By the time of the second Hour Glass album, Power of Love, the band was playing in a mode closer to the blues and r&b styles that suited them, as "Down in Texas" shows.
After making the second album the band decided they'd had enough and vowed to head back to friendlier settings in St. Louis. They were so frustrated with the tracks recorded in Los Angeles that they took the proceeds from a show in late April of 1968 and rented studio time on their own at Rick Hall's Fame studios in Muscle Shoals.
In one night the band went in and cut several of their favorite numbers from the live set. "Ain't No Good To Cry," a pop r&b tune with an Animals-style arrangement and a double-tracked solo from Duane, and the "B.B. King Medley," an amalgam of King's "Sweet Little Angel," "It's My Own Fault" and "How Blue Can You Get," are both from that session.
This is the real direction the band was going, a clear indicationof the roots oriented blues rock that provided the foundation for what soon would be the Allman Brothers sound. But when they returned to L.A., Liberty's producers rejected the self-produced Hour Glass tapes.
Duane and Gregg hooked up again with Butch Trucks again in Jacksonville. Truck's band, the 31st of February, was recording demos for an album. Guitarist Scott Boyer, who would later play in Cowboy, and bassist David Brown, who went on to play with Santana and Boz Scaggs, were also in the band.
Duane and Gregg ended up showcasing themselves on the project, which didn't come out at the time but was later released as Duane Allman and Gregg Allman. The version of "Morning Dew" on Dreams comes from that session. The Tim Rose tune was a classic statement against nuclear war that a lot of bands were covering in the late '60s. Jeff Beck recorded an exciting version with Rod Stewart singing on Beck's first solo album, Truth. The Grateful Dead used the song for an extended jam that was often one of the high points of the band's live shows. The version on Dreams comes down somewhere in between, with Gregg giving a dramatically bluesy reading to the vocal and Duane hitting tones with the bell like clarity and crisp attack of Beck but with the lengthy, improvisational unpredictability of Grateful Dead lead guitarist Jerry Garcia.
The Hour Glass broke up but still owed Liberty money, so Duane and Gregg were legally prevented from recording on their own. Gregg was forced to return to L.A. to honor the contract by recording a solo album. "That was the most unhappy time of my life," he said. "It was the longest time I had ever been away from my brother, and I couldn't find anybody to play with."
While Gregg was in L.A. Duane hung out with bassist Berry Oakley and jammed with the band he was playing in the Second Coming, which also included Dickey Betts.
Duane was living in Oakley's house in November of '68 when he got a telegram from Rick Hall asking him to come up to Muscle Shoals, Alabama for a Wilson Picket session.
Hall had been impressed with Allman's blues playing on the Hour Glass tapes and thought he might add something to the session. It was more than a lucky guess. Duane suggested that Picket cut the Beatles' "Hey Jude," taught the band to play it, and laid an awesome solo over the top. The record was an obvious hit (it eventually sold a million copies) and Hall signed Duane to a contract.
Allman's playing was so expressive that he ended up making the rest of the album with Picket and moved to Muscle Shoals, where he became a session star at the legendary studio.
"Most people have to work their way in," said guitarist Jimmy Johnson. "When Duane did that date with Picket, he was in. That's never happened before or since, and I don't think it will happen again. The players that had been playing lead, we just didn't use them." The story goes that Hall played a tape of Picket's "Hey Jude" to Atlantic Records vice president Jerry Wexler over the phone and Wexler wanted to sign Allman immediately. "Jerry Wexler was completely freaked out by him," said Johnson. "Jerry saw the potential immediately, and encouraged him to stay at Muscle Shoals and develop a name for himself.
Duane blossomed as a player in this rich musical setting. When he wasn't working alongside some of the greatest r&b session players in history he was meditating with his guitar in a secluded lakeside cabin. "I just sat and played to myself," he said, "and got used to living without a bunch of that jive Hollywood crap in my head."
Allman worked on a variety of blues, r&b and rock sessions. He befriended the great saxophonist King Curtis, and made a series of recordings with him, including an instrumental of Joe South's "Games People Play" that won a grammy award.
In early 1969 Duane began work on a solo album in Muscle Shoals in between his other sessions. With Sandlin, Hornsby and Oakley, Duane recorded several songs for the project before abandoning it. The best of the tracks was a foreboding rendition of "Goin' Down Slow," a worldsweary blues by John Lee Hooker about a dying man surveying his life of dissolution.
It's a strange song for a young man with as bright future as Duane Allman to sing with such absolute conviction, but Allman brought everything he had to the vocal and played a wrenching, emotion-charged solo.
