Lamar Williams became the latest casualty in the long-running saga that was The Allman Brothers Band. The tragic – and remarkably similar – deaths of celebrated founder Duane Allman ( October 1971) and original bassist Berry Oakley ( November 1972) had etched the group’s legacy deep in stone before the death of second bassist Williams added to the sad mystique of this truly original band.
Two months after Oakley’s passing, longtime percussionist ‘Jaimoe’ Johanny Johanson recommended a friend of his for the new role – that friend was Lamar Williams, an ex-Vietnam veteran who specialized in traditional R & B. The album "Brothers and Sisters" (1973) was in mid-construction when Oakley rode out on his Triumph for the last time, and – with dark fortune – Williams’s input gave the band’s by-now-familiar sound a warmth it mightn’t otherwise have possessed. September/October 1973 saw a commercial high for the bereaved band, with the album topping the US charts for five weeks and the culled single "Ramblin’ Man" very nearly emulating it, while another group standard, Dick Betts’s "Jessica" seemed cut from much the same cloth.
While middle America embraced the easier-going, more radio-friendly sound, hardcore Brothers fans felt the music was not true to the roots of the uncompromising unit they’d grown to worship. It was an Indian summer: with Betts and Greg Allman beginning solo careers, the band had started to fragment by 1976.
Williams and band members Johanson and keyboardist Chuck Leavell (already recording as We Three) formed Sea Level with guitarist Jimmy Nalls – eventually pitching four albums of well-crafted jazz/R & B-tinged rock to Capitol. Williams and Leavell then astonished everyone by refusing to return to The Allman Brothers when the group made its inevitable comeback in 1979. This was Lamar Williams’s last major move: he had been diagnosed with cancer, believed to have been caused by exposure to Agent Orange while serving in Vietnam.
He died at home in Los Angeles.
1. The Encyclopedia of Dead Rock Stars -Jeremy Simmonds, 2nd Edition, Chicago Review Press, Incorporated, 2012, page 150.
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