COLUMN SEVENTY, APRIL 1, 2002
(Copyright © 2002 Al Aronowitz)
SPITTING IN THE FACE OF THE DEVIL
(Photo courtesy http://www.fame2.com/fame/allman.htm)
Yes, Berry Oakley lived in a nice part of town, on
lnneville Avenue in the Ingleside section of Macon, Georgia, lived in a house
with his wife Linda and their 4-year-old daughter, Brittany---not bad for a
24-year-old kid who once had been an altar boy in Chicago and had dreamed of
becoming a priest.
Berry had left Chicago when he was 15, left to play
guitar with The Romans, Tommy Roa’s backup band. Oh, it must have been great
to be 15 and on your own, earning money as your reward for all those long hours
of painful solitude you spent learning how to play your axe. What else did you
ever hope to achieve with your hard-earned talent? For Berry it was an adventure, like hopping a freight to a
nowhere that turned out to be a somewhere. The somewhere ended up down South.
After playing with The Romans for about a year, the South is where he hopped off
the freight. He was living in Jacksonville, Florida when Duane Allman found him.
In Jacksonville, Berry was playing with
local bands. To Berry, Duane was a big star, already a legendary session man in
Muscle Shoals. Berry was impressed
that Duane even wanted to know him. They began jamming together.
They jammed a lot. Duane even started living at Berry’s house in between
sessions. Then, when Jerry Wexler and Rick Hall told Duane to make
his own album, Duane picked Berry to play bass. They liked the way they got into
each other’s heads. They played together, they boozed together, they got
stoned together and they rode together. They
were both motorcycle nuts.
Duane was into motorcycles before he got into music. You must have heard the story. Motorcycles were Duane’s first love. He was 14 on the Christmas he got his first bike. That was the Christmas his kid brother Gregg got his first guitar. Gregg was a year younger than Duane and it wasn’t until Duane totaled his bike that Duane traded in the junked parts for his own guitar. Duane was such a
Duane didn't like
his own singing, so he never released his album
natural on the guitar that Gregg
didn’t want to compete, so he decided to switch to the keyboard. Yeah, Duane
was a bitch of a guitar player. He became famous playing the slide guitar.
why Jerry Wexler and Rick Hall got after him to record his own album. Duane
recorded the album, but he never
released it. He didn't like his singing on it. Not until later, after he met
Phil Walden and signed with Phil’s Capricorn Records, did Duane really get his
occurred back in Jacksonville. It was in one of the local parks that Duane and
Berry started jamming with Dickie Betts and Butch Trucks and Jai Johanny
Johanson. By that time Gregg was trying to make a name for himself on the West
Coast, but Duane called him back to the South to sing the vocals and play organ.
that was the start of the Allman Brothers Band. They called it the Allman
Brothers Band. But not because Duane and Gregg were brothers. Everybody
in the band all considered themselves brothers.
They moved to Macon because that's where Phil Walden
and his Capricorn Studios were. Not
that they were in Macon that often. The Allman Brothers were a touring band,
playing up and down the country, from the North to the South and from the East
Coast to the West Coast. They
played Southern Baptist blues/rock and they played it with the divine fever.
They were a boogying band. They
played with a throb and a pulse and a beat that lifted you up and up and got you
higher and higher.
To their devoted fans, they were the long-haired
band of the South the way the Grateful Dead were the long-haired band of San
Francisco. They were the kind of band that liked to play free gigs in the park.
Like the Dead, they liked to play all the time. And they did
play all the time.
When they weren’t on the road you could always
find Duane and Berry hanging out in downtown Macon at Grant’s Lounge or at the
Ad Lib Club, jamming with the groups that came through. You could find them
either there or on their bikes. The whole band was a bunch of motorcycle nuts.
They’d pack their bikes in their equipment trucks and ride them during
layovers while they were on the road. Motorcycles and music.
That was the Allman Brothers.
was killed October 29, 1971 at Hillerest and Bartlett Avenues in Macon.
It was just about nightfall and he was on his Harley-Davidson.
He swerved to avoid a truck making a turn in front of him and his bike
hit the curb. It flew up into the air and came down on top of him. He was taken
to the Medical Center of Middle Georgia in an ambulance and died on the
operating table three hours later. He was 24.
never lived to see the Gold Record the band got
for its Live At the Fillmore East album.
That night, Berry Oakley ran his Datsun 24OZ sports car into a tree.
He came out of it with only a few scratches.
Allman Brothers Band continued without Duane.
They couldn't find anybody to replace him with the same kind of deep
feeling he had for his music. They
kept touring and they kept getting bigger. Another album, Eat A Peach,
went Gold. But back in Macon, you
could still find Berry in between gigs hanging out at Grant’s or the Ad Lib,
jamming with groups like Wet Willie. Either that or riding his motorcycle.
They say the Allman Brothers had bad Karma. What's
the use of getting on stage if you can't spit in the face of the Devil? On one
Thursday, one of the group's roadies was hit from behind while stopped for a
light on his bike. The same day,
another roadie broke a collarbone. And also on that day, still another
roadie’s horse was shot by a hunter.
They say that Berry nearly ODed that week but that
He had spit in the face of the Devil and the Devil had spit back. Yes, the Allman Brothers had bad Karma ##
HERE TO GET TO INDEX OF COLUMN SEVENTY
CLICK HERE TO GET TO INDEX OF COLUMNS
Blacklisted Journalist can be contacted at P.O.Box 964, Elizabeth, NJ 07208-0964
The Blacklisted Journalist's E-Mail Address:
THE BLACKLISTED JOURNALIST IS A SERVICE MARK OF AL ARONOWITZ