Also recorded at this session were such songs as Chuck Berry's "No Money Down" and "Happily Married Man," which appear on Duane Allman Anthology Vol. II, as well as "Dimples," "Bad News" and "Down Along The Cove." The multi tracks for these songs were later used for Johnny Jenkins' Ton Ton Macoute LP, which bears co-production credit by Duane Allman.Duane went up to New York for more Atlantic sessions, including Aretha Franklin's Soul 69 album. While he was there Duane went to the Fillmore East with Jimmy Johnson to see the much ballyhooed New York debut of Texas guitarist Johnny Winter. Before leaving the theater Duane Vowed to Johnson that in another year he'd be on that stage himself.
Duane was tired of just being a session player and itched to put a band together. Meanwhile Duane's contract was sold by Wexler to Phil Walden, who had managed the late Otis Redding and was just starting to put together his own custom label, Capricorn Records. Walden knew he had a potential star on his hands and envisioned Allman as a frontman. He told Duane to put together a trio and bring them back to Macon, where Capricorn planned to open its own studio.
Duane had already met Jai Johanny Johanson, an r&b session drummer who'd played with Redding at Fame studios. Duane promised Johanson he'd put him in his band, so all he needed was a bassist. He and Johanson went down to Jacksonville with the intention of joining forces with Oakley on bass.
Duane had already played with the Second Coming, the hot local outfit that featured Oakley and guitarist Dickey Betts, but now that he came back to Jacksonville looking to put a band together the jamming took on another level of intensity.
Betts, one of the Second Coming's two guitarists (the other was Larry Reinhardt, later of Iron Butterfly and Captain Beyond), noticed the difference. "It came on kind of gradually," he said of the period in early '69 when he and Duane started developing their distinctive twin leads during the Second Coming jam sessions, "but there was a certain point everybody knew it was gonna be real interesting, and it was gonna be real different. "Phil Walden had asked Duane to put together a trio and do some recording. Duane had asked Jaimoe to play with him and he'd asked Berry Oakley to play with him, a trio, and that's what Phil Walden expected Duane to bring to Macon.
"They did a few recordings, demos and things, so in the process of Duane coming to sit in and kinda getting used to playing with Berry Oakley, things started happening Duane didn't expect. He and I started to jump into some areas that we hadn't quite seen before and then Butch Trucks showed up on scene."
The music the Second Coming was playing was a logical extension of the ideas that Duane and Gregg had been working out in previous bands. Betts, like Duane, was impressed with Eric Clapton's big-voiced tone and unique, seemingly effortless phrasing, but was well grounded in blues, country and even other pop styles. Audience tapes from these early 1969 gigs show the real missing link with the Allman Brothers band. The shows opened with a jazzy, bubbling "Don't Want You No More" and ran a vast gamut of blues and rock influences, from the traditional blues of "Rock Me Baby" and Albert King's "Born Under A Bad Sign" to a wild Hendrix-style version of "Hey Joe" with Duane singing lead, a Clapton-ized version of "Crossroads," a take on the Butterfield band arrangement of Nick Gravenites' "Born In Chicago" and a psychedelic romp through the Jefferson Airplane churner "She Has Funny Cars."
But it wasn't the extended jams where you could really hear the Allman Brothers sound being born. There were the surging cross rhythms of the drums crashing like surf against the shoreline, with Oakley swinging bass lines through the arrangement like some inspired student of Charles Mingus and Jack Casady, while Duane Allman and Dickey Betts wove a harmonic interlace across it all, leading a spirited chase through a labyrinthine maze of scalar improvisation, Duane switching to slide, Dickey playing what sounds like a coda but ends up being the root of a whole new improvisational section.
By the end of March it was obvious something special was happening, and Duane called Gregg back from L.A. to complete the lineup.
Gregg Allman's return from his exile in California was the last piece of the Allman Brothers puzzle to be put in place. Gregg's nightmarish stay in L.A. had fueled his imagination to write several songs which would become masterpieces on Allman Brothers albums. Like his older brother, Gregg had the hellhound-on-my-trail sensibility of a veteran bluesman at an early age.
"I had this girlfriend in L.A.," he said. "She was using this pseudo love on me like an M16, she kept putting me through all kinds of tricks."
Gregg's torment came out in songs, among them "Whipping Post," "It's Not My Cross To Bear," "Black Hearted Woman," and the culmination of all his demons, "Demons."
When Gregg joined the othes he wasn't sure at first that the band wanted its leader's younger brother to be the main writer and lead singer. "It was hard getting that across," said Gregg. "I remember showing my songs to the rest of the Allman Brothers Band. I was the last one to join, and of the 22 songs I had written only two passed at first - "Dreams" and "It's Not My Cross To Bear."
"I thought to myself 'I wonder what their reaction gonna be, who the hell are you wite boy writin' a blues song?' I was sure one of them was gonna say 'Well, that's just such and such by Blind Willie so and so with different words.' But then again they accepted me and it all worked out."
