The Day the Allman Brothers Band Were Arrested in Alabama
On March 22, 1971, the Allman Brothers Band and some members of their road crew found themselves on the wrong side of the law, arrested on drug possession charges in rural Alabama.
Since forming in 1969, guitarist Duane Allman, singer and keyboardist Gregg Allman, guitarist Dickey Betts, bassist Berry Oakley and drummers Jaimoe Johanson and Butch Trucks had taken rock 'n' roll to genre-fusing places it had never seen and helped birth southern rock along the way. Their first two studio LPs were critical hits and steadily gaining favor with fans too. Their classic live album, At Fillmore East, would cement their legend by 1971.
That LP captured two shows – March 12 and 13, 1971 – during the sextet’s three-night stand at Bill Graham's venerated New York venue, and a shoot was promptly scheduled with photographer Jim Marshall, who snapped pictures not only of the musicians, but also of their roadies. The results can be seen on the iconic album cover, which reflected the Allmans’ blue-collar camaraderie with their road crew.
Good thing, because they would all be spending some time in tight quarters not long after they’d flown down south again, bound for concert dates in New Orleans and the Alabama cities of Montevallo and Tuscaloosa. But on March 22, a police officer sitting inside a Jackson, Ala., truck stop watched the long-haired band and crew casually saunter in. It didn't take long for trouble to start.
As related by writer Scott Freeman in his book Midnight Riders, "His instincts were good; the guys were a walking drugstore. They were charged with possession of heroin, marijuana and phencyclidine, the animal tranquilizer better known as PCP. Duane, Gregg, Jaimoe, Dickey, Butch, Berry [and roadies] Willie Perkins, Joe Dan Petty and David "Tuffy" Philips were all arrested and charged with possession." Even worse, Freeman contended, "Gregg had paranoid fear of jail cells and went crazy, climbing the bars and screaming before Duane made him shut up."
Even though they ultimately spent just one night in the slammer before being released the following morning after posting bonds of $2,000 each, the gang would be facing years in prison if narcotics convictions were handed down. A plea bargain was eventually reached, allowing most of those involved to plead guilty to disturbing the peace, pay a little more than $4,000 in fines and court costs and put the troubling episode behind them. Or, as Gregg put it succinctly in his autobiography, My Cross to Bear, “At one point, we [just] stopped playing in Alabama.”
Unfortunately, more trouble lay ahead for the Allman Brothers Band in 1971, which spent much of the next six months away from their Macon, Ga., home, touring intensively. In August, sax legend King Curtis -- a close friend of Duane's, thanks to countless shared studio sessions at Muscle Shoals -- was stabbed to death in New York City, leaving the Allmans' leader grieving. A month later, former roadie Twiggs Lyndon was tried for the murder of a club owner in Buffalo and got off with a six-month stint in the mental hospital on an insanity plea.
But the ultimate tragedy came in October, when Duane was killed in a motorcycle accident in Macon, which altered the band’s course and the deep brotherhood they had established among themselves and with their crew.