NOVEMBER 11, 1972 – In Macon, Georgia, Allman Brothers bassist BERRY OAKLEY (b. April 4, 1948 in Chicago, Illinois as Raymond Berry Oakley III) was killed when his 1967 Triumph motorcycle hit a bus near the same intersection as former band member Duane Allman, who had died on a motorcycle a year earlier under similar circumstances on October 29th, 1971.
Berry was riding with Kim Payne, a member of the road crew, when he took his Triumph motorcycle into a curve too fast around a sharp right bend of the road on Napier Avenue at Inverness when he crossed the line and collided at an angle with a city bus making the bend from the opposite direction. After striking the front and then the back of the bus, Oakley was thrown from his bike, just as Allman had been, and struck his head. Immediately after the accident Berry said he was fine, declined medical treatment, and caught a ride home. Three hours later, he was rushed to the same hospital where Allman had died, delirious and in pain, and died at age 24 of cerebral swelling caused by a fractured skull. Attending doctors stated that even if Oakley had gone straight to the hospital from the scene of the accident, he could not have been saved. Allman and Oakley are buried next to each other at the Rose Hill Cemetery in Macon.
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.
Oakley raised in the suburb of Park Forest, Illinois, then moved to Florida where he met and joined Dickey Betts’s band, Soul Children, which became the Blues Messengers, which then became The Second Coming, so named by a club owner because he thought Berry looked like Jesus Christ.
He became 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. Oakley was also the band member most involved in establishing domestic unity among the band’s extended family. When Duane Allman died in a motorcycle accident, Oakley was devastated, according to drummer Butch Trucks who wrote about both deaths in his blog, describing just how difficult Allman’s death was on Oakley. “I don’t think Berry really knew how to exist in a world without Duane,” he wrote. “The sparkle that was Berry was simply gone. He drank himself into a stupor almost daily. We continued to tour but Berry’s heart just didn’t seem be 100 percent into it any more.” The band continued touring, but Oakley started drinking heavily during what was to become his last year in life.
Oakley’s son, Berry Duane Oakley (aka Berry Oakley Jr.) is also a bass guitarist; he has performed with groups such as Bloodline, OKB and Blue Floyd before co-forming the Allman Betts Band. Grandson Shaun Berry Oakley is a musician in training in Florida. Daughter Brittany’s mother is Linda, with whom Berry resided in Macon, Georgia, at the time of his death. Brittany’s photo appeared on the back cover of the Allmans’ 1973 “Brothers and Sisters” album.