Allman Brothers Band rebounded on Brothers and Sisters despite crushing loss

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Recorded in a period of deep emotional turmoil, Brothers and Sisters found the Allman Brothers leaning heavily on one another, recommitting to the band dynamic — and scoring a stunning first-ever platinum album along the way.

This project, released in August of 1973, was the first to be finished without any contributions from the recently deceased Duane Allman. The Allman Brothers Band was also dealing with the loss of bassist Berry Oakley, who was killed in a motorcycle accident in 1972 just three blocks from where Allman had suffered a similar fate the year before.

That led to the ascension of Dickey Betts (who penned both the country-tinged No. 2 hit “Ramblin’ Man” and the delightful instrumental “Jessica”), as well as the addition of pianist Chuck Leavell — who would radically alter the sound of a group that had long relied on a two-guitar front. Coupled with Gregg Allman’s stirring vocal showcase on “Southbound,” which found a home on FM radio, Brothers and Sisters would become a surprise chartopper for the Allman Brothers Band, sitting at No. 1 for five weeks.

They got there by keeping it simple. The cover image was of drummer Butch Truck’s son Vaylor; inside was a picture of the entire Allman Brothers Band’s extended family. Even the songs — is there a more shopworn conceit than the always-leaving lover man? — remained steadfastly straight forward. There are moments of sharp-edged wonder (Dickey Betts’ liquid slide work on “Pony Boy,” among them), but by smartly expanding their sound rather than trying to replace the truly irreplaceable Duane Allman, the group set a template for surviving that continues to this day.

Of course, even with the mainstream focus of Brothers and Sisters, the music still evolved into tumultuous live sets, each of them filled with extended instrumental interludes and dazzling reinterpretations. Such was the case at the Allman Brothers Band’ Winterland concert on Sept. 26, 1973 in San Francisco, the focus of two discs in what became a four-disc 2013 set to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Brothers and Sisters. Highlights included a searching, 16-minute exploration of “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed,” as well as previously unavailable live takes on “Midnight Rider,” “Trouble No More,” “Statesboro Blues” and “Whipping Post,” among others.

Completists could also dig into another complete disc featuring rehearsal tapes of tracks like “Wasted Words,” “One Way Out,” “Done Somebody Wrong” and “I’m Gonna Move to the Outskirts of Town,” as well as outtakes from “Early Morning Blues,” “Double Cross,” “Southbound” and the newly discovered “A Minor Jam,” this rollicking moment of unadulterated joy that’s anything but minor.

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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