Oakley was born in Chicago, Illinois, raised in the suburb of Park Forest, Illinois, then moved to Florida where he met and joined Dickey Betts's band, The Second Coming. He was a founding member of The Allman Brothers Band in 1969, along with guitarist Duane Allman, Gregg Allman, who was the band's vocalist and keyboardist, Dickey Betts on co-lead guitar, and drummers Butch Trucks and Jai Johanny "Jaimoe" Johanson, both on drums, congas, and the band's percussionist.
With the Allman Brothers, Oakley was known for his long, melodic bass runs underneath Allman and Betts' furious guitar solos and jams. "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed", "Mountain Jam" and "Whipping Post" from the live album "At Fillmore East" capture Oakley at his best.
Berry Oakley was a natural musician, brought up on the blues. He’d moved to Florida as a teenager, finding himself a position in The Roemans – big-selling Tommy Roe’s touring band – when their bassist was drafted. Then came Second Coming, a politically charged rock band, before he claimed bassist position with the original Allman Brothers Band.
Under this banner, Oakley helped to set new standards for inspired improvised rock. However, The Allman Brothers Band were soon shattered by the loss of Duane Allman, their undisputed jewel in the crown ( October 1971 ). And as if this weren’t enough, just over a year later, an incident of ghostly similarity befell its second self-imposed leader. Heading for the Big House – the band’s communal residence, originally rented by Oakley and his family – the bass-player and his friend roadie Kim Payne were engaging in a bit of motorcycle horseplay. The pair wove in and out of the cars on Macon’s Bartlett Avenue until Payne decided to lose his buddy by putting his foot down. As he approached an intersection, a city bus appeared from the opposite direction; Payne managed to avoid the vehicle as its driver slammed on his brakes, but Oakley’s Triumph hit the bus full on. Like Duane Allman a year before, the rider skidded some sixty feet across the street, his machine landing on top of him. Refusing immediate medical treatment, Berry Oakley went into shock and walked away from the scene.
He died from a skull fracture later that afternoon, at the very same hospital where Allman had passed away the previous year. Position of bassist within the band proved to be unlucky: Oakley’s replacement Lamar Williams also died prematurely.
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