucial new member of the ABB.
LEAVELL I was asked to work on Laid Back. The Brothers were recording Brothers and Sisters at the same time, the sessions often overlapped, and we all hung around the studio an awful lot. Before I knew what was going on, I was working on that, too. Things were pretty loose.
BETTS We did what we had to do. We were forced to bring new people into the band, and replacing Duane with another guitar player was out of the question. We added Chuck Leavell, and it changed the whole direction of the band—a little too much in the end. It wasn’t by any means all bad change; “Jessica” wouldn’t be the same tune without Chuck, who is just a great, great player. But the band headed off the path of what the original players had envisioned from the first day.
BUTCH TRUCKS Dickey took over. While Duane was around we were a blues-based band and we added John Coltrane and Miles Davis to the mix. After Duane died, we started heading in a country direction, because that was Dickey’s background.
We all thought “Ramblin’ Man” was too country to even record. We knew it was a good song, but it didn’t sound like us. We went to the studio to do a demo to send to Merle Haggard or someone, and then we got into that big long guitar jam, which kind of fit us, so we put it on the album, and it became a hit. Then it more and more and more became Dickey’s band.
Shortly into sessions for the new album, tragedy struck the band again. On November 11, 1972, Berry Oakley was killed in a motorcycle crash, just two weeks past the one-year anniversary—and only three blocks from the location—of Duane’s death.
BETTS After Duane died, it was still very dynamic at first, but it just slowly slipped away. And then we lost Berry, and it was very hard to continue. I’m not weighing Duane’s loss against Berry’s loss, but losing two members was just so tough. Berry was also a huge personality. He was the social dynamics guy: he wanted our band to relate to the people honestly. He was always making sure that the merchandise was worth what they were charging, and he was always going in and arguing about not letting the ticket prices get too high, so that our people could still afford to come see us.
The band added Lamar Williams and finished Brothers and Sisters, which was released in August 1973. It became the Allman Brothers Band’s first Number One album, thanks in part to the hit single “Ramblin’ Man,” as well as “Jessica” and “Southbound,” which both remain band staples. The Allman Brothers were just about to find their greatest success, but the band was reeling from the impact of so many changes.
BUTCH TRUCKS Brothers and Sisters took off and we became big rock stars and were the number-one band in the country, but the music became secondary to everything else. Of course, having all these gorgeous women falling over us and all this stuff was fun. It was a big party. But the music became secondary. Eventually, we all realized that the drugs and everything else had become so destructive that we were killing ourselves, and it got to where we didn’t like each other. We just couldn’t keep it going.
BETTS The whole thing probably wouldn’t have even lasted as long as it did if it weren’t for Chuck Leavell. He was just such a strong player.
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