Fort Brandon Armory was the National Guard facility in Tuscaloosa. One weekend a month the place was filled with guys playing soldier. The rest of the time it sat empty. A local entrepreneur worked out a deal to bring bands to the Fort on those empty weekend nights. The music was top notch and the place was big and roomy; a perfect concert venue.
One day in 1966 we heard about a new band that was scheduled to play. They were named after a candy bar and featured siblings who lived in Jacksonville. The drummer was a Tuscaloosa guy with a reputation for being associated with excellence.
The two brothers were tall and skinny and had shoulder length blond hair. One of them had a beat up Gibson guitar that looked as natural hanging from his shoulder as his arms. The other one stood behind a Vox organ and appeared to be narcoleptic.
The band started the first set with Like a Rolling Stone, a song no one else had the guts to try. The powerful sound that blasted from the speaker towers was like a hot blast and lasted for three hours. Everyone in attendance knew that something special was happening.
People who stood in the front and really listened were aware of a rare magical event. These were folks who played in bands and understood the difference between good and great. Most stood around slack-jawed through the first set and still talk about that night. We never got over those guys.
The 1966 Allman Joys changed several times before becoming the Allman Brothers Band in 1969. They still play the same sound today; a blues tinged jam rock featuring twin harmonic guitar leads, a boatload of percussion, and Gregg Allman’s incredible voice.
Duane is still considered the second greatest guitar player of Rock and Roll, even though he was killed while riding his motorcycle in 1971. Legend has it he was responsible for the opening lick of Layla.
His steadying influence got the floundering Derek and the Dominoes on the right track. Duane played lead guitar on albums for Aretha, King Curtis, and Wilson Pickett and demonstrated slide guitar to a slew of future blues men before Stevie Ray Vaughn could play scales.
I saw Gregg in a New Year’s Eve concert a few years ago in Birmingham, with a small blues combo. Just like the very first time, I was amazed that voice came out of a white man. He has a lot of miles; hard miles, but still sings as sweet as ever. In the Fort those many years ago, every song the band did sounded as if it was written for Gregg. The same is true today.
The Allman Brothers Band has persevered for forty years, gone through many changes, and still plays the same great stuff. They were magic, and it was obvious from the initial chord. Just like the first paragraph you read by Hemingway and seeing Sophia Loren walk across a movie screen.
Two extremely talented brothers, diverse and complimentary, invented Southern Rock and opened the door for countless others. A bunch of teenagers realized it that night at the Fort and at similar places all across the South during that summer. It didn‘t take Nostradamus to foretell their future.