Gregg Allman and Butch Trucks tell the story of their band
By the end of June 1971, the Allmans were back at the Fillmore, the night before the venue closed down. “That may have been the greatest night of music of my life,” says Trucks. “We came onstage around midnight and played ’til seven or eight in the morning. ‘Mountain Jam’ was the encore, and the damn thing must’ve lasted three or four hours. Everything I went to play that night, two or three guys in the band were already playin’ it. We were all so absolutely in the same space at the same moment, and that audience was right there with us. When we finished playin’, everyone just sat there. Then someone opened the doors, the sun came pourin’ in, and people started quietly leaving. Duane was walking in front of me, dragging his guitar behind him. He said, ‘Goddamn, it’s like leavin’ church.’ That night was the epitome. And it wasn’t but a few months later that Duane was dead.”
“Record sales took off right after the funeral, man – they hit the sky,” Gregg says. “At first I thought Duane really got short-changed.” The Allmans somehow managed to keep going as a five-piece, with Dickey Betts the lone guitarist. Brothers And Sisters, the first album completely recorded without Duane, was the band’s first LP to top the US charts. Meanwhile, Duane’s spirit had spread across the South like a storm off the Gulf of Mexico. Lynyrd Skynyrd, also out of Jacksonville, wrote “Free Bird” about him, Gary Rossington playing that unforgettable slide solo on his own vintage Les Paul with a Coricidin bottle on his finger, just like Duane, in an act of devotion as well as emulation.
On November 11, 1972, Berry Oakley would die in an eerily similar motorcycle crash, three blocks from the spot where Duane had crashed. “For that entire year,” Butch recalls, “everybody had been floundering around, Berry especially – he just couldn’t be in a world without Duane Allman. It hit him so hard. I mean, it devastated all of us, but Berry most of all. He was this kind, genuine, loving person who couldn’t believe that this could happen. And every once in a while, when it started hittin’ him, he’d get fucked up ’cos he couldn’t deal with the reality of it, and it just got worse and worse. When he had his accident, as hard as this may sound, it was almost a relief. The pain was gone.
“Then, the next few years, we started makin’ a living, all the success came, and it went from a rock’n’roll fantasy to a fucking nightmare. Those three years we were the No 1 band in the country I spent drunk – I don’t remember a thing. Fortunately, in ’75 I met a woman who had the guts to tell me what an asshole I was. Then, in ’76, it all fell apart – it had to.”