Happy Birthday Berry Oakley: Watch Original Allman Brothers Band Lineup Perform At Atlanta Pop Festival
Today marks what would have been Berry Oakley’s 73rd birthday. The Allman Brothers Band founding bassist was born on April 4, 1948 in Chicago and later moved to Florida where he joined ABB co-founding guitarist Dickey Betts’ band The Second Coming. Duane Allman would recruit Betts and Oakley along with drummers Bucth Trucks and “Jaimoe” Johanson as well as his brother Gregg Allman on keyboards and lead vocals to form The Allman Brothers Band in 1969.
The band immediately began working hard and played over 300 shows in 1970, quickly establishing themselves as one of the best live bands in the country. Although they would release two studio albums in their first two years — the 1969 self-titled debut and Idelwild South in 1970 — it was their live album At The Fillmore East, that broke the band to a wider national audience. But the magic that was captured At The Fillmore East in New York City was something that the Allmans had been doing night in night out for two years and what many in the band’s home base of Georgia already knew, evident in their performance at the Atlanta Pop Festival in July 1970 just over a year since forming.
The Allman Brothers Band, superficially, might seem like a fitting moniker given that it contained two Allman brothers, but it truly was an apt name because the band was like a family. They were constantly on the road together and even when they weren’t they were rehearsing or just hanging out with each other in communal houses with their extended families. This familiarity formed a tight bond offstage and on. The band had chemistry and that, coupled with copious playing, is what made them so good. But like every family, they needed someone to hold them together, both onstage and off, and that person was Berry Oakley.
In a band that dazzled with two guitarists and two drummers, it was Berry Oakley’s bass that often held things down. But Oakley wasn’t one to just thump out single notes all the time. Berry could dazzle as well, matching Duane and Dickey’s guitar playing with melodic runs of his own while still holding down a solid foundation, the mark of any great bass player.
Both Berry’s foundational playing, as well as his melodic skills, can be glimpsed in rare footage from the aforementioned Atlanta Pop Festival which begins with “Statesboro Blues.” While the footage is edited, the performance sees Duane doing Duane things. But pushing the song along with a driving bassline is Berry. The band then gets into “Every Hungry Woman” from their 1969 self-titled debut. While the song has a basic blues riff, Berry bubbles around underneath the group like a kettle as the band cooks.
The clip really gives a great visual of how the original ABB lineup operated in the short time they were together. Sadly Duane Allman would die in a motorcycle accident on October 29, 1971. Duane’s death devastated Berry and he would tragically die from complications due to a motorcycle accident just over a year later on November 11, 1972.
To celebrate Berry Oakley’s birthday, watch (headphones suggested to hear the bass) The Allman Brothers Band perform “Statesboro Blues” and “Every Hungry Woman” at the 1970 Atlanta Pop Festival below via the JamBase Live Video Archive:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZGiR6KOK9Tc