Hot Off The Wire: The Allman Brothers Soar On

It’s not just survival. It’s a way of life.

ITEM: BY this time, the Allman Brothers latest, Brothers and Sisters, should be on most of the rock & roll turntables in the country. It may very well be their best album ever, and if that is the case, the man to whom much of the credit must be directed is Richard Betts. “A lot of the songs were written by Richard,” reported Gregg. “Therefore, there’s a whole different flavor to the music. It’s a different band, so of course it sounds quite a bit different. I purposefully stood aside and let Richard stretch out a little bit more. Before, he’d write a lot of things, but he always liked my singing so he’d kinda keep ’em stashed and wait and see what I had. I’m just glad that people can now see what a really fine songwriter and singer he is.”

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Item: Now that you’ve got a good picture of Mr. Betts’ capabilities, you’ve probably got an eye for more, and it looks like Richard may oblige. There’s talk going around about a Richard Betts solo work in the not-too-distant future. Considering that you can pick up country, blues and even classical flourishes in his style, such a venture will certainly be something worth waiting for.

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Item: While Gregg’s solo album, Laid Back, might sound like an extension of his work with the Allman Brothers, it’s actually something he’s kept on the back burner apart from the band. “It’s taken me four years to do it,” he said. “A lot of the songs I’d written just weren’t right for the group, but this album is something I started long before there was an Allman Brothers Band. With ‘Midnight Rider’ it was just a case of going back and recording it the way I had originally envisioned it. Some of the other songs are four, even five years old.

“It was just a process of trial-and-error. I cut the whole damn thing about three times. I’d cut it and then listen to it and see what I’d done wrong, and then I’d re-cut it. I recorded it in Miami, I cut some in New York and a little out in LA. Then I’d just keep working at it until I was satisfied. Now I am. It’s very dynamic; it’s got that real rich sound. If it goes really well — as well as I hope it will — I may just take thirty pieces out and do a gig on my own every now and again.”

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Item: There was a tasty rumor recently flying around to the effect that because Richard was such a hopeless Kung Fu addict, all recording on Brothers and Sisters stopped abruptly on Thursday nights so that he could catch the show. “Naw, that’s just a rumor,” Gregg scoffed. “Course, I’m the only one in the band who’s never seen the show. But, come to think of it, recording did start later on Thursday nights for some reason.”

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Item: Chuck Leavell’s piano has added a tremendous depth to the Allman Brothers’ sound, a solid and distinctive underpinning which bolsters and accentuates Richard’s guitar. A former member of Alex Taylor’s Friends & Neighbors, he literally fell into his present position with the Allman Brothers. “We’d played with him quite a bit,” remembers Richard, “and just called him in to help out with the album. But it worked out so well that he just stayed on.” Being in the band seems to have helped Leavell too; his playing is more forceful and passionate — almost driven at times — than on any of his previous work.

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Item: Following the tragic death of Berry Oakley, the search for a new bass player was finally narrowed to a field of three. They were Lamar Williams, a long-time friend of Allman drummer Jaimoe, the bassist for Mylon’s band, and Mark Andes, formerly with Spirit and Jo Jo Gunne. The decision to go with Lamar has proven to be a wise one. His R&B background adds just the right punch to the rhythm section, and his closeness with Jaimoe keeps it tighter than one might think possible of a new bass player this soon.

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Item: For Brothers and Sisters, the Allman Brothers called upon the services of two Macon friends. Les Dudeck, the guitarist who does the phenomenal counterpoint on the end of ‘Ramblin’ Man’ with Richard Betts, has since become a fixture in Boz Scaggs’ band. And Scott Boyer, who contributes some acoustic guitar to another of Richard’s tunes, has recently revived Cowboy, a band he fronted through two previous albums on Capricorn.

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Item: Just about a year ago this time, Richard Betts made a trip to Canada to sit in on a session of something called the Ecumenical Council. This Ecumenical Council is a meeting ground for all Indian contingents of North America, whose purpose is to provide a venue for discussion of their mutual problems. Following that visit, and spurred by the turn of events at Wounded Knee, Betts founded the North American Indian Foundation, an organization designed to call attention to the plight of the Indian.

A temporary board of directors was named — with Betts as Chairman, along with fellow Maconites Mike Hyland, Butch Trucks, Phil Walden, Bunky Odom, Dick Wooley and Willie Perkins — but by year’s end these temporary directors will give way to Indian counterparts. Though tax-exempt status had not been awarded to the Foundation by the time we went to press (such a move was expected “any day”), all concerned are moving ahead with their plans. Other artists have already expressed a desire to help, and those wishing to contribute their energies to the effort should contact Steve Massarsky at the North American Indian Foundation at 678 Poplar Street, Suite No. 5 in Macon, Georgia.

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Item: The Allman Brothers Band has already played one benefit for the Foundation, with a strong implication that more might take place even before this issue hits the stands. The first took place on June 2 at the Omni in Atlanta, and drew 17,500 people. The concert grossed $93,000, and part of these funds will be used to send representatives to this year’s Ecumenical Council.

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Item: The Allmans did another benefit recently, this one for ten local Macon charities. 11,105 people jammed into the Macon Colisseum (a figure which topped Elvis’ draw) to see Wet Willie and the Allman Brothers perform. $50,000 was raised, and among the charities who’ll share in the take are the Booker T. Washington Foundation, the Macon Boy’s Club, the Bibb County Prisoner’s Relief Fund, and local chapters of the Salvation Army, the Muscular Dystrophy Association and The American Cancer Society.

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Item: Yet another superstar may have been born at that Colisseum gig. He’s three year old Vaylor Trucks, son of Allmans drummer Butch Trucks. Young Vaylor wandered out onto the stage during intermission, and proceeded to enthrall the crowd for a full twenty minutes with his pint-sized percussion expertise. Now we get word that a special drum kit is being readied, so don’t be surprised should you see the tyke repeating his performance at selected Allman Brothers gigs in the near future.

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Item: For those of you questionable characters who are known to frequent bargain bins, there’s a wealth of Allman Brothers trivia available. Duane’s various studio forays are much too extensive to list here, but the excellent Anthology released by Capricorn last year will give you a good outline. United Artists has a two-record re-package set to go on the Hourglass, the late-Sixties band on Liberty that featured Duane and Gregg (not to mention Johnny Sandlin, the Allman’s producer). The performances are stiff and artificial, and bear no resemblance to the music of the Allman Brothers whatsoever. They’re not nearly as rough, however, as the tapes of Gregg and Duane’s mid-Sixties Allman Joys, which are even too embarrassing for Mercury to milk.

Butch Trucks had a three-piece folk-rock outfit called the 31st of February, who released an album on Vanguard in 1968. Also in that band was Scott Boyer (of Cowboy) and David Brown (now with Boz Scaggs). Following that album, Duane and Gregg joined the band, and the Duane & Gregg bootleg of last year (which Gregg has since law-suited out of existence) was comprised of demos the band cut in Miami. Chuck Leavell was a member of a group called the American Eagles, about whom little is known except for the fact that they were the first to record ‘Me & Bobby McGee’. He was also a member of Sundown, who cut an album for Exit/Ampex a couple years back.

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Item: The first in the projected series of Allman Brothers-Grateful Dead dates happened in Washington the weekend of June 10th. “We’ve been trying to set up dates with the Grateful Dead for some time,” Gregg reported. “But it was hard because we live on different coasts, and we’re both always on the road. Also, the Grateful Dead are such a big draw, and we’re such a draw that it made the situation a little more complicated.”

The way they worked it out in Washington was that one night the Allmans topped the bill, while the Dead closed the show on the second night. Combined attendance for the two nights at RFK Stadium was 110,000, and the operation went so smoothly that several more are sure to follow.

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Item: Abbville, the town the Allman Brothers were reported to be building on some land they purchased outside Macon a little over a year ago, is steadily taking shape. Plans to incorporate as a separate community have been scrapped, but units are now being constructed which will eventually house all the band members. Richard Betts, in fact, is building his own house on the property.

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Item: On June 25, 1973, Chuck Leavell, piano player for the Allman Brothers Band, and Rose Lane White, private secretary to Capricorn Executive Vice-President Frank Fenter, were wed in Macon, Georgia. No honeymoon plans were announced.

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Item: Before the Washington weekend, groundwork was being laid for a live Allman Brothers-Grateful Dead album. “That’s what we were hoping for,” said John Sandlin, who was on hand to record the proceedings, “but the Dead didn’t want to be recorded because they’d just released those live albums. That was never resolved, so they didn’t take part in it.But we’re still hoping that something can come out of one of the future date’s.” Whether or not this arrangement ever does work out, current plans now call for the next Allman Brothers album to be a live one, quite possibly a double set. On the basis of recent Allmans performances, it might very well prove to be historic. The Allman Brothers Band has never been better.

© uncredited writerCreem, September 1973

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