Nine days after recording an album in New York that would make the Allman Brothers America's most important rock group, the band, along with its road crew, was arrested for possession of heroin and marijuana back down South. The faces that adorn the front and back covers of At Fillmore East were being fitted for mug shots by Jackson, Alabama police, who made the arrest at a rural truckstop.
"One member of the band appeared intoxicated at the restaurant," said Jackson police chief G. Cranford, "and this prompted a further investigation and eventual search of their vehicle. The drugs were lying exposed on the seat in a car."
Later in the year, Rolling Stone ran a lengthy on-the-road story describing the Allman Brothers taking large amounts of cocaine, which writer Grover Lewis reported Duane Allman as calling "Vitamin C."
Lewis' lurid descriptions eventually came back to haunt band members in later years when they became the target of a federal drug probe.
Despite such considerations the band kept playing, night and day, as '71 wore on. Sold out headlining shows and long jams taking on all comers were the order of the day.
The Brothers played a series of shows with the Grateful Dead that resulted in legendary jam sessions. Duane had played with the Dead before , there exists a rare bootleg of him flashing leads on "Sugar Magnolia" and playing slide behind Pigpen singing "It Hurts Me Too."
Even when the band wasn't on a gig, time off was often spent rehearsing.
"When Duane was by himself, he liked to play acoustic guitar, sometimes dobro," said bassist David Hood, who worked with Duane in Muscle Shoals. "If you'd go somewhere and there was a guitar there, he'd sit down and play."
Private tapes recorded in early '71 offer a glimpse into the off-stage musical thought processes of the band, where they were going and what might have happened.
The rehearsals touched on two songs that would be highlights on the next two Allman Brothers albums, indicating the level of creative energy the band had at the time. They were growing by the week, searching for that moment of perfection band members described as "hittin' the note."
On the tape you hear the band trading off riffs and working out on song fragments - Betts showing Duane a new song on acoustic guitar, singing "I'm a ramblin' country man" as he tests out what would become "Ramblin' Man."
There's a lengthy jam on "My Favorite Things," the Rodgers/Hammerstein standard that John Coltraine transformed into a classic of jazz improvisation. One can only speculate what a full blown Allman brothers treatment of "My Favorite Things" might have sounded like.
Later the tape captures the band rehearsing the instrumental passages to "Blue Sky," experimenting with the phrasing of the melody, what key to play it in and how to structure the harmony arrangement.
The Allman Brothers were fittingly chosen to be the last band to play the Fillmore East, headlining a June 27 lineup that also included Albert King, the J. Geils band, the Beach Boys and Mountain.
Duane's good friend, saxophonist King Curtis, was murdered in front of his Harlem brownstone in August of '71, and Duane played at a star-studded funeral along with Aretha Franklin and Stevie Wonder. He was still obviously moved by the experience during a live Allman Brothers show on New York's WPLJ radio when he paid tribute to Curtis, then went on to incorporate Curtis' "Soul Serenade" into a blistering version of "You Don't Love Me."
In late summer the band began work on its next album, which Duane decided should be called Eat a Peach. After the flat-out jams on At Fillmore East, Peach was going to show more aspects of the band's writing.
Betts' country influence was ready to produce the classic "Blue Sky," which he had and Duane recorded during three weeks of sessions in Miami.
"Western swing bands from the '30s always used that twin-harmony guitar," said Betts, "and a lot of the songs were strongly influenced by that. That influence was probably what I offered Duane."
"Like 'Blue Sky,' which is one of the last things Duane played on, he's playing that kind of western swing."
The beautiful acoustic instumental "Little Martha," featured on Eat a Peach has Duane and Dickey Betts playing as a duet, but Berry Oakley also played bass on the track during the original sessions, and his part is reinstated here. Though the two-guitar version has a clarity that evokes a certain emotion, this version is more in line with the collectively improvisational nature of the band. Before the Miami session ended Duane put a slide part on "Stand Back."
It was just a break between sessions for the album. The band was taking a much deserved vacation back home, enjoying a ripe Georgia October filled with the sweet perfume of honeysuckle and a sun that turned mellow and friendly after the ruthless dog days of summer.
Duane showed up at the Allmans' "Big House" in Macon on Friday afternoon, October 29th, with birthday greetings for Berry Oakley's wife, Linda. Shortly after driving off on his motorcycle, around 5:45 p.m., Allman swerved to miss a truck and was killed in the fall.
It was a tragic, and senseless, but somehow fitting end for a musician who had lived his life with the abandon of a character out of "Easy Rider." The funeral service was held the following Monday in Macon. Three hundred family members and friends were on hand, including Mama A, Duane's divorced wife Donna and one year old daughter Galadriel.
