Passionately plying his craft with a Fender Jazz bass rigged with a Guild Hagstrom pickup which his band-mates affectionately dubbed “The Tractor” due to the way it “rattled,” Allman Brothers founding member Raymond Berry Oakley III accomplished much in his tragically short career as a recording artist. Sandwiched between two young lion guitar virtuosos (Duane Allman, Richard Betts), two brilliant jazz inflected drummers (Jaimoe, Butch Trucks), and a keyboardist (Gregg Allman) given to rendering extended, droning passages, Oakley was the lone cat holding down the harmonic fort! No matter how many times I hear the Allmans’ classics, I am continually mesmerized by the way Berry’s lines weaved through the percolating rhythms and lengthy solos of the Brothers.
Focus on Oakley and you’d know exactly where the song was going. Among my favorite Berry Oakley performances are all of them! However I must single out the 6/8 swing section of “Stormy Monday” from Fillmore East, “Melissa,” “Blue Sky,” the studio and live renditions of “Whipping Post,” the entirety of “Mountain Jam” from Eat A Peach, and his final recording “Ramblin’ Man.”
Many magnificent bassists followed Berry in the Brothers, namely the dearly departed Lamar Williams and Alan Woody, along with David Goldflies and Oteil Burbridge – however Berry Oakley is the master, and has had the most lasting influence on the legion of jam bands that cite the iconic Allman Brothers as their template.