Allman Brothers Band Lineup Changes: A Complete Guide
The Allman Brothers Band celebrates its 45th anniversary this year, an impressive milestone under the best of circumstances — and as any fan could tell you, the Allmans have had to fight through more than their share of bad times along the way.
Dogged by tragedy and burdened by conflict almost from the beginning, the Allmans have persisted in the face of tremendous adversity, triumphing with some of the most enduring classics of the rock era while continually testing their musical limits as one of the most popular live acts of their generation. And although there were really only two Allmans in the lineup when the group launched in 1969, its spirit of brotherhood has included a long list of bandmates through the years — and with guitarists Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks scheduled to depart at the end of 2014, that list seems likely to keep growing.
Brothers Duane and Gregg Allman got their first big break with the band Hour Glass, but after a couple of little-heard records and 1967 and ’68, the group split, with Duane starting a prolific career as a session guitarist while Gregg contemplated a solo career. But by the fall of ’69, Duane had started a new band with guitarist Dickey Betts, bassist Berry Oakley, and drummers Butch Trucks and Jai Johanny “Jaimoe” Johanson. Summoned by Duane to add the final missing ingredient, Gregg joined the lineup, and the Allman Brothers were born.
The Allman Brothers Band found almost immediate success, with hit records to match their growing reputation as an incredible live act. But just when it seemed like they were getting warmed up, tragedy struck: On October 29, 1971, Duane lost his life in a terrible motorcycle accident, forcing the band that bore his name to decide whether to soldier on without one of the most talented musicians of his era.
How do you replace a legend? In the Allman Brothers’ case, the answer was “indirectly.” Rather than add another guitar to the lineup, the band hired pianist Chuck Leavell to contribute another lead instrumental voice to the mix, adding an intriguing — albeit sadly short-lived — twist to the Allmans sound.
Tragedy struck again for the Allmans on November 11, 1972, when Oakley succumbed to injuries suffered in a motorcycle accident mere blocks from the site of Duane’s crash in 1971. Forced to deal with another death in the family, the band added bassist Lamar Williams, debuting the new lineup with 1973’s ‘Brothers and Sisters’ LP.
Sadly, even as the Allman Brothers’ commercial profile continued to rise, bad habits and personality conflicts conspired to drive the band members apart. By the time they entered the studio for 1975’s ‘Win, Lose or Draw,’ the group had started to splinter, and when Gregg agreed to testify against Allmans associate ‘Scooter’ Herring in a federal drug trial, it proved the final straw. Leavell, Johanson, and Williams left to form a new band, Sea Level, while Betts devoted himself to his solo career, and all four publicly vowed never to work with Allman again.
Fortunately for fans, the Allmans’ breakup proved short-lived; the band reunited in 1978, with guitarist Dan Toler and bassist David Goldflies standing in for Leavell and Williams. 1979’s ‘Enlightened Rogues’ served as something of an artistic rebound, but internal turmoil and changing trends didn’t do the group any favors in the marketplace, where their sales entered a painful slump.
The Allmans’ bumpy reunion hit another rough patch with the dismissal of Johanson, and although the band replaced him with David Toler — and added keyboardist Mike Lawler — the new additions failed to halt the group’s critical and commercial slide. By the time they broke up again in 1982, it seemed like the Allman Brothers Band was done for good.
It took some time for the old wounds to heal, but eventually, the Allman Brothers Band regrouped following its 1982 split — first in 1986, for a pair of benefit shows featuring a lineup that included Allman, Betts, Trucks, Jaimoe, Leavell, and Dan Toler. The shows didn’t lead directly to a full-fledged reunion, but in ’87, Allman and Betts hit the road for a co-headlining tour that hinted at bigger things to come.
1989 brought the official reunion fans had been waiting for, and a 20th anniversary tour that found original members Allman, Betts, Jaimoe, and Trucks hitting the road with a few new faces: guitarist Warren Haynes, who’d previously been a member of Betts’ band; keyboardist Johnny Neel; and bassist Allen Woody. The following year, the band returned to record stores with its 10th studio album, the well-received ‘Seven Turns.’
The bulk of the ’90s were a relatively stable time for the Allmans. Following Neel’s quick departure, the group welcomed percussionist Marc Quinones into the fold and released a pair of LPs (1991’s ‘Shades of Two Worlds’ and 1994’s ‘Where It All Begins’) while reestablishing themselves as one of rock’s premier live acts. If they weren’t selling as many records as they used to (or releasing them, for that matter), the band finally seemed to have settled into a groove — at least until Haynes and Woody left in 1997 to focus on their equally hard-touring side project, Gov’t Mule.
Haynes and Woody’s departures were a definite loss, but they didn’t slow down the band’s steady touring schedule; with new guitarist Jack Pearson and bassist Oteil Burbridge in place, they were back on the road in 1997.
The Allmans closed out the ’90s with yet another personnel shift, saying goodbye to Pearson and adding new guitarist Derek Trucks, nephew of founding Allmans drummer Butch Trucks. A mere 20 years old in ’99, Derek was already a seasoned studio vet who had performed with the band on multiple occasions, and his official membership foreshadowed his rise as one of the most sought-after and respected rock guitarists of the 21st century.
If Derek Trucks’ introduction to the lineup emphasized the family bonds at the heart of the Allman Brothers Band, the group’s next change served as a reminder of the terrible conflicts that once drove them apart. Prior to the band’s 2000 tour, they announced they were parting ways with Betts for “personal and professional reasons,” and for their next round of dates, they replaced him with Aquarium Rescue Unit guitarist Jimmy Herring.
Herring quickly left the Allmans to join Phil Lesh and Friends (and later, Widespread Panic), but he was replaced by a familiar face: Haynes, who opted to soldier on following Woody’s sudden death in 2000 by splitting his time between the Allmans and Gov’t Mule. Although the ensuing years offered little in the way of new music, producing only one studio album (2003’s ‘Hittin’ the Note’), they marked a period of remarkable stability and growing respect for the band — one whose future was thrown into doubt on Jan. 8, 2014, when Haynes and Trucks announced they’d be leaving the lineup at the end of the year. The band then announced that they would end their incredible 45 year career with a string of October dates at their beloved Beacon Theatre in New York.