Formed from the ashes of two disbanded rival groups that had played the same southern circuit, The Allman Joys (based in Florida) and the Men-its (based in Alabama), the group was booked in early 1967 into a month-long engagement in St. Louis, Missouri, where they met members of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, whose manager, Bill McEuen, arranged for them a contract with Liberty Records.
Moving to Los Angeles, they were soon opening for groups like The Doors and Buffalo Springfield and recording their eponymous debut album, full of lighthearted poppy soul that was quite contrary to what the group was performing in various clubs and theatres in California such as the Fillmore West and Troubadour, picked out by the label from a pool of songwriters including Jackson Browne. The album flopped, perhaps because the group, aside from Gregg Allman, was sparsely used in the studio.
Onstage, the group rarely performed tracks from the album, preferring original material by the younger Allman alongside covers of Otis Redding and Yardbirds songs. Over the next few months, however, the group lingered, unable to perform outside of southern California due to label constraints. Eventually losing bassist Mabron McKinney, they soldiered on, performing concerts and recording a second album, Power of Love, which featured bassist Pete Carr. However, like their debut, Power of Love, which also featured the songwriting skills of Gregg Allman and material that fit the group much better than the material on their debut, flopped.
Pulling out one last-ditch effort by leaving Los Angeles to work at the legendary FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, the group recorded a handful of tracks that, for once, showed their full potential in the studio. After these tracks were rejected by the label, the group became dejected and broke up. The group over, Duane and Gregg Allman went to Jacksonville, Florida where they jammed with folk-rockers The 31st of February, featuring drummer Butch Trucks. The others went to do session work in Muscle Shoals.
Liberty Records threatening to sue the group for disbanding, they were given the rights to a solo album by Gregg Allman to keep them from doing so. However, tracks for the album were only issued twenty-five years later when they were released as bonus tracks on the compact disc reissues of the group's two albums. With his brother back in Los Angeles, Duane Allman temporarily joined his fellow bandmates in Muscle Shoals, eventually forming The Allman Brothers Band, enticing his brother back from Los Angeles.
The band was formed in Jacksonville, Florida on March 26, 1969, and consisted of Duane Allman (slide guitar and lead guitar), Gregg Allman (vocals, organ), Dickey Betts (lead guitar, rhythm guitar, vocals), Berry Oakley (bass), Butch Trucks (drums) and Jai Johanny "Jaimoe" Johanson (Drums).
The actual Allman brothers, Duane and Gregg, grew up in Daytona Beach, Florida, and had been playing music publicly since the early 1960s. They formed a garage band called the Escorts in 1963, which then evolved into the Allman Joys in 1965. From there the brothers formed The Hour Glass and moved to Los Angeles. The Hour Glass released two failed albums from Liberty Records in 1967 and 1968. They were all released from the contract except Gregg, who Liberty thought might have some commercial potential. Gregg and Duane had previously met Butch Trucks and his band the The 31st of February while touring as the Allman Joys, and decided to record an album with them in September 1968, shortly after the breakup of The Hour Glass. This album was eventually released as Duane & Greg Allman on the Bold Records label in 1972. Duane Allman played on Wilson Pickett's hit version of "Hey Jude" and became the primary session guitarist for FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, recording with Aretha Franklin, King Curtis, Percy Sledge, and others. Allman started jamming with Dickey Betts, Butch Trucks and Berry Oakley in Jacksonville. Eddie Hinton, with whom Duane Allman had played in Muscle Shoals, was considered to play guitar, but Hinton refused in order to join the Muscle Shoals studio band. Duane brought in Jaimoe, a drummer he had played with in the past. Gregg was in Los Angeles, fulfilling the Hour Glass contract with Liberty Records. He was summoned back to Jacksonville.
The Allman Brothers Band played numerous shows in the South before releasing their debut album, The Allman Brothers Band to great critical acclaim, though the blues-rock album found few listeners, attracting only a cult following. Most of the record had a blues-rock sound, but "Dreams", a spacy number in 12/8 time, would provide the framework for some of their live jams.
Idlewild South (1970), the followup, produced by Tom Dowd, was a massive critical success, and managed to be quite lucrative, as well. The upbeat "Revival" and the moody-but-resolute "Midnight Rider" showed the band getting more adept at shorter, radio-friendly song forms. (It was after the release of Idlewild South that Duane Allman joined in the recording of the classic Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs with Eric Clapton's Derek and the Dominos group.)
1971 saw the release of a live album, At Fillmore East, recorded on Friday and Saturday March 12 and March 13 of that year at the legendary rock venue the Fillmore East. The album was another huge hit. Rolling Stone listed At Fillmore East as one of Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time . It showcased the band's unique mixture of jazz, classical music, hard rock, and blues, with arrangements propelled by Duane's and Betts' dual lead guitars, Oakley's long, melodic "third guitar" bass runs, the rhythm section's pervasively percussive yet dynamically flexible foundation, and Gregg Allman's gritty Ray Charles-like vocals and piano/organ play which all completed the band's wall of sound. The rendition of Blind Willie McTell's "Statesboro Blues" was a straight-ahead opener, the powerful "Whipping Post" (with its famous 11/8 bass opening) became the standard for an epic jam that never lost interest, while the ethereal-to-furious "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed" invited comparisons to John Coltrane and Miles Davis and the complex and surpassingly subtle rhythms in the driving "One Way Out" kept beat-counters, as well as all others, at once puzzled and mesmerized.
The Allman Brothers were the last act to play the Fillmore East before it closed in June 1971. The final shows achieved legendary status, partly due to bands literally playing all night; in 2005 Gregg Allman would relate how the jamming musicians lost track of time, not realizing it was dawn until the side doors of the Fillmore were opened and the morning light poured in.
The band continued to tour; decades later, a special-order recording of one of their final concerts in this lineup, S.U.N.Y. at Stonybrook: Stonybrook, NY 9/19/71, would be released. It reveals that Duane Allman's slide guitar playing on "Dreams" and other songs was touching the farthest reaches of both that instrument and his imagination.