Berry Oakley's thundering bass and charismatic on-stage presence often overshadow the fact that he was a very reflective, idealistic and results-oriented person. It's well known that his musical journey led him from Chicago to Florida, where he hooked up with Dickey Betts, played in The Second Coming, met Duane Allman, and joined the Allman Brother Band. What's not so well known is that Berry established a communal lifestyle in Florida.
When the Allman Brothers Band moved to Macon, it was Berry who found a house they could live, rehearse, celebrate and withdraw to together. He encouraged sit-down family dinners at least once a week and felt very strongly that everyone in their extended family give back something to their adopted home. While the constant-touring of the Allman Brothers Band limited their civic involvement, it was not uncommon to see stories and photos of their wives and girlfriends in the Macon newspaper recording their involvement with some worthy local cause.
On November 11, 1972, Berry was riding with Kim Payne, a member of the road crew, when he took his Triumph motorcycle into a curve too fast and hit a Macon City bus. Immediately after the accident Berry said he was fine and refused treatment. Later that evening, he was taken to the same hospital. He had suffered a skull fracture and died.
A resolution designating a portion of State Highway 19 in Macon as "Duane Allman Boulevard" and a bridge thereon as "Raymond Berry Oakley III Bridge" in honor and remembrance of late founding members of the Allman Brothers Band has been passed.
Born April 4, 1948 in Chicago, Illinois, Raymond Berry Oakley was a very important part of the sound in the early days of the Allman Brothers Band. He was the founding bass player. Duane didn't want somebody who just played bass, he wanted someone who was capable of taking the instrument and the music to a different level. In Berry, he found the perfect person.
The following is an account of Berry's formative years in music, according to my friend Brian Paul, who is originally from Chicago and now lives in Dallas.
"Berry was one of the original hot licks lead guitar players in the Chicago area back in the '60s. His band, The Shanes, and my group used to play many of the same venues. Since my band was comprised of guys a year or so younger than Berry and his guys, we often were the warm-up act," he said. "Berry used to play a forest green Strat through a 2 X 12 Sears Silvertone amp back then, and it sounded great!
"As the band gained popularity in our area, they got to play with some pretty big name acts of the time, including the Byrds. One group they played with a lot was Tommy Roe's backup band, the Roemans. This is where Berry got his first big break. The Roemans' bass player was drafted, leaving a void. Berry's band was playing the warm-up show for them at Westwood Junior High in Park Forest, Illinois when he found out about the impending departure of their bass player, and volunteered to take his place. The only problem was that Berry did not play bass! So he pressed into service the talent of his good friend and former bass player, Jim May. Jim was the guy who got Berry playing bass. He coached him for about two weeks to get him going. Berry then dropped out of Rich East High School and went on the road with the Roemans. The rest is history."
After his stint with Tommy Roe's group, Berry ended up in Florida, playing with various bands in the lucrative beach scene there. At first, he played a Guild bass, then later switched to his famous Fender Jazz basses, one of which he routed and put a Guild pickup into. This bass became known affectionately as the "Tractor" because of it's unsightly appearance. It ended up with Dickey Betts, who graciously offered it to Berry's son, Berry Duane Oakley, who is currently a full time working musician with many projects and bands
When Berry met Duane, Berry and Dickey were in a band called the Second Coming, with Dickey. Unwilling to break up his band situation and friendship with Dickey, Berry declined Duane's first offers to join his group; so, as stated in the Duane Allman article (VG, November '96), they both joined the band. The combination of these two lead guitar players and this fiery, guitar-inspired brand of bass playing, along with the 2-drummer lineup, gave the band a distinctive sound that is still studied today.
Berry, his wife Linda, and daughter Brittany, were also the original renters of the Big House in Macon. Berry was the unspoken leader after Duane passed and used to love to hold court at huge dinners in the ample dining room. One of his first purchases for that home was a huge wooden table placed in the dining room, used for communal dinners. He was very happy in this home and ruled it accordingly.
One of his hard and fast rules was that there was to be no illegal substances stored in the house. The band, looking not quite like your normal residents of early '70s Macon, didn't want any undue attention. There is a garage on the rear of the property where motorcycles and various and sundry other recreational things were kept, or so I'm told.
