Nineteen-year-old rock drummer Bill Thames had a serious case of stage fright, so bad he was shaking and almost walked out on a chance to be a warmup act for B.J. Thomas in 1967 at the Martinique in Daytona Beach.
A young Duane Allman—who was playing with his brother, Gregg, as the opening act for B.J.—not only saved Bill’s job with the band, The Consolidation, but may have turned Bill’s life around.
“If it hadn’t been for Duane Allman, guitarist for the Allman Joys, I would have never performed that night, or probably at all ever again, and my life would be totally different today,” Bill recalls. “Duane not only saved my job, he gave me some advice that I’ve never forgotten.”
Duane—a few years older and a more seasoned performer—helped Bill out of a jam that night. After Bill set up his drums, he left the stage and dropped into a chair with his head in his hands.
“Duane, who had been in the back of the club, walked up in time to see me swearing under my breath and trembling,” Bill says. “He asked me what was wrong, and I pretty much spilled my guts. Then he walked to the stage, sat down at my drums and started hitting them. ‘Hey, I love the way your drums sound, the way you tuned your bass, and that kick drum just sounds so cool.’
“Then, he just looked at me. ‘Always remember this: When you’re playing in front of other musicians or people you’re trying to impress, stick to what you can absolutely play and play it with as much soul as you can. I’ve heard you play before and I know you can cut it. Just slide into the pocket and keep the groove going. Don’t try to show off and you’ll do just fine.’
“I’ve never forgotten that, and it’s helped me through more than stage fright. Duane’s words really gave me courage.”
Birth of Southern Rock
The Consolidation and Bill’s later band, The Soul Patrol, were part of an active music scene in Daytona Beach in the mid-to-late 1960s. Bill played local clubs and often crossed paths with the Allman brothers. They sometimes even shared the stage.
Duane, Gregg and Bill all attended Daytona Beach’s Seabreeze High School.
The Allmans had bands during high school, first as Y-Teens, then as The Escorts, performing in matching suits and sporting short hair.
Bill’s experiences in those early days of music in Daytona Beach—including his interactions with the Allmans—are the subject of a memoir he is penning called “Paper, Scissors and Rock and Roll: Ringo, Duane and Me.”
The book weaves together stories of the young musician and the Daytona Beach music scene in the ’60s and early ’70s. It is slated for publication in August 2022.
“As they became more popular and did more shows around the state, they moved to Jacksonville and began playing across the South,” Bill says, noting Allman Joys is the band most people think of as the predecessor to Allman Brothers Band.
But Bill says there is more to the story.
A Rocky Path to Fame
When Allman Joys broke up in 1967, Duane and Gregg joined several musicians from Alabama’s Men-its to become Hour Glass.
They soon landed a contract with Liberty Records and headed to Los Angeles, where they cut two albums.
With little commercial success, the group returned to the South and recorded more demos at FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. When their label rejected the music, the band disbanded.
Three Hour Glass members stayed in Muscle Shoals, but Duane and Gregg returned to Jacksonville and its burgeoning music scene, where they met drummer Butch Trucks.
On March 23, 1969, the three got together with other area musicians—guitarist Dickey Betts, bassist Berry Oakley and drummer Jai Johanny “Jaimoe” Johanson—for a history-making jam session that ultimately launched Allman Brothers Band.
Later that year, the band was signed by Capricorn Records and relocated to Macon, Georgia, to be near manager Phil Walden.
Chronicling the Music Scene
A resurgence of interest in the Florida origins of Southern rock— a genre with roots of blues, jazz, soul, R&B and rock ’n’ roll—has spawned articles, books and historic markers the past few years.
In addition to Bill’s upcoming memoir, Jacksonville-based musician, media historian and former journalist Michael Ray FitzGerald has written two books that delve into the subject: “Jacksonville and the Roots of Southern Rock” and “Swamp Rock.”
Journalist Matt Soergel with The Florida Times-Union regularly writes about the ’60s and ’70s Jacksonville-based bands—not only Allman Brothers Band, but Lynyrd Skynyrd and 38 Special.
Matt interviewed high school gym teacher Leonard Skinner, who gave band members a hard time because of their long hair. He became the namesake for Lynyrd Skynyrd. He also wrote about the infamous gray house in the Riverside section of Jacksonville where Allman Brothers Band was born.
In part because of that attention, two iconic sites in Jacksonville associated with the bands and Southern rock have been recognized.
The childhood home of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Van Zant brothers at 5419 Woodcrest Road—one block off Lake Shore Boulevard on the west side of Jacksonville—was purchased by entrepreneur Todd Smith. It was designated a Florida Heritage Site in 2018.
Allman Brothers Band members first met at 2844 Riverside Ave.—a gray house southwest of downtown Jacksonville. The current owners applied for a state historical marker formally acknowledging the spot. The marker was unveiled March 23, 2019, which was the 30th anniversary of the jam session.
What Remains of the Florida Southern Rock Scene
Buoyed by the advice and encouragement he received from Duane Allman, Bill graduated from high school and headed to Clemson, where he played in some college bands. He eventually returned to Daytona Beach, becoming a jeweler and author.
“So many places that were part of Daytona’s music scene are gone now,” Bill says wistfully, recalling the iconic locales. “You can only imagine what it was like to see Duane and Gregg’s bands play at the Daytona Beach Pier, the Seabreeze Recreation Center on A1A, the Safari Beach Hotel and the Martinique, the Peabody Auditorium, George’s Place and the Surf Bar.”
Seabreeze Recreation Center was bulldozed. The Martinique became Wreck Bar in the 1970s and now hosts concerts as Full Moon Saloon. Peabody Auditorium continues to offer more than 200 performances annually.
“The Allmans’ childhood home is now privately owned, and I read the other day that George’s Place is now a church,” Bill says.
Daytona Beach music promoter Al Smith, who graduated from Seabreeze High School 10 years after Bill, also remembers those early days when the Allmans were a local band.
“Even after the band got big, they’d come back to play here,” Al says. “After Duane died, Gregg would come back to perform with the band or solo. It’s a shame all these places aren’t around anymore. Perhaps one day soon someone will find a way to recognize the roles these places played in the history of the Allman Brothers. At least a mural, a couple of markers or something would be appropriate. After all, this is music history—and if my generation doesn’t do it, who will?”