Happy Birthday Berry Oakley: 1971 Allman Brothers Band Recording Surfaces

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The Allman Brothers Band bassist Berry Oakley was born in Chicago on this date in 1948. Oakley was a founding member of the group, who recently celebrated the 50th anniversary of their first rehearsal. Berry, Gregg Allman, Johanny “Jaimoe” Johanson, Butch Trucks, Dickey Betts and Duane “Skydog” Allman quickly gained a reputation as one of the best live bands of the day and scored commercial success with the release of their 1971 live album At Fillmore East. Tragically, Berry Oakley died in a motorcycle accident on November 11, 1972. In honor of what would have been Raymond Berry Oakley III’s 71st birthday, here’s a look at a clip of the original lineup’s March 27, 1971 performance that recently surfaced.

Berry wasn’t the first member of the famed group to lose his life in a motorcycle accident, as Duane Allman met the same fate on October 29, 1971. Oakley’s crash took place just three blocks from where Duane died. The bassist was severely depressed by Skydog’s death and friends said he was never the same after the incident. Brother Berry appears on three ABB studio albums as well as on At Fillmore East.

Live recordings of the original Allman Brothers Band lineup are fairly rare. So, it was a treat when a segment of audio from the group’s March 27, 1971 gig was posted on YouTube 48 years to the day later. While the clip is less than nine minutes long, any recordings featuring Berry and Duane are much appreciated. The segment starts with a bit of “In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed” and though sadly Duane’s solo is cut, a full version of “Hot ‘Lanta” is included. “We’re gonna stop for a couple of minutes, the bass player broke a string,” Skydog tells the crowd between songs. “He’s gotta replace it, we’ll be back in just a second.”

Local singer/songwriter Bruce Springsteen opened for The Allman Brothers Band that night at the Sunshine In in Asbury Park, New Jersey. Here’s an excerpt of an article JamBase posted about that special evening on the Jersey Shore:

According to BruceBase, both Springsteen and Steven Van Zandt were fans of the Allmans and lobbied hard to get on the bill. Problem was, The Boss didn’t have a band. Steel Mill had broken up, so Springsteen rounded up a group of his musical friends and utilized the moniker “Friendly Enemies.” Bruce was backed by Steve Van Zandt (guitar), Garry Tallent (bass), David Sancious (keyboards), Vini Lopez (drums, vocals), Southside Johnny (harp, vocals), Albee Tellone (sax, vocals), former Rogues member John ‘Hotkeys’ Waasdorp (electric piano), Bobby Feigenbaum (tenor sax), Bobby Williams (drums, vocals) and Tinker West (congas) at the Asbury Park performances.

While both the Allman Brothers Band and Bruce Springsteen setlists from March 27, 1971 have gone undocumented, there’s a bit on BruceBase about that evening which really warms out hearts: “Apparently, The Allman Brothers got a kick out of Bruce’s combination of zany props and inspired music. Backstage between shows Duane Allman gave some slide guitar tips to Steve Van Zandt and also played some impromptu slide on top of a soundboard tape listening session of Bruce’s early show that Tinker West was conducting. Allman was quoted as saying ‘that’s one cookin’ band, man.’”

So, how did the tape go uncirculated for 48 years? “A band I worked for at the time was managed by the same guy (Tinker West) as Bruce was and he used to record a lot of Bruces shows on reel to reel. Sometimes he would record over them when our band played. A few years ago I was transferring some of the old reel to reels to cd and came across this tape,” a member of the Duane Allman – Skydog Fan Page on Facebook explained. “Scribbled on the box it said ‘side two, Allmans Sunshine In.’ Low and behold there wasn’t much on it but we get to hear the last bit of ‘Elizabeth Reed’ and a full version of ‘Hot ‘Lanta.’ With Duane letting us know that Berry had broken a string.”

Listen to The Allman Brothers Band perform part of “Liz Reed” and “Hot ‘Lanta” at Sunshine In in Asbury Park, New Jersey on March 27, 1971: