Without a doubt, the Allman Brothers Band had a tumultuous history. It took several years for the six core members to come together, but by March of 1969, original bandmates Duane Allman, Butch Trucks, and Jaimoe had solidified a group that included Gregg Allman, Berry Oakley, and Dickey Betts. The first song they played together was Muddy Waters‘ “Trouble No More”. Within a few days, they decided on a name: the Allman Brothers Band. Their careers would go on to become legendarily successful, though turbulent times would ultimately define the band with a series of untimely deaths and breakups.
The downfall of the Allman Brothers Band began when founding member and band leader Duane Allman died in a motorcycle crash on October 29th, 1971 in the band’s hometown of Macon, Georgia. Leaving the band devastated after a short but successful three years together, Duane’s death ultimately defined the future of the band that would continue for 42 more years in his honor.
On November 11, 1972, a little over a year after Duane’s death, bassist Berry Oakley crashed his motorcycle just three blocks away from where Duane had crashed his, at the intersection of Napier Avenue and Iverness in Macon. Oakley collided with a city bus and was thrown from his motorcycle and struck his head on the road. After declining medical treatment, he returned home. Only a few hours later, he was rushed to the hospital and died of cerebral swelling from a fractured skull. Considering the glaring similarities in date and location between Duane and Berry’s accidents, along with fact that Duane’s death notably weighed heavily on Berry in the ensuing months, many have speculated that Oakley’s fatal accident was not entirely accidental.
Both Duane Allman and Berry Oakley died at the age of 24 and were laid to rest next to one another at the Rosehill Cemetery in Macon, Georgia, where the band would famously spend much of their time getting direct inspiration for songs like “Elizabeth Reed” and “Little Martha”. Gregg Allman is now in the space next to them.
Berry Oakley was an instrumental part of the early Allman Brothers’ sound, with his bass chords defining some of the band’s most popular songs like “Whipping Post”, ” “Mountain Jam”, “Les Brers”, and countless others. During his all-too-short tenure with the band Berry contributed to some of their most important records, including The Allman Brothers Band (1969), Idlewild South (1970), At Fillmore East (1971), Eat a Peach (1972), and the first two tracks of Brothers and Sisters (1973).
On the anniversary of Berry Oakley’s death, we celebrate him and his legacy with some of our favorite videos and recordings below:
[Originally published 11/11/17]