“The Allman Brothers Band: After The Crash”: Triumphing after the tragic death of innovative guitarist Duane Allman

By on May 27, 2017

We’ve just learned that Gregg Allman — a founding member of the Allman Brothers Band — died today, Saturday, May 27, 2017, at his home in Savannah, Georgia, after a long bout with liver cancer. He was 69.

We thought we’d repost this blog about The Allman Brothers Band: After The Crash — a sequel of sorts to the critically-acclaimed Song of the South – Duane Allman & The Rise Of The Allman Brothers Band documentary — which details the band’s history in the post-Duane years: a tale of triumph over tragedy, and how one of America’s homegrown favorites traded on their past glories to become one of the most respected rock bands of their day.

The two-hour documentary is streaming on our Night Flight Plus channel.

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We learn how The Allman Brothers Band officially came together at their first rehearsal, on March 26, 1969, in Jacksonville, Florida, where Duane Allman whipped the band through a bluesed out rock version of Muddy Waters’ “Trouble No More.”

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Four days later, they would play their first show at the Jacksonville Armory, and were still trying to figure out what to call themselves (one of the early choices was Beelzebub), but eventually settled on The Allman Brothers Band.

They then moved to Macon, Georgia, where their label Capricorn Records was based, which thereafter became the band’s home.

Capricorn was an independent label founded by Phil Walden, who wanted to build his company into an empire that would be based on the ideal that “the South will rise again.”

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Although they were pretty much an underground band for awhile, their distinctive sound and dynamic live shows were all but dominated by the unique guitar playing of Duane Allman, who, it was revealed onstage, had been listening to a lot of jazz saxophonists — in particular John Coltrane — and showing that he’d studied the way melodic momentum in jazz was built to its apex, all while sticking within the complex harmonic and rhythmic structure of the tune.

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The Allman Brothers Band would play heavily around Florida and Georgia, working out their sound before recording their debut album for Capricorn — The Allman Brothers Band — which was well received by critics and sold about 50,000 initial copies, mostly in the South.

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Their sound would soon be dubbed “Southern Rock,” a progressive blend of musical styles, including urban blues and R&B with extended jams and blistering rock solo performances, each member of the band taking off on their own and improvising, just as they did in jazz combos.

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As Rolling Stone scribe Mikal Gilmore writes in “The Allman Brothers Band: Bonds of Music and Elegy,” reprinted in the fine collection of his writings, Stories Done: Writings on the 1960s and its Discontents:

“Though later bands would reduce Southern Rock to a reactionary posture and a crude parody of machismo, the Allmans began the movement as a blast of musical and cultural innovation. In fact, their outlooks and music were emblematic of the American South’s ongoing struggle for redefinition, and of its mounting desire to move away from its violently earned image as a region of fierce racism and intolerance.”

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The band’s second album, 1970’s Idlewild South, recorded predominately at Criteria Studios in North Miami, was produced by Tom Dowd, who would help to broaden their Southern Rock sound by adding softer acoustic-guitar driven ballads like Dickey Bett’s “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” (an instrumental tribute to Miles Davis) and Gregg Allman’s “Midnight Rider,” which became one of the band’s more widely covered originals and his signature tune.

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In March of 1971, the band played four consecutive nights at the Fillmore East in New York City that were recorded for posterity and subsequently transformed into their third album, At Fillmore East.

This double LP — issued in July of 1971 — became an instant classic, climbing into the Top 10 and Rolling Stone were now hailing the Allman Brothers Band as “the best damn rock and roll band this country has produced in the past five years.”

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At Fillmore East was certified gold in mid-October 1971, but then just a few weeks later, everything would change forever when Duane Allman was killed in a motorcycle accident in Macon, Georgia.

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At the time, the band had recorded just three songs for their third album, Eat A Peach, and on the late afternoon of October 29, 1971, Duane was riding his Harley-Davidson Sportster back home after having visited the band’s “Big House” in Macon, when a flatbed truck with a huge crane boom made a left turn in front of him. Allman swerved and laid his bike down, and was pinned beneath the truck, which dragged him another fifty feet.

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He was rushed into emergency surgery for the next three hours, but his injuries were too severe. Allman was dead at age 24.

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The band — who played at Allman’s funeral — went back into the studio to finish recording their next album as a five-piece, with Dickey Betts playing all of the remaining lead and slide guitar parts (for their concerts, they also added Chuck Leavell on keyboards).

Eat A Peach, their second double album in a row — now featuring live tracks recorded at Fillmore East in order to give the audience even more examples of Allman’s brilliance on lead guitar — was critical and commercial leap forward when it was released in February 1972, and became another instant rock classic, their first album to reach the Top Ten, peaking at #5 on the album charts.

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Duane’s death, however, would have a devastating effect on each member of the band, particularly Gregg and bassist Berry Oakley, who became so grief-stricken that he was unable to take up the mantle of the band’s leadership.

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Memorial to Duane Allman on a roadside embankment outside of Vicksburg, Mississippi.

The Allman Brothers Band: After The Crash — featuring superb archive footage and classic interview material — is essentially the tales behind how the band kept falling apart and putting themselves back together again after Duane’s tragic death, including the lawsuits and heartbreaks, the break-ups and reunions.

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After The Crash also features interviews and contributions from past members and those closest to the band since the 70s, including Willie Perkins, their road manager (1970-75), Vice President of Capricorn Records Dick Wooley, and Allman biographers Randy Poe and Scott Freeman, among many others.

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We also get to see live performances of “Done Somebody Wrong,” “Ramblin’ Man,” “Southbound,” “Crazy Love,” “Pegasus,” and “End Of The Line.”

Watch The Allman Brothers Band: After The Crash on Night Flight Plus and we’ll have more to say about Gregg Allman in the coming days. Meanwhile, you can read Chris Morris’ obit in Variety here.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, assistant editor for the When You Awake blog, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.
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    Will the Allman Brothers Band persist in the absence of the Allman brothers?