Gregg Allman rests in Rose Hill Cemetery in Macon Georgia near his brother Duane and Berry Oakley. They lie yards from Soldiers Square where Macon buried 600 of her Confederate war dead. Their view is of a shaded lawn, leading down to the railroad and river – Southbound. A memorial is under construction and two workers toil to clear mud, water, and debris from the area where Duane and Berry will soon rest next to Gregg. It is a solemn and quiet place where the faint echoes of their music can be heard on the breeze.
If you stand quietly and listen at the foot of Gregg Allman’s grave, you might hear them still. Music is in the air, floats above and around your head – hard to grasp, teasing – heard, but not heard. Swirling guitar, syncopated jazzy drumming, wondrous deep wandering bass, gritty broken vocals are in the air, in the trees, on the breeze.
In 1971, the Brothers played the Fillmore in New York City three times for $1250 per show. The recordings of those performances are the most authentic Allman Brothers music to be found. Black blues, white country, glittering jazz jumble together in a boisterous, heroic experiment. Duane’s flaming guitar is answered by the sweetest Dicky Betts melodic riffs, backed by Berry’s stupendous and soaring bass, paced by Jaimoe and Butch’s syncopated drumming and Gregg’s thundering vocals. It is the Devils music.
They were 20-somethings then, living together in a Big House in deep south Macon as Vietnam wound down, the shock of assassinations dulled, and Nixon spun more lies. They traveled in a near dead Winnebago, worked on the music and cared not about politicians, commercialism, record producers or money men. They were musicians, lovers, artists, and un-repentant hippies. Theirs was a courageous progressive roar from native Southern boys staking claim to a future free of bigotry, lies, and corruption. Those things didn’t matter, all care about them had been burned away. Create and believe.
Tragic accidents and drug abuse broke the spell. The accidents were cruel fate, and it was inevitable that drugs and alcohol would have their way with such free spirits. Experimentation didn’t end with music but carried over into life. Sudden death and the tightrope of substance abuse dimmed and dulled genius.
But listen – Gregg sings mischeiviously about being turned away in Statesboro, Dicky takes up the refrain with a sweet round country guitar that sashays into modern swing. Duane slides in, his soaring guitar the glittering, jangled voice of a half-crazy sprite. Berry thrums below them, supporting and directing. All at once, they are off on an extended jam, playing to and for each other – Brothers forever, gone but never forgotten.