Their dad was a career Army sergeant and moved the family to Norfolk, Virginia soon after Gregg arrived.
In 1949 Willis Allman was murdered by a veteran after Willis befriended the man. After Willis’ death, Geraldine moved the family back to Nashville and finally moved the boys to Daytona Beach, FL when Duane was 11 and Gregg 10.
In 1959 while visiting relatives in Nashville, young Duane & Gregg attended a concert by the great B.B. King. Both boys fell in love with the music they heard that day and at one point Duane turned to Gregg and said “We got to get into this.”
Soon after, Gregg began playing guitar after hearing a neighbor playing country standards on an acoustic guitar. It was 1960 and older brother Duane decided to also try his hand at guitar. A few weeks later, Gregg stopped playing guitar and concentrating on his vocals because, as he recalled in an interview, once Duane began playing “he…passed me up like I was standing still”.
In 1961 the two brothers began playing in local bands and Duane quit high school to concentrate on his learning the guitar. The band the brothers eventually began playing with was called The Escorts. This band morphed into the Allman Joys, with Maynard Portman on drums and Bob Keller on bass.
When Gregg graduated from Seabreeze High School in 1965, the Allman Joys hit the road, performing throughout the Southeast and eventually being based between Nashville and St. Louis.
In 1967, the Allman Joy merged with a band out of Alabama who had been on the same club circuit as the Allman Joy. The new band was called The Hourglass and consisted of Duane on guitars, sitar, vocals; Gregg on organ, piano, guitar and lead vocals; Paul Hornsby on piano, organ, guitar and vocals, Johnny Sandlin on drums, guitar and gong and Mabron McKinney on bass. In 1968, McKinney was replaced by Pete Carr.
The new band was booked in St. Louis for a month-long gig when they met Bill McEuen, who was the manager of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. McEuen got the band signed to Liberty Records and the boys moved to Los Angeles.
Once they got there, they began opening shows for bands like The Doors and Buffalo Springfield, gaining some popularity.
Then, Liberty brought them into the studio and it all went wrong. Liberty was not really interested in the band per se. They really wanted Gregg for his vocals. The band was not used in many of the recording sessions and the music that was given to them to record was not even close to the type of material the band was playing in clubs. The album was a mish-mash of light-hearted pop-sounding soul and the band was not happy.
Dallas Smith, a formulaic producer noted for his work with Bobby Vee, knew the group was from the South. He knew they had formed from the ashes of groups that had performed liberal amounts of blues covers. And he heard soulful qualities in the voice of nineteen-year-old Gregg Allman. Therefore, he referred to them as a "Motown band", much to the chagrin of the group.
The self-titled album, The Hourglass, was recorded with an emphasis on lead vocalist Gregg's voice and dispensing with nearly all original material. Of the eleven tracks on the original LP, only one was penned by a group member, Gregg's "Got To Get Away".
The remaining ten were written by songwriters running the gamut from Curtis Mayfield and Jackson Browne to Del Shannon and the team of Goffin-King. All great songwriters, but definitely not suited for this group of musicians. The Hourglass performed the basic tracks, which were overdubbed by Smith with layers of vocals and instrumentation.
Just looking at the album cover would have told you what Liberty was thinking. The band was taken to a costume shop and told to pick things out. Gregg & Johnny were in Sgt. Pepperish uniforms, Duane was dressed like an English nobleman and Mabron was in top hat and tails. The whole album was described by Ben Edmonds who was editor of Creem Magazine as being "like a Woolworth bargain-basement concept of West Coast psychedelia", and as Gregg has stated "We were in debt and stuck in California, so we had little choice but to go along."
The band continued to perform in clubs, rarely playing any material from the album, instead playing music like Otis Redding and the Yardbirds. The record label forbid the band from touring outside of Southern California which caused even more tension between the label and the band.
It was during this time, in 1968, that a famous story of the Brothers Allman occurred. Duane was sick in bed on his 22nd birthday and his brother came to visit, bringing along the debut album by an artist named Taj Mahal as a birthday gift. He also brought a bottle of the cold medicine Coricidan to help his brother get better.
About two hours after Gregg had left, he received a phone call. “Baby brother, baby brother, get over here now!” When Gregg arrived, he found his brother sitting on the bed. All of the Coricidan pills were scattered on the bed. Duane had washed the label off the bottle and was using it as a slide. He proceeded to play the old Willie McTell song, “Statesboro Blues”, which Taj covered on his album, for his brother.
