Berry Oakley

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Berry Oakley
Artist / Musician

Berry Oakley was born in Chicago and raised in Park Forest, Illinois!
While attending Rich East High School, Oakley was in a local band called The Shaynes, other members including Tom Morris and Tim Grossi. “Berry was one of the original hot licks lead guitar players in the Chicago area back in the ’60s. His band, The Shaynes, and my group used to play many of the same venues,” remembers Brian Paul. Since my band was comprised of guys a year or so younger than Berry and his guys, we often were the warm-up act,” he said. Playing guitar at that time, “Berry used to play a forest green Strat through a 2 X 12 Sears Silvertone amp back then, and it sounded great!”

“As the band gained popularity in our area, they got to play with some pretty big name acts of the time, including the Byrds. One group they played with a lot was Tommy Roe’s backup band, the Roemans. This is where Berry got his first big break. The Roemans’ bass player was drafted, leaving a void. Berry’s band was playing the warm-up show for them at Westwood Junior High in Park Forest, Illinois when he found out about the impending departure of their bass player, and volunteered to take his place. The only problem was that Berry did not play bass! So he pressed into service the talent of his good friend and former bass player, Jim May. Jim was the guy who got Berry playing bass. He coached him for about two weeks to get him going. Berry then dropped out of Rich East High School and went on the road with the Roemans.”
After his stint with Tommy Roe’s group, Berry ended up in Florida, playing with various bands in the lucrative beach scene there. In Sarasota, he met guitarist Dickie Betts who was putting together a new band. Oakley joined along with drummer John Meeks, guitarist Larry Reinhardt and keyboardist Reese Wynans (who later went on with Steve Ray Vaughan’s Double Trouble); and they became the Blues Messengers.

That band gives us our first chance to hear Oakley on record. As the Blues Messengers, they released two singles on the local independent Adonis label – “I Won’t Ask for More” b/w “Yesterday’s Girl” (Adonis 0702) and “High Wednesday (I’ll Stay With You)’ b/w “Whad’ja Come Back For” (Adonis 8PS-05). You can take a listen to “High Wednesday” here –

In 1968, the band migrated through some personnel changes and relocated to Jacksonville, changing their name to the Second Coming, and released one single on the Steady Records label that included “I Feel Free” (which the Allman Brothers remade on their album Dreams) and a version of the Jefferson Airplane’s “She Has Funny Cars.”

It was then they met Duane and Gregg Allman. Unwilling to break up his band situation and friendship with Dickey, Berry declined Duane’s first offers to join his group. What ended up happening is that both Oakley and Betts ended up joining, and the Allman Brothers Band was formed.

Oakley played an important part of the sound in the early days of the Allman Brothers Band. Duane didn’t want somebody who just played bass, he wanted someone who was capable of taking the instrument and the music to a different level. In Berry, he found the perfect person. Oakley became a crucial element in the evolution of the iconic Allman Brothers Band.
Sadly, on November 11, 1972, Berry was riding with Kim Payne, a member of the road crew, when Payne took his Triumph motorcycle into a curve too fast and hit a Macon City bus. Oakley said he was okay after the accident, declined medical treatment, and caught a ride home. Three hours later, he was rushed back to the hospital, delirious and in pain, and died of cerebral swelling caused by a fractured skull. His music and legacy live on with the catalog of Allman Brothers records we’re left with.

(Photo Berry Oakley at his last performance with the Allman Brothers November 2, 1972 at Hofstra University in Long Island, New York – courtesy Zumic)

The museum suffered damage as the result of a microburst in downtown Joliet. The building did sustain some damage however we are extremely grateful that no one was injured during this tragedy. 

We are fortunate that Gigantar, our exhibit artifacts and the gift shop merchandise all escaped any damage. 

We are temporarily closed to the public as we work with our contractors through the cleanup process. 
Please stay tuned as we get back in the groove.