TALKING TO the Allman Brothers at their overnight camp in a palatial hotel in Hollywood, it soon became obvious that everyone still thinks and talks about the late Duane Allman in the first person present.
A tragic motorbike accident just a few months age may have robbed the band and rock music of one of this era’s greatest guitarists, but to his kin, Duane is still a member of the band that carries his name.
Strangely enough, there’s nothing macabre or sinister about the atmosphere that prevails. Simply, the spirit of Brother Duane lives on every time the band takes to the stage.
When the phone purrs (that’s what American phones do), or the hotel room door swings open, you somehow expect Duane to amble in — a loping denim-clad electric cowboy — to pick up a beer and join in the conversation with Dicky Betts, now the band’s solitary guitarist.
Although the band are still one of the biggest attractions Stateside, the fact remains that the Allman Brothers Band’s musical identity hinged on the exciting and complementary guitar duels between Duane and Dicky. Perhaps they might one day be equalled, but never surpassed.
Whether pickin’ or slidin’, Duane was one helluva bitch, and Dicky was a perfect foil who stood toe-to-toe and traded licks without ever being overshadowed by his partner.
Duane has gone. He has not been replaced.
Betts stands alone.
“When Duane suddenly split from the band (that’s how the Allman entourage refer to Duane’s demise) we just didn’t know what to do,” Betts began.
“It was decided that we would all take about six months off to think things over. But soon after we played at Duane’s funeral, we found that we were drifting back together.
“Apparently, we were all of the same mind. The best way to relieve the immense pain we felt deep inside was to get back together again as soon as possible and go out on the road.
“We had agreed that we all wanted to stay together and keep the band going, therefore the only way we could try to forget what had happened was to carry on as if nothing had happened.”
Betts speaks about Duane Allman with a minimum of emotion in his voice. Yet you can tell that the tragic loss of such a close friend and creative workmate has left its mark.
Totally discrediting the rumours that Eric Clapton would bring the band up to full strength, Betts continued to talk about facing the future without Duane.
“Like everyone else in the band, I went through a lot of heavy changes and I don’t know if I’ve nailed them all down yet. When we got back together again, I had to revert back to the way I played before I started with this band.
“You see, when Duane was in the band, he’d play something and then I would try and extend what he was doing, so of course when he split I had to put things to the fore a lot more than I originally did.
“Communication had always been our note. We didn’t tread on each others’ notes, Duane and I just used to listen to each others licks and extend them as far as possible.
“It almost got to the point where Duane and I were thinking as one man, and believe me, it’s a very nice thing to get yourself in to.
“Funnily enough, it wasn’t very hard for us to achieve, because we always played well together. From the first time we met, the styles just seemed to fit.”
In the three years since the inception of the Allman Brothers Band — a direct by-product of the Hour Glass and the Allman Joys — its personnel of Gregg Allman (vocals, keyboards), Dicky Betts (guitar), Berry Oakley (bass), Butch Trucks (drums, percussion) and Jai Johnny Johanson (drums, congas), has remained unchanged, except for Duane’s death.
Their first album, which just bore their name, garnered immediate acceptance. Their second, Idlewild South, consolidated initial opinions, and their third, a double collection cut live at Fillmore East, became a best seller.
The Allman Brothers band have just released a new double-album, respectfully “Dedicated To A Brother”. Entitled Eat A Peach, it marks the transitional period in that apart from including material on which Duane is extensively featured, it also reveals three cuts ‘Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More’, ‘Les Brers In A Minor’ and ‘Melissa’ by the depleted line-up.
Betts says this is a very important album in their natural growth.
“It’s a big jump from our other three albums in the sense of our musical accomplishment and progress. The tunes are very intense like much of our other material, but much easier to listen to. They’re more solid. They don’t have that nervous sort of feel.
“I prefer recording live, but of course there are many things that you can do in the studio that you just can’t do on stage. I like our live recordings because I feel them to be a musical statement of what the band is. Unfortunately, there are far too many both inside and outside the music business who can’t see the difference between a live recording and one done in a studio.
“They are two entirely different trips. Take the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper album — you know they could never have gone out and done that album live, but most people who’ve heard that album think that was the Beatles.
“At the moment, we’re concerned with keeping a strong concert thing going. Naturally, if enough new material accumulates from it then we’ll get an album together, but we’re not forcing that particular issue.
“Duane’s death was, and still is a tragic loss to us, but the band is still the Allman Brothers Band and we still kick hard. It’s what we do and we’re gonna go ahead and keep doing it.”
© Roy Carr, New Musical Express, 22 April 1972