Remembering the Allman Brothers Band: The Road Goes on Forever

by Phillip Ramati

13 May 2009


They moved to Macon 40 years ago. No one here had seen the likes of people like them before.

They were hippies. Long-hairs. Rebels.

A band that had a black member playing with five white guys? A band that performed with two drummers?

They played a style of music that defied a definition. It wasn’t just rock ‘n’ roll. It was blues, jazz, country, folk. It was eventually christened Southern Rock.

Duane Allman, a guitar prodigy, put the band together. His brother, Gregg, sang and played organ. Dickey Betts played guitar. Berry Oakley was on bass. Butch Trucks and Jai “Jaimoe” Johanny Johanson both played drums.

They were called the Allman Brothers Band. This is their story, in the words of those who knew them best.

Gregg Allman: We picked a good place. The town was really good to us. At first, it was “Who are these weirdos?” They kept their daughters locked at home when they saw us. It had been different times going to L.A. (as part of the band the Hourglass), where bands just get lost in the shuffle. But we had incredible times (in Macon). It was a great place to put a band together. We grew there. We had room to grow there.

Paul Hornsby, keyboardist for the Hourglass and later a producer at Capricorn Records: Duane got to Muscle Shoals (Alabama), where he had attracted some attention with his studio work there. (Capricorn founder) Phil Walden came aboard. ... I didn’t even know where Macon was on a map. But he kept sweetening the deal. Duane fleshed out the band and put together the Allman Brothers Band.

Roadie Twiggs Lyndon set up the band in a two-bedroom apartment at 309 College St. Members of the band and their crew crammed into the spartan place. Money was tight in those days, and there wasn’t a whole lot to do other than jam and play stickball. When the band did eat well, it was because they were fed by “Mama” Louise Hudson at her H&H Restaurant. The band members spent much of their time hanging out in Rose Hill Cemetery, which would inspire songs such as “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed”.

Joseph “Red Dog” Campbell, ABB roadie: There were 10 of us, and the only thing we had were mattresses. We had them on the floor lined up wall to wall. We had a Coke machine. We put Cokes in one slot and beer in the other. It cost 25 cents, which was supposed to go to buying more beer. That didn’t work. Duane was always having Twiggs open the machine up for him. ... We were real tight. Nobody would hang with us, so we would hang out at Rose Hill Cemetery and go do our thing. ... We had all our meals together. There were some lean times at that apartment, some rough days, man. We’d have beans three times a day. It was a big deal if we had cream of wheat and eggs. That was like Thanksgiving for us. But we were tight. There was a lot of love.

Oakley helped organize free concerts in Central City Park, and later on, Walden had the band perform free shows at Piedmont Park, allowing the band to build a following. The band would perform at Grant’s Lounge, which became known as a haven for musicians looking to be discovered. On a given night, a music fan could go to Grant’s Lounge and watch members of the Allman Brothers perform with rising bands from all over the South.

Alan Walden, a Georgia Music Hall of Fame member, music promoter and brother to the late Phil Walden: Macon started clicking when the Allman Brothers got to town. It had been clicking with the R&B acts, but this was the first venture into rock ‘n’ roll. It progressed really damn fast. They would do the free gigs at Central City Park. It did our city a world of good. There was no telling who would show up to see the Allman Brothers. ... They would play anywhere, anytime. They got better and better and better. They attracted a lot of other artists. ... At Grant’s Lounge, every band in the South would come and play there. They did a lot of things that would attract attention back in those days. Musicians would hang out, and they would do these tremendous jams. One night, I paid $1 and got to see members of Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Allman Brothers, Charlie Daniels for $1! Look at the amount of people I got to see. ... Phil himself was so determined to make this band happen. His whole life, his whole reputation rested on that band.

The band released The Allman Brothers Band in 1969, followed by Idlewild South in 1970, which yielded such classics as “Whippin’ Post”, “Midnight Rider” and “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed”. They spent more than 300 days on the road in 1970 before releasing the double album, Live at Fillmore East in 1971. That album put the band on everyone’s radar and is generally considered to be one of the greatest live albums of all time. Rolling Stone magazine ranks the album 49th among its Top 500 Albums list.

Times were good for everyone. A teenage Rolling Stone reporter named Cameron Crowe spent three weeks on the road with the band for a story. His time with them would inspire his Oscar-winning original screenplay for the movie Almost Famous in 2000. The band headlined the Atlanta Pop Festival in 1970, which drew more than 300,000 people and featured the likes of Jimi Hendrix, B.B. King and Bob Seger. Oakley leased a Tudor-style home dubbed The Big House at 2321 Vineville Ave., where both his and Duane’s families lived and members of the band would hang out.

Linda Oakley Miller, widow of Berry Oakley: It was a very special time. We were so innocent, so full of hope. We were full of love. It just seemed like a natural occurrence. The ‘old ladies,’ as they would call us wives, filtered up after the band initially moved up to Macon. They played, got high together, got their chops. ... (We) were cruising around town with our newspaper, looking around for a place to live. It was $225 a month, which was a lot of money for us back then, but we fell in love with it. It had enough room for everyone. ... The Big House became our family home. The band didn’t live there, as some people think, but they did crash there all the time. ... It was a really, really happy time. They were young Turks. They were going to go out and be heroes, go out and pillage and conquer. They’re a great band now, but back then they were so hot. They were on fire.

Gregg Allman: In 1970, we worked 306 nights. That year, we didn’t get back to Macon a whole lot. ... We did a lot of learning, a lot of growing, a lot of laughing, crying, A lot of playing, a fair amount of writing. ... I was always so glad to come home to Macon. It has a lot of nostalgia for me. God knows, we terrorized that place, riding our motorcycles at 4 a.m. But we did all right.

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