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Inside the Death of Berry Oakley, Another Allman Brothers Band Loss

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Former Allman Brothers Band guitarist Dickey Betts is always quick to celebrate the importance of bassist Berry Oakley’s contributions to the legendary Southern rock band. Before Oakley died on Nov. 11, 1972, he was responsible for some of the most iconic Allman riffs, including the opening of “Whipping Post.”

Yet, he’s remembered today more often for the way he died than the way he lived, and Betts works to fix that. “I bring up the importance of Berry Oakley in every interview, but it doesn’t always get printed,” Betts told Guitar World.

He and Oakley were part of a few groups before joining the Allmans, including the Soul Children – which became the Blues Messengers and then the Second Coming. Betts says the last group was “so named by a club owner because he thought Berry looked like Jesus Christ.”

As Oakley grew as a musician, he began matching those stirring runs by the Allman Brothers Band’s more famous guitarists with melodic counterpoint playing on tracks like “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” and “Mountain Jam.” Then Duane Allman was lost in a fatal 1971 motorcycle crash, and Oakley was said to have never fully recovered.

“I don’t think Berry really knew how to exist in a world without Duane,” Allmans drummer Butch Trucks later remembered. “The sparkle that was Berry was simply gone. He drank himself into a stupor almost daily. We continued to tour, but Berry’s heart just didn’t seem be 100 percent into it any more.”

The bassist ultimately died in a mishap that occurred three blocks away from the scene of Allman’s accident – and barely one year later. There were other eerie similarities. Oakley rode his ’67 Triumph motorcycle into a bus; Allman crashed into a truck.

Oakley initially declined medical treatment, but was later taken to the hospital were he died of cerebral swelling caused by a skull fracture. Berry Oakley was just 24 years old. He and Duane Allman are now buried next to each other at the Rose Hill Cemetery in Macon, Ga.

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