Thursday, November 10, 2005

Ok, The Allman Brothers Band

I was introduced to the music of The Allman Brothers Band in about 1972, after the year-apart tragic motorcycle accidental deaths of slide guitar legend Duane Allman and bassist Berry Oakley, and before the release of “Brothers and Sisters.” I cut my bass-player teeth playing along with “Live at Fillmore East.” Their mix of rock, blues and jazz spoke to me in a way that no other music had before. No one classed in the same genre (now referred to as “jam bands”) has ever come close in my estimation. I saw them three times in the 70’s when they had Chuck Leavell on keyboards and Lamar Williams on bass. They were good, but there was always that feeling of regret associated with having never seen the “real” Allman Brothers with Duane. As the 70’s progressed, Dickey Betts’ affinity for country music became more influential, and indeed some of those songs did strike a chord inside of this New York Italian kid who’s idea of a country song was “Act Naturally” by The Beatles, but they drifted further and further away from their blues roots.

As the 70’s faded into the 80’s, music fans’ tastes changed, and The Allman Brothers were written off as a casualty to the changing times and their own excesses. Tales of alcoholism, drug-abuse and betrayal coupled with some awful recordings seemingly relegated this once influential band to the rock-and-roll history books.

The band reunited in 1989 with a back-to-basics approach adding guitarist Warren Haynes and bassist Allen Woody.

From their All Music Guide Biography by Bruce Eder

"The new lineup reinvigorated the band, which signed with Epic Records and
surprised everyone with their first release, Seven Turns. Issued in 1990, it got
some of the best reviews and healthiest sales they'd had in more than a decade.
Their subsequent studio albums failed to attract as much enthusiasm, and their
two live albums, An Evening With the Allman Brothers Band and 2nd Set, released
in 1992 and 1995, respectively, were steady but not massive sellers. Much of
this isn't the fault of the material so much as a natural result of the passage
of time, which has left the Allmans competing with two decades' worth of
successors and rivals."


I picked up most of their records that were recorded in the 90’s and listened now and again. I saw them play live in 1995, coincidentally on the same day that Jerry Garcia passed away. The band mentioned that they were shaken by his death, specifically Dickey Betts who’s playing was noticeably sub-par that night. While I was pleased that they were back together and sounding more like the old band, (Warren Haynes is a fine blues / slide guitarist) I was still disappointed in the overall quality of the new material and much preferred the old classic records.

In March of 1998, it was announced that Warren Haynes and Allen Woody would be leaving the Allman Brothers to devote their efforts to their own band, Gov’t Mule, and that drummer Butch Truck’s nephew would be joining the band along with jazz bassist Oteil Burbridge. The band released a lack-luster live record titled “Peakin’ at the Beacon.” Unknown to most of their fan-base, over the years Dickey Betts had become increasingly difficult for the band to tolerate. Greg Allman and the rest of them had apparently overcome their drug and alcohol problems, but Betts had been accused of abusing crack-cocaine and alcohol and as a result was subsequently fired. Gov’t Mule bassist and friend Allen Woody had passed away in the meantime, so with Gov’t Mule now maimed, Warren Haynes was welcomed back into the band. When I heard all of this, I was dead-certain that it was once again, truly over for this legendary band. Dickey Betts had written some of their finest songs and was an integral part of their classic double-lead guitar sound. And, who, by the way was this Derek Trucks? It seemed that the young nephew of a band-member could not possibly be qualified to join this legendary band, and was chosen as a matter of convenience.

I was as wrong as Donald Rumsfeld.

The band released “Hittin’ The Note” in 2003 to rave reviews. A friend of mine bought me the record and insisted that I give it a chance. I was knocked out. This was easily the best collection of songs that they had released since “Brothers and Sisters.” This one sounded like the old days, with a true return to their blues roots.

At first I had a hard-time with Derek Trucks. I kept telling myself that he was good, but that no way could he compete with Warren Haynes. Still, each time I found myself intrigued by a guitar solo, it turned out to be Derek!