Though Gregg may have had initial doubts, the band quickly embraced him as its main voice and writer. "We used to jam every Sunday," said Betts, "at one place or another, an outdoor free concert kind of thing and at one point it became very obvious that there were really six of us instead of three, so we went to Macon, Georgia with a six piece band, which was a big surprise for the record company. But they liked it when they heard it." The band moved into a cramped house on College Street in Macon. They all lived together in two rooms, sleeping on half a dozen mattresses thrown on the floor. Determination and the sheer fun of being in a band they all knew was killer kept them going. At the bottom of their street was an old cemetery called Rose Hill, where the band members would go for some smokey inspirationand where a lot of songwriting went on.
Playing was litterally everything to them. They played every day, often fueled by cheap wine, weed and sometimes, the brotherhood trademark, magic mushrooms. These jams became the blueprints for the band's sound. "A lot of ideas for the arrangements for the songs would come together through jamming," said Betts.
Meanwhile Duane took a few side trips up to Muscle Shoals, recording with Boz Scaggs, Clarence Carter and Arthur Conley. Since the Allman Brothers were lucky to make $100 a night, Duane's session fees, like any outside money, were essential to survival.
Before the Second Coming broke up they released a single, "I Feel Free" backed with "She Has Funny Cars." The cover of "I Feel Free" included on Dreams is modeled after the version on Fresh Cream except for Betts' solo, which is only loosely based on Clapton's. The big, rounded tone of his notes showed that Betts understood how Clapton had appropriated dynamics from Albert King and Freddie King.
"She Has Funny Cars," a cover fairly true to the Airplane version, shows Betts' eclecticism both as a vocalist and guitarist, as he gives Jorma Kaukonen's psychedelic guitar solo a freer, more countrified edge. "We recorded that song just to have a tape to send to the promoters," said Betts, "to say this is what the band sounds like. The radio station in Jackconville started playing our version of it and the damn thing got to be a regional hit - it was even written up in Billboard magazine. This is after the band broke up and the Allman Brothers were together, so we're up there in Macon with the Allman Brothers, Oakley and myself, listening to the radio and we heard that."
So when things got really tight during those early Allman Brothers rehearsals, Betts and Oakley could make a few bucks on the side billing themselves as the Second Coming.
Gregg recalls those scraping-by days fondly. "I'm proud that we stuck to our guns," he said, "even though we couldn't get jobs playing our own stuff. It was a revolt to do all original material but it was a very hungry revolt. Things got pretty thin there for a while until we started playing Piedmont Park for free every Sunday. But we stuck to it, we weren't gonna be a copy band.
"Oakley and Dickey would go off weekends and play and bring back the money and buy food for the guys back in the shack. Everybody shared everything. We used to go around and collect bottles to buy some chickens. We called them the Allman Brothers fried dead birds in lieu of the Colonel. Lemme tell you they were consumed with the gusto of a hound dog."
The Piedmont Park concerts, like the Second Coming's Jacksonville Sunday jams, inspired other bands like Lynyrd Skynyrd to write and play their own material. In September of '69, the Brothers went to New York to make a debut album. In two weeks they made a statement that changed the face of rock 'n' roll.
The band's musical premise was that the hardest rock intensity could work in a setting based on rhythmic subtlety and complex harmonic/melodic structures.
Others had played the Spencer Davis tune "Don't Want You No More" before but no band made it sound so dynamic. The record opens with this track, as Duane and Dickey Betts blast a clarion call of a dual lead guitar lines.
The band segues into "It's Not My Cross To Bear," and we hear Gregg's voice for the first time in all its gravelly , emotive glory. "Black Hearted Woman" jumps from its tricky time signature intro to the flailing verse structure with its call-and-response vocals and guitar parts, the relentless wail that would become the band's live trademark. The Yardbirds-style raveup at the end gave listeners a taste of what to expect live. Muddy Waters has always been a favorite source for Gregg, and "Trouble No More," Muddy's ironic commentary on hard times and bad women, is the first of many Gregg Allman renditions of Waters classics. Duane's slide work on this track offers searing counterpoint to Gregg's singing.
Duane's slide combines with Betts for a stately theme intro to "Every Hungry Woman," which builds through a dramatic guitar tradeoff between the two.
If one song could represent everything the Allman Brothers stood for at this point - a sense of vision that triumphed over a mind-numbing series of adversities, the deeply felt conviction that what they were doing was right, against all odds - that song would be "Dreams."
Gregg Allman, the miserable expatriate in southern California, pining for the restive familiarity of his home in the Southeast when he wrote this nocturnal vision, was codifying a new Southern myth.