Not even taking into account the current version of the Allman Brothers Band with Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks on guitars, and the fine reviews their latest record has recieved, the vintage Allmans band has been, like its own doppelganger, making all kinds of waves lately: Duane Allman was voted the second greatest guitarist of all time in the latest Rolling Stone magazine poll, the band’s astonishing live album The Allman Brothers Band At the Fillmore East – perhaps the greatest live rock album of all time – has just been given the Deluxe Edition treatment, and the band is featured prominently in the PBS series The Blues, debuting this weekend. There is also a blues-oriented Allmans collection just out in conjunction with the series.
Brothers Duane and Gregg Allman were born in Nashville and raised in Florida, where they listened to blues, soul, and British Invasion rock ‘n’ roll. They led a British Invasion-style band called the Allman Joys in the mid-’60s, then became the more soul-oriented Hour Glass. After recording two unsuccessful albums in LA, Hour Glass broke up, with Duane heading to Muscle Shoals, Alabama, to work as a studio musician at the great Fame Studios, where he recorded with Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, King Curtis, Boz Scaggs, and many others, heightening what was already a stellar reputation.
Encouraged to put together a new band, Duane assembled the Allman Brothers Band in ’69, and after a long jam session, the group and its signature sound, gelled. The Allman Brothers Band have often been labeled as “Southern Rock,” but their uniquely brilliant blend of blues, country, rock, jazz and Latin-esque percussion is only superficially related to Lynyrd Skynyrd, Marshall Tucker and others of the ilk.
In fact, the only album comparable in sound and power to the Allman’s classic albums of ’69-’73 (The Allman Brothers Band, Idlewild South, At Fillmore East, Eat a Peach, Brothers and Sisters) is Derek and the Dominos’ Layla, an album that not-coincidently features Duane Allman on slide guitar.
Duane Allman was one of the most brilliant guitarists in rock history, with a languid, lyrical, yet cutting style. He made everyone in the band better – a musical Michael Jordan or Magic Johnson – and especially inspired fellow guitarist Dickey Betts to his greatest recorded work. With the Brothers, Duane often played slide, keeping the listener in constant anticipation as he brought the slide up to just flat of a given note, before pressing on with incredible fluidity and verve.
The guitar interplay between Allman and Betts, though blues-based, often used sophisticated jazz harmonies and is unparalleled in rock history. Gregg brought a powerful and deeply soulful voice, a cool organ sound, and great songs to the band. The interplay between the drummers Jaimoe (Johnny Lee Johnson) and Butch Trucks, and bassist Berry Oakley was almost as complex and musical as that between the guitarists.
Their classic performances include “Statesboro Blues,” “One Way Out,” “Whipping Post,” “Revival,” “Midnight Rider,” “Melissa.” The original band only lasted for two years and four albums as Duane died in a motorcycle accident in October of 1971, Oakley died a year later the same way in almost the same spot.
Somehow, the remaining members revived themselves to put out their most popular album, Brothers and Sisters, behind Dickey Betts’ best-known songs, “Ramblin”Man” and “Jessica.” The band has been forming and reforming in various configurations ever since, but the classic period has only grown in stature as the years have accumulated.
The new Deluxe Edition of At the Fillmore East demonstrates the band at its absolute peak, presenting the songs from the original album plus performances from the same Fillmore shows of “Trouble No More,” “Don’t Keep Me Wonderin’,” “One Way Out,” “Midnight Rider,” “Mountain Jam” and “Drunken Hearted Boy.” It’s the next best thing to being there March 12, 13 and June 27 of 1971 (and being the guy who yells out “Whipping Post!”)