Then came the September release of their DVD Performance “Live at the Beacon Theater, and it left no doubt in my mind that this musician who happened to be related to Butch Trucks is not in the band by virtue of any family relationship. He is one of the best blues guitarists to come along in years and years. Many fans may take exception, but I think he and not Warren Haynes is now the undisputed heir apparent to Duane Allman’s legacy. Derek picked up the guitar at 9 years old and by the time he was twelve he had already jammed on stage with likes of Buddy Guy and Bob Dylan. Watching and listening to him play the classic songs like “Dreams” and “Whipping Post” prompts me to say that he is channeling for Duane Allman, picking up on his style and taking it in new directions. His tone, note choice and sense of dynamics are astonishing, even when held up against the seminal work of his legendary role-model. Watching the DVD you sometimes catch glances of awe and amusement on the faces of veterans Gregg Allman and Warren Haynes as Derek stands there practically motionless, almost in a trance, ripping through these songs with a casual ease and apparent detachment, as if he were leafing through a magazine or drinking a glass of water!

If you are like me, and once loved the Allman Brothers and lamented the losses of Duane Allman and Berry Oakley, you owe it to yourself to go buy this DVD, the companion two CD set “One Way Out” from the same dates, and the fine studio effort, “Hittin The Note.” I don’t see how you could be disappointed.

6 Comments:

Blogger XTCfan said...

I can vouch for Al on this one ... a good friend sent me copies of the DVDs, and they're a rockin' good time. It's not the smoky, sweaty, raw and raucous band of Fillmore East, but they've aged well, and the music is more refined and precise.

tcpzn

8:35 PM  
Blogger Kevin Wolf said...

There was a time I'd just run out and buy this based on the suggestion of someone, like Al, who knows what he's talkin'bout. But cash is hard to come by for me these days, so I'll stick with the older Allman stuff I've got for now.

But it got me thinking about how blues and jazz are the (so far) only proven musical arenas in which guys can keep at it and not look like idiots as they age. In fact, the good ones age like wine: they may have periods where you don't wany to drink it in but then, years later, you're glad you've still got them around to enjoy.

Must be the talent and disipline it takes to keep at that stuff for years. In pop only Burt Bacharach seems to have proven he can stick around...

8:46 PM  
Blogger --josh-- said...

Great essay.

Glad you found the DVD. (I humbly point out that I wrote the liner notes.) As good as this band is on record, they must be heard live to be fully appreciated. The interplay between the seven players is truly a remarkable living, breathing thing. I would recommend checking out an Instant Live or two; these are the soundboard/audience matrix recordings that are sold at the venue of that night's performance. The band has put some out each summer since '03. There is an aftermarket as well, and you can check them out at the ABB's merch site or at instantlive.com. Of course, there are plenty of kind souls who would be happy to turn you on to a crispy audience recording or two...

Here's hoping you can make it to the Beacon in '06!

--josh--

8:56 PM  
Blogger --josh-- said...

Oh, I forgot to mention: I now believe that in their history, the ABB have had 2 classic line-ups. The original, and this one.

8:57 PM  
Blogger The Viscount LaCarte said...

I have the "Post Gazette Pavilion 7/26/03" show and I love it. "Stormy Monday" is probably my all time favorite ABB cover song, and it contains a brilliant version. "You Don't Love Me" is also very satisfying. I will be getting more.

We saw them here in Atlanta on Oct. 1st of this year. They were great, but we didn't enjoy the show to the degree that we had hoped. It was outdoors, and we had to stand up to see because a lot of people stood up for the whole show. Smoking is permitted and it was a still night AND there was a cigar smoker in close proximity. We also hoped that they would do some songs that they didn't, like "Ain't Wastin' Time No More," "Worried Down With The Blues." Derek smoked and Warren was tearing it up, but we were really quite disappointed that we couldn't just sit down and enjoy the show.

I notice that on one of the "Instant Live's" they do "Layla" and I think they do "Into The Mystic" on couple more. This intrigues me. Do you have a recommendation as to which one I should get next?

Oh, I forgot to mention: I now believe that in their history, the ABB have had 2 classic line-ups. The original, and this one.

Clearly.

8:39 AM  
Anonymous The Heretik said...

Hmmm. I get tied to the whipping post, tied to the whipping, good lord I feel like . . . I feel like you should have entitled this post, um whipping post. All you have to do to know what that band was like is look at the old back cover of the Capricorn record Live at Fillmore East. If memory serves me right, somebody in that picture just cracked a joke and Duane and Gregg and Dickey all are laughing. Oakley and Trucks look straight ahead. Don't recall what the second drummer was doing. That two disc dubble allbum is the one to have (even if it has the two discs, which may be cheating). Mountain Jam is maybe a whole side, might even be a whole disc.
And then there is In Memory of Elizabeth Reed.
Neither Gregg nor Dickey were the same after Duane died. Both of them in many ways lost their brother.

12:34 AM  

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