Forty years ago this summer, it was the worst of times, but the best of tunes for the Allman Brothers Band.
Lead guitarist Duane Allman and bassist Berry Oakley had died in tragic motorcycle accidents during the preceding two years, and the band was forced to reinvent its sound and change almost one-third of its lineup.
Wisely, the Brothers didn’t even attempt to try to replace Duane, instead adding keyboardist Chuck Leavell (now with The Rolling Stones) and bassist Lamar Williams. But from where were the new songs to come?
As the band commenced to record its fifth disc, Brothers and Sisters, Gregg Allman had only two new tunes to offer: Wasted Words and Come and Go Blues. Still in deep mourning for his big brother, Gregg was abusing substances that kept him from leading the band he had co-founded some five years earlier.
FORREST RICHARD BETTS DEPT. Fortunately, guitarist Dickey Betts stepped up big time as a composer and singer. Betts’ four songs on Brothers and Sisters were all stellar and soon became standards in the group’s repertoire.
Betts’ soul-stirring A major to D major instrumental Jessica, named for his daughter from his third marriage, was the “pick of the litter” in many fans’ books. Pony Boy, a tune that was recorded without Gregg, was another winner as well.
The third Betts offering was the excellent travelin’ ode Southbound, which he unselfishly gave to Gregg to sing. But it was the fourth Betts original on Brothers and Sisters that changed the direction of the band both musically (and financially) in ways they had never dreamed.
“LORD THEY WERE BORN” DEPT. Ramblin’ Man was based on a 1951 tune of the same name by Hank Williams. Surprisingly, it became the band’s only top 10 hit, reaching No. 2 on the charts. Ironically, the song that kept Ramblin’ Man from the spot was the now very much politically incorrect Half Breed by Cher, whom Gregg would marry in just a few years!
Sung by Betts and featuring a classic guitar duel with guest session player Les Dudek. the song elevated the Allman Brothers Band to genuine superstar status. Ramblin’ Man also marked the emergence of Betts as the driving force behind the band’s new country-blues-rock sound.
40 YEARS AGO DEPT.? Happily for Allman Brothers fans, Brothers and Sisters has been reissued this week in two 40th Anniversary Editions on vinyl and CD. The extras are a-plenty, with outtakes of various songs from the album as well as a previously unissued A-Minor Jam.
A fine live performance of the Brothers performing at the Warehouse in San Francisco that comprises two CDs is also available in the deluxe package featuring tunes from the then “new” lineup. But to me, it’s not worth the extra $$$, so just stick to the less expensive version.
WHO ARE THOSE KIDS ON THE COVER DEPT.? The famous front cover pic features drummer Butch Trucks’ son Vaylor (now a musician), and the young lady on the back is Berry Oakley’s daughter Brittany. The pic on the album’s gatefold of the band, along with their wives, roadies, children and dogs, aptly captured an idyllic moment that would never happen again.