Gregg Allman and Butch Trucks tell the story of their band
“Those of us who were privileged to know Duane,” Wexler said, “will remember him from all the studios, backstage dressing rooms, the Downtowners, the Holiday Inns, the Sheratons, the late nights, relaxing after the sessions, the whiskey and the music talk, playing back cassettes until night gave way to dawn, the meals and the pool games, and fishing in Miami and Long Island, this young beautiful man who we love so dearly but who is not lost to us, because we have his music, and the music is imperishable.”
Duane Allman’s death left the band, their adopted hometown of Macon and the entire music world in a state of shock. In a short couple of years, the Allmans had perfected a freewheeling Southern rock music that was at once adventurous and rootsy, expansive and downhome. Their gigs, epic intuitive jams where single songs would roll on for hours, were already the stuff of legend. And Duane himself, their driving force, had swiftly become a pyrotechnic, soulful guitar superstar. It was reasonable to wonder how they could possibly continue without him.
“When he died, the idea of just walking away crossed my mind,” says Gregg Allman, the band’s singer and Hammond B3 player, and Duane’s younger brother by one year. “But I figured, if I don’t keep playin’, I ain’t gonna be worth a shit. It’s hard to believe the chops he had at that age, and how much of a fucking footprint he left.”
The band had taken shape during an impromptu jam two-and-a-half years earlier, in Jacksonville, Florida. “Duane started this band in March ’69,” says drummer Butch Trucks. It’s autumn 2010, and the Allman Brothers Band are heading out on the road once more with a lineup that includes original members Trucks, his fellow drummer Jaimoe Johanny Johanson and Gregg Allman, with Butch’s nephew Derek Trucks and Warren Haynes (who also stands in for Jerry Garcia in the Dead) trading off on lead guitars. “From the start, we were locked onto the knowledge that we were on to something new, intense and exciting, before Gregg even got there. It was the five of us and Reese Wynans, a keyboard player who went on to play with Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble. But he was in the band Dickey [Betts, guitar] and Berry Oakley [bass] were in [The Second Coming].
“He played organ, and we got into this jam that started out as a little shuffle and lasted about two hours. And I mean, it just went everywhere. We were all playing so far above any level that we had ever played before, and all this communication was flyin’ around. We finally finished, and I’d been through all these changes of chill bumps and tears, just feelings that I’d never felt before. I looked over at Jaimoe and I said, ‘Man, did you get off on that’? He just smiled. Then Duane walked to the door and said, ‘All right, anybody in this room who ain’t gonna play in my band, you’re gonna have to fight your way out the door.’
“Duane was this messianic character,” Butch continues, “and if I hadn’t met him, I’d probably be teaching math at some junior high school. He reached inside me and flicked the switch that turned me on. He just completely changed my whole attitude about music, life, everything.”