Duane's guitar case was put in front of the casket, with the band's stage equipment in place behind it. The five remaining Brothers, joined by Thom Doucette on harmonica, played their hearts out for Duane - "The Sky Is Crying," "Key to the Highway," "Stormy Monday," "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed." A jam session with Dr. John on guitar and Bobby Caldwell on drums ensued, before Delaney Bramlett led everyong in singing "Will the Circle Be Unbroken."
Delaney went on to sing a solo tribute to Duane, ending with "Come On In My Kitchen," which Duane recorded with Bramlett on the Delaney and Bonnie Motel Shot album. Gregg then did a short solo tribute, accompanying himself on Duane's favorite acoustic guitar, before the band returned for one last time to play "Statesboro Blues."
It took several months before the devasted Brothers band could get back together. Finally they reconvened in early '72 to finish Eat a Peach. The new lineup recorded Gregg's bittersweet "Ain't Waistin' Time No More." Once again, Gregg's answer to tragedy was a defiant affirmation of life: "You don't need no gypsy to tell you why/You can't let one precious day slip by."
Hard times and tragedies do make you a stronger person," said Gregg, "as long as you don't have to meet 'em alone."
Like generations of musicians before him, Gregg's grief made him an even greater blues singer by giving him a long hard look at life's tenuous balance between joy and misery.
"If anything, playing the blues is an outlet for the real blues itself," said Gregg. "Playing in general is an outlet, an escape, to vent your problems. It's a shame everyone doesn't have an art form or something you can turn to when all else fails."
Betts offered his own tribute to Duane back in the studio, playing a beautifully sculpted bottleneck part inspired by Duane.
"Duane Allman is immortal for his slide playing," Betts flatly stated. "He's in the line of great slide players, Robert Johnson to Elmore James to Duane Allman."
The Betts instrumental "Les Brers in A Minor" is an idea that developed during the Fillmore East jams. It's driven here by Oakley's fat bass solo and a sprightly guitar solo from Betts. Duane's absence on the inevitable twin-guitar climb-up section is sadly noticeable.
Gregg's "Melissa," another world weary ballad, rounds out the album. Gregg said that "Melissa" was the first song he tried to write, but it took him years to finish.
"That was about somebody that I wished I had at the time on the road."
The band returned to the road and slowly gathered strength. Duane's death emphasized the extended family ties that bound this Macon band together, and the next record, Brothers and Sisters, was to be a totally hometown project, the first Brothers album recorded exclusively at Capricorn's Macon studio.
As work began on the record the band was in excellent form. Rather than try to replace Duane on guitar, keyboardist Chuck Leavell was added. Leavell was an accomplished blues and jazz player who shared some of the fusion leanings of the band and was hungry to play. His flowing melodic lines, funk roots and harmonic sophistication was abreath of musical inspiration for the band.
Gregg's "Wasted Words" was a fitting intro, a spirited put-down of a former lover featuring Betts' trademark slide guitar.
Betts' "Ramblin' Man" had grown from the "ramblin' country man" version he'd shown Duane on acoustic guitar a year before to a fully realized pop song that would become the biggest hit the band evr had.
It's pure Betts, country-based and making the best use of his sweet, high voice. Betts had been working with guitarist Les Dudek and paid the session man the ultimate compliment, cutting him in on the lead and harmony guitar parts that were absolutely crucial to the song's sound.
Before the sessions could continue tragedy struck the band again. On November 11, 1972, Berry Oakley died of a concussion after striking a bus while riding on his motorcycle.
Oakley had taken Duane's death very badly, and had been in several accidents in the year since his friend and bandmate died. But the impact of losing a charter member and mainstay of the group so soon after losing its absolute leader was devastating.
Yet the band continued on bravely, adding bassist Lamar Williams and completing Brothers and Sisters. Betts dominated the rest of the session, which featured another of his songs that would become an Allman Classic, "Southbound"; the instrumental "Jessica"; and the country blues-style "Pony Boy."
In the summer of '73 The Allman Brothers played to over a half million people on a bill with the Grateful Dead and the Band at Watkins Glen in upstate New York. But the dream was disintegrating.
"I know it was a very tough to continue that group with the loss of Duane," Betts said, "but then we lost Berry also it was pretty hard to recover from that one. It kind of seemed like the end of an era."
Gregg Allman had, in fact, already been working on a solo album even before the recording of Brothers and Sisters. The record was a series of sessions with a variety of players in a vide ranging instrumental setting from acoustic blues to a 40 piece orchestra.
Though Gregg wasn't forming a solo band to make the album, Capricorn session keyboardist Chuck Leavell's work on Gregg's solo album was part of the reason he was invited to join the Allman Brothers band.
Gregg's Laid Back was finally released in the fall of '73. Produced by Gregg and Johnny Sandlin, it struck a much more somber and contemplative mood than Gregg's work with the Allmans might have suggested. One of the most revealing cuts is the eerie, stripped-down remake of "Midnight Rider," which sounds more like a ghost story in the starkly drawn version Gregg gives it here.
Allman toured with an excellent band highlighted by multi-instrumental Randall Bramblett in the spring of '74. A recording of that tour, The Gregg Allman Tour, was released toward the end of the year.
Meanwhile Betts had put together is first solo project, Highway Call, in between Allman Brothers gigs.
Betts let his love of country music take center stage on his solo record, from which "Long Time Gone" is included on Dreams.
Betts took the country music route one step further on a '74 solo tour that he hoped would trace the evolution of country music from its bluegrass roots to his own progressive style.
Gregg also toured in '74, but both musicians as well as manager Phil Walden spent most of their time during the tours denying reports that the Allman Brothers had broken up.
Though the band was indeed on its last legs, they were still very much alive in the studio. Win, Lose or Draw was a solid record that has been unduly overlooked in the band's history.
The rendition of Muddy Water's "Can't Lose What You Never Had" opens the album on a powerful note. Muddy's song spits in the face of failure as the lyric recounts a series of tragedies, which are finally brushed away in a tone of haughty self mockery with the refrain: "You can't spend what you ain't got/You can't lose what you never had."
Sentiment like that could make such a song the blues national anthem, and Gregg takes it for all he's worth, drawling and suffering throught the verses as the band chops behind him with evil purpose, then sneering the chorus lines.
At moments like this you'd swear that Gregg could laugh at the devil.
Win, Lose or Draw turned to out to be this band's last gasp. Gregg had become involved in a heavily publicized relationship with Cher during the recording of the album (they were married in June of '75) and the delays caused by his absence irritated the other band members.
But there were larger forces at work to drive the band apart. The Allman Brothers and local Macon pharmacists had been targeted for investigation by a federal drug probe. Allman was offered immunity from prosecution in exchange for his testimony, which was used in part to indict Macon pharmacist Joe Fuchs and Allman Brothers tour director John "Scooter" Herring on charges of conspiracy to distribute narcotics.
Fuchs pleaded guilty, but Herring's case went to trial, and in late June Allman testified against his former bodyguard, saying he had purchased drugs from Herring on at least 15 occasions.
Herring also pled guilty and served a couple of years in jail. The rest of the band was outraged at Allman, and Betts said he would form his own group. Johanson, Leavell and Williams had already joined together as Sea Level. The Allman Brothers Band no longer existed.
Allman fled to Los Angeles and his tempestuous marriage to Cher, vowing never to return to Macon again.
Gregg recalls that period of his life like a haunted man talking about a recurrent nightmare. "I was in L.A. for three years," he said. "I went into a slump there. I could exist out there but I couldn't live."
Despite his troubles, Gregg continued to work, making a record with Cher, Two the Hard Way, as well as another solo album, Playing Up a Storm.
Meanwhile, Betts put together Great Southern, a new band with the same instrumentation as the Allman Brothers. The two guitar harmonies were back, with Dan Toler supporting Betts admirably. Toler had known Betts since Capricorn's early days, when Toler's band, Melting Pot, bassist Ken Tibbets and drummer Jerry Thompson, were also tabbed for Great Southern. The band's debut album was a legitimate extension of what Betts had been doing with the Allman Brothers.
"Bougainvillea," one of the high points of the record, was co-written by Betts and a struggling songwriter friend of his, Don Johnson, who was still years away from the celebrity status he would achieve as the star of "Miami Vice."
Though the album sold moderately, the band's live performances drew crowds of committed fans and earned critical raves. After an April show at New York's Bottom Line, Robert Palmer of the New York Times said that Betts "proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that he is one of the great rock guitarists."
By the time Betts recorded a second Great Southern album, Atlanta's Burning Down, he had replaced everyone in the group except Toler and drummer Doni Sharbono.
Toler had a lot of input into the new lineup, recommending bassist David Goldflies to Betts and bringing in his brother, Dave Toler, as the second drummer. The optimism this tightly-knit group must have had at the outset is captured on the uptempo rocker "Good Time Feeling." Another high point of the album is the vocal duet between Betts and Bonnie Bramlett, "Mr. Blues Man."
Betts had softened his attitude toward Gregg Allman after the final bloodletting of the Allman Brothers breakup, which included a series of angry interviews with angry band members in Rolling Stone.