“Duane had never played the slide before”, recalled Gregg years later, “he just picked it up and started burning. He was a natural.”
A second album Power of Love was planned and the band was given more control over the music they recorded, using many songs written by Gregg. However, this album was also a huge disappointment.
Frustrated, the band left Los Angeles and traveled to Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, AL to try and record some music they could be proud of without the heavy hand of the label being involved. They recorded a handful of tracks which made the group excited about their future.
Liberty rejected all of the tracks out of hand. They wanted a pop group, no matter what the pedigree of the members.
Duane and Gregg Allman traveled to Jacksonville, Florida where they jammed with folk-rockers The 31st Of February, which featured drummer Butch Trucks. The rest of the band stayed at Muscle Shoals and became the base for some of the great music which was recorded there over the years, as the house band.
Liberty Records threatening to sue the group for disbanding, and finally dropped the threats when Gregg agreed to travel back to LA to make a solo record. These recordings were not released for 25-years until the two Hourglass albums were released as a double album set.
It was late 1968. Gregg was in Los Angeles, a prisoner of Liberty records and Duane was kicking around Florida jamming with a number of bands. Rick Hall, the owner of Fame Studios had been impressed with what he had heard during the Hourglass sessions at his studio. He was especially interested in the guitar work of Duane.
Hall called Duane and hired him to work on an album being recorded at Fame by Wilson Pickett. The album was entitled Hey Jude, and Wilson performs the Beatles hit on the album.
This session brought Duane into the spotlight. Eric Clapton recalls, “I remember hearing Wilson Pickett’s “Hey Jude” and just being astounded by the lead break at the end. …I had to know who that was immediately – right now.”
Hall called Jerry Wexler; Atlantic Records famed executive and producer, and played the Pickett song over the phone. Wexler immediately bought Duane’s recording contract from Hall and began using Duane on many of the sessions that were done for Atlantic at Muscle Shoals and up in New York City.
Duane appears on albums by Clarence Carter, King Curtis, Aretha Franklin (it was Duane who suggested she record “The Weight” for her This Girl’s In Love With You album), Otis Rush, Percy Sledge, Johnny Jenkins, Boz Scaggs (all of the lead guitar on the song “Loan Me A Dime” is by Duane), Delaney & Bonnie and even the great jazz flutist, Herbie Mann.
While in NY for the sessions with Aretha, Duane went with fellow Shoals session guitarist Jimmy Johnson to see Johnny Winter at the famous Fillmore East. During the show, Duane turned to Jimmy and stated “I will be on that stage within a year".
While recording at Muscle Shoals, Duane rented a small cabin away from everything and spent most of his time practicing his craft. Some of this session work is considered the best Duane ever played and ironically, most people do not even realize it is him playing.
Around this time Phil Walden, who had been manager to the late Otis Redding, was managing Duane and looking to build a 3-piece band around him. Walden sent R&B and jazz drummer Jaimoe Johanson to meet Duane. The two men called to Florida and convinced Chicago-born bassist Berry Oakley to come up from Florida and jam as a trio.
Berry came up, but he was committed to a band he was playing with, The Second Coming, which included a guitar player named Dickie Betts. After a few days of jamming, Berry returned to Florida.
It was now March 1969 and Duane was antsy. He enjoyed the session work and meeting the many artists, but he wanted something to call his own. He convinced Jaimoe to join him and they headed south, back to Jacksonville, FL, where they moved in with drummer Butch Trucks.
A short time later, a jam session occurred which included Duane, Jaimoe & Butch on drums, Berry on bass, Dickie Betts on guitar and the keyboardist from the Second Coming, Reese Wynans. Later that evening when the session was over the men all looked at each other in silence. Words did not have to be spoken for them to realize something special had just occurred.
The next day Duane called Gregg and convinced him to come on back to Florida. When Gregg arrived, he replaced Wynans on keyboards and vocals and during the last week of March, 1969, The Allman Brothers Band was formed.
As a side note, Wynans did not do so badly, ending up as organ player for Stevie Ray Vaughn & Double Trouble.
TOMORROW: The Allman Brothers Band has its coming out party
Resources: wikipedia; Rock & Roll Hall of Fame; Allman Brothers Band web site; The book, “Skydog – the Duane Allman Story” given to me by my friend TurnBaby; My own knowledge of this band. Pictures of the Allman Joys borrowed from www.robertoreg.blogspot.com