Another thing mentioned in the Duane piece was the terrible tragedy and coincidence of the motorcycle crashes on the streets of Macon. On November 11, 1972, Berry was riding with Kim Payne, a member of the road crew, when Payne took his Triumph motorcycle into a curve too fast and hit a Macon City bus. Later that evening, Berry was taken to the same hospital where Duane had died just over a year earlier, and experienced the same fate. This cruel twist was more than most groups could have faced, but they marched on with Lamar Williams, an old friend of Jaimo's, as their new bass player. Berry's grave is in the plot to the right of Duane's, facing them from the Ocmulgee River in Macon's peaceful Rose Hill Cemetery.
The Georgia Allman Brothers Band Association (GABBA) has replaced the angels at the foot of Berry and Duane's graves, stolen by overzealous fans. I urge you to visit the sight if you have the opportunity, but to also show respect. GABBA has also placed trash containers nearby. The Association holds a cleanup day at its annual meeting, and does a fine job of maintaining the site with the dignity deserved by one of America's finest musicians
(first published in 'Vintage Guitar Magazine', December 1996, Vol. 11 No. 3, By: Dave Kyle)
SENATE RESOLUTION 653
By: Senator Brown of the 26th
Designating a portion of State Highway 19 in Macon as "Duane Allman Boulevard" and a bridge thereon as "Raymond Berry Oakley III Bridge" in honor and members of the Allman Brothers Band; and for other purposes. WHEREAS, in 1969, a group of young but already seasoned and demonstrably and incredibly talented musicians, including guitarist Duane Allman, bassist Berry Oakley, vocalist and organist Gregg Allman, guitarist Dickey Betts, percussionist Butch Trucks, and percussionist Jaimoe, formed the Allman Brothers Band and established the band's home in Macon in April of that year; and WHEREAS, at now legendary jam sessions at their initial base on College Street, their later home at the "Big House" on Vineville Avenue, and other locations in and around Macon, including Rose Hill Cemetery and a farm known as Idlewild South, the band fused elements of blues, jazz, rock, and country music to create a musical genre now known and loved as "southern rock" and became one of the most exciting groups of performers ever to take the stage; and
WHEREAS, the band members' talents and tour de force marathon performances across the nation not only received critical acclaim and awed their peers among musical greats but also served to inspire countless others and made Macon a musical mecca; and WHEREAS, Duane Allman's all too brief life was tragically ended at age 24 by a motorcycle accident on a street in Macon on October 29, 1971, and Berry Oakley suffered a similar fate at the same age and at almost the same location a year later on November 11, 1972; and WHEREAS, although their presence is sadly missed, these musicians' incomparable and wide ranging talents, creativity, inspiration, soulfulness, and dedication to their art stirringly remain evidenced in legacies of live performances and studio recordings of such songs and compositions as "Statesboro Blues," "Dreams," "Midnight Rider," "Whipping Post," "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed," "Mountain Jam," "Blue Sky," and "Little Martha"; and WHEREAS, while the bodies of Duane Allman and Berry Oakley rest peacefully in Rose Hill Cemetery, the spirit of each, like the road, "goes on forever," and the love and intensity with which they lived their lives and made their music remain always in the hearts and minds of family and legions of fellow Maconites, musicians, friends, and fans worldwide; and
WHEREAS, it is only fitting and proper that their lives and memories be honored by this state and in the community which they graced with their gifts and spirits. NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED BY THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF GEORGIA that the portion of State Highway 19 from its intersection with Holt Avenue to its intersection with College Street in the City of Macon is designated as "Duane Allman Boulevard." BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the bridge on that same portion of State Highway 19 which spans Interstate 75 is designated as "Raymond Berry Oakley III Bridge." BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED the the Department of Transportation is authorized and directed to erect and maintain appropriate signs so designating that portion of the highway and the bridge, respectively.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Secretary of the Senate is authorized and directed to transmit appropriate copies of this resolution to the Department of Transportation, the family of Duane Allman, and the family of Berry Oakley.
Clerk of the House
Robert E. Rivers, Jr., Clerk