"Dangerous" Dan Toler: An Archival Interview
Dan Toler with Dickey Betts- photo by Frank White
In 2009, Relix celebrated The Allman Brothers Band’s 40th anniversary with a series of featured devoted to the legendary group’s history. At that time Executive Editor Mike Greenhaus spoke with guitarist “Dangerous” Dan Toler about his tenure with the band for a piece that explored the ABB’s “lost years” in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. Toler—who played guitar with The Allman Brothers from the late ‘70s-1982—also discussed his work with both Gregg Allman and Dickey Betts’ solo groups. His brother David “Frankie” Toler also performed with The Allman Brothers Band for a few years around the release of 1981’s Brothers of the Road.
Dan Toler passed away in late February after struggling with Lou Gehrig’s disease. In honor of The Allman Brothers Band guitarist, we present our complete conversation with Toler for the first time.
You first entered The Allman Brothers Band extended family as a member of Dickey Betts’ Great Southern during one of the Brothers’ hiatuses. Can you walk us through when you officially joined The Allman Brothers Band?
I think we started with rehearsals in late ’75 and then the first album got underway in ’76. Boy, what a fun thing to have happen to you in life. I was living in – well, I’m in Florida now – but I was… this was 1975 in the latter part of the year. My wife and I didn’t have much money and I was playing [music] making three bucks a night in some of the clubs down here and we didn’t have enough money to have a phone in our apartment. We had a little apartment that we were paying [for], like 400 bucks a month, and it cost her everything she had to pay for it. But times were tough and the guys that I was supposed to join a band with when I came down to Florida from Indiana broke up and two of them went on to join up with Dickey [Betts] and Great Southern.
The drummer said, “I’ll get you an audition,” and I’m going, “Yeah, right.” So one day I was walking back and forth to the pool from my apartment and there happened to be a phone booth right outside of our apartment front door. It was ringing and I just walked on by and didn’t even pay attention to it, I mean it rang a lot all the time anyway. But for some reason I just happened to pick it up after about three trips walking by it going to the pool, and said, “Hello.” And somebody said [Laughs], this guy says, “Is Dan Toler there?” And I said, “Yeah, you got him.” And he said, “This is Dickey Betts,” and I said, “Yeah, right ,” and hung the phone up. And then I got to thinking about two seconds later, “I think I made a big mistake, I wonder if that really was Dickey!” Fortunately the phone rang again and I picked it up and I said hello and he said, “Is this Dan?” and I said, “Yeah,” [and] he said, “This is Dickey, don’t hang up,” and I said, “Hey man, I am sorry. I didn’t mean to do it; I just didn’t believe it was you. Is this really you?” And he said, “Yeah, I want you to come up and audition for my band.” And boy, I mean I started shaking. “Really?! Ok!” And so, he said, “I got you a plane flight for tonight.” And I said, “Oh, ok! My god, ok!”
So I missed my flight, I got lost getting into the Tampa airport, I’d never been in there before. I got a later flight that evening and got into Dickey’s place up on the Allman Brothers farm, just outside of Macon, Georgia. There was like a five mile gravel road going up to the top of the mountain there where he lived. And you could hear the band playing through the forest there, you know, through the woods, and I’m going, “ Man, that guitar sure sounds damn good.” And so I get up there and walked in and met everybody and shook everybody’s hands again and I walked over to Dickey, and he said, “Hey, I’m Dickey,” and I said, “Hey man, I’m Dan,” and I sat down and we started playing. He said, “You know, there’s a song we do called ‘Southbound.’” I said, “I don’t know it, but let me hear it.” And I started twinning the end of it along with him and he said, “Well, I don’t think I need to look any further, you’ll work.” I said, “I got the gig?!” And he said, “Yeah,” and I said, “When do I get my first check?” [Laughs.]
That actually brings me up to another question. How familiar were you with the material at that point?
Not at all! I mean the next night we went to Atlanta and played a gig and [Dickey] said, “We’re going to do ‘Jessica,’ do you know that?” And I said, “Never heard it!” And he was looking at me for twin parts and I had no idea what to do. So I was just pretty much petrified and I started listening to the records the next day big time. I said, “Oh my god, I’m in trouble. I’ve got a lot of work to do,” so I busted my butt and it wasn’t long after that we started writing the first Great Southern album and rehearsing a lot and it was great! I was just a young guy, something like 28 years old, and I believe Dickey was somewhere around 33. I think Dickey’s five years older than me and he’s 65 now. So we just hit it off, we gelled. I moved into his house, things just started happening and the next thing you know, we are writing guitar parts live at gigs and things were actually working. We were getting some exciting harmonies going and people were going nuts over it. And believe me, bro, I was in hog heaven. It was a lot of fun. And I mean, I go from making three bucks a night to 300 a week! [Laughs.] It was quite exciting.
Then we did the first Great Southern album and then in ‘78 – I believe it was ’78 or early ’79 – we did the Atlanta’s Burning Down album with Dickey and Great Southern and then in ’79, we’re playing in Central Park, New York one night and somebody came up to me and said, “I think I saw Gregg Allman.” And I said, “Get out of here! He’s not supposed to be here.” And I hadn’t even met Gregg. I had met Duane [Allman] back in ’69 when I was in a band called Melting Pot, but I had not met Gregg, and sure enough, we’re playing and all of a sudden, Butch [Trucks] comes on stage to sit in and Jaimoe comes up and sits in, and then all of a sudden Gregg Allman walks across the stage and I went, “Well, I’ll be damned, I can’t believe that.” And the crowd went absolutely insane. And so, I think that was the beginning of the first reunion of the Allman Brothers, and that particular night, John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd were there and we all went to a place called Trax in New York City and hung out and it was great. Fantastic.
Let’s talk about that Central Park gig, which in a lot of ways the beginning of the second era of the band’s career. Would you say that things just naturally progressed from the reunion or did you have to re-audition to be in the band?
Well, yeah. There was basically a re-audition but I don’t recall any other guitar players being there for it. Basically, the band is kind of political in the respect of hiring guys. Dickey was in control of who was going to play guitar with him, Gregg’s in control of who’s going to play piano, and the drummers were in control of who was going to be the bass player, kind of like that. And so I’d been working with Dickey for four years prior to
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