The Allman Brothers Band

TrackAlbum
Don't Want You No More/
It's Not My Cross To Bear
The Allman Brothers Band
DreamsThe Allman Brothers Band
Don't Keep Me Wonderin'Idlewild South
Midnight RiderIdlewild South
Statesboro BluesAt Fillmore East
In Memory Of Elizabeth ReedAt Fillmore East
Whipping PostAt Fillmore East
Ain't Wastin' Time No MoreEat A Peach
Come And Go BluesBrothers And Sisters
Jelly JellyBrothers And Sisters

 

The Allman Brothers Band photo 2

The Allman Brothers Band (l to r): Dickey Betts, Duane Allman, Gregg Allman, Jaimoe Johanson, Berry Oakley, Butch Trucks

 

 

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ABB playlist

 

 

Contributor: Rob Millis

It hadn’t gone well for the Liberty-signed act Hour Glass. Their two albums had not captured the imagination of the record-buying public sufficiently to sell, and nor had the record-company selected material captured the imagination of the band enough to play the songs when appearing live! This, they realised, could be a problem and left their nominal LA base for the legendary FAME studios, Muscle Shoals to lay down some gritty R&B that the record company would go for. It didn’t.

The subsequent fragmentation of the Hour Glass is a long, convoluted tale that saw guitarist Duane Allman and his younger brother Gregg (a fine lead singer and organist) breaking ranks, zig-zagging hither and yon. In short: at some point they’d run into an old circuit acquaintance, drummer Butch Trucks and augmented his band The 31st of February (who’d already made one album) for a little while; during their time at FAME, Duane had impressed owner Rick Hall who immediately set about getting Duane lots of sessions. Good sessions: Wilson Pickett’s Hey Jude was one of the first, as well as a key role on the entire debut album by newly-solo Boz Scaggs. While Duane became an almost full-time studio musician, Gregg went back to LA to try and salvage the still extant Hour Glass deal and steer it towards a solo career.

Duane (who’d actually learned his trademark slide guitar very quickly in the late 60s after hearing Ry Cooder and Jesse Ed Davis) began to assemble a live band of his own and had recruited bassist Berry Oakley and guitarist Richard “Dickey” Betts from a band called The Second Coming (whose cover of Jefferson Airplane’s She Has Funny Cars is worth a listen). Gregg was summoned back from LA, and they took two drummers: old pal Butch Trucks and Jai(moe) Johanny Johanson. After the psychedelic schtick of Hour Glass, the new outfit took the very sober and factual name of the Allman Brothers Band.

The dual-drummer format has been explained many different ways: One is that Jaimoe was a bit crazy behind the kit, albeit in a good, creative way – so they took Trucks as well to function as the steadier hand; the anchor. Another is that Duane simply wanted a different kind of band with two lead guitars and two drummers. The cynic might rather point at the format the Grateful Dead showcased in 1968 on their (then current) album Anthem Of The Sun, where Mickey Hart augmented founding drummer Bill Kreutzmann. The same cynic might even point out that the Dead toyed with the riff of Donovan’s There Is A Mountain within the live portion of that record, later one of the ABB live trademarks. The cynic might have a point or two!

Signed to Phil Walden’s Capricorn Records (released via Atlantic), an eponymous 1969 debut opened with a bang – the powerful charge and swing of Don’t Want You No More (a shuffle by post-Winwood-era Spencer Davis organist Eddie Hardin and Davis himself) led into soulful slow blues It’s Not My Cross To Bear. The first half of this opening gambit introduced the sheer power, deft touch and meticulous guitar arrangements that would mark out the ABB from the pack; the latter introduced Gregg’s effortlessly powerful vocals for the first time and indeed his songwriting.

Truth be told, there are many instances of riffy, Gregg Allman-penned blues songs on this album (and only ten Topper slots to fill …) so let’s mention two landmark cuts and move on. Dreams, underpinned by two organ chords and a strident waltz bassline from Oakley was a masterpiece, the whole thing shifting between ethereal, almost ‘Frisco style acid rock and more powerful choruses. Perhaps the best known cut from the ABB debut was closer Whipping Post, for many their signature tune with changing time signatures and relentless drive, and a vehicle for incisive guitar interplay and improvisation on stage. Which is exactly why I’ve passed on the studio cut within the ten choices, but read on!

I’ve had to do the very same for In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed, a fine instrumental from the pen of Dickey Betts that was a highlight of Idlewild South, the second ABB album from 1970. Overall, this was less reliant on heavy blues than the debut, with the aforementioned track having a jazzy sensibility (if you will!) and Revival tipping a hat to gospel. Midnight Rider showed the country side of Gregg Allman and remained a concert favourite for years. Where the band was still bluesy, there was a touch more understated maturity to the music; Don’t Keep Me Wonderin’ is my chosen instance of this, with the band augmented on harp by pal Thom Doucette.

1971 came round and the ABB were firing on all cylinders. Their concerts were becoming marathon affairs, the tunes stretched out every which way but never lacking dynamics. Duane’s own profile was already high – session credits by this time included names as disparate as Wilson Pickett, Lulu, Dr John, Aretha Franklin and Boz Scaggs (the Duane Allman Anthology compilations of such work and ABB oddments are as worthy as the ABB albums themselves) but moreover he’d proven himself as a very useful right-hand man and creative foil to Eric Clapton during the Layla sessions and contributes much of the fiery guitar including the duel on the coda of the famous title cut. The time was definitely right for a live album and on 12th and 13th March 1971 they taped four New York shows (each day, an early and a late show), edited for release as At Fillmore East, generally considered the definitive ABB album and a 2-LP set. Predictably, other material from these concerts was released – as early as the next ABB album in fact, and the Duane anthology albums – and with the advent of the CD era a selection of extended and complete show recordings are available. For the purposes of this Topper 10, let’s stick to the original double LP.

“Okay, the Allman Brothers Band” are five words that still send a chill down the spine and whet the appetite for what follows, those being the opening announcement of the live album and heralded opener Statesboro Blues – a tip of the hat to the Taj Mahal album with Jesse Ed Davis on slide guitar that Duane had been mesmerised by. Much of At Fillmore East is blues material but to temper this I’ll take those extended live renditions of Whipping Post and In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed. In truth, you could drop the needle into almost any part of At Fillmore East and be wowed. Somehow, via solid arrangements, shifting tempos and plenty of dynamics, the ABB could go on forever without the repetitive self-indulgence of (say) Cream or the uncharted meandering tangents of the Dead. The public agreed – after no meaningful chart placement for the first two studio albums, At Fillmore East chugged up the Billboard charts and made #13. It was all happening for the ABB at last.

Except that Duane was dead before the end of the year.

Ironically, the band had used the success of At Fillmore East to buy some time to clean up their act (some were using heroin and checked themselves in for rehab) before capitalising on their position. They’d tried some tentative studio recordings and in many ways it is a good job they had or Eat A Peach (1972) wouldn’t have featured Duane at all. Back home after rehab, Duane crashed his motorcycle close to Macon, Georgia where the band hailed from. Somewhat dazed, the band resumed work on Eat A Peach and the eventual release collected studio sessions with Duane, new material without him and further selections from the March 1971 concerts that hadn’t made it onto At Fillmore East. Live sections included Les Brers In A Minor – another instrumental from Betts that sounds like it probably evolved in concert from IMOER – and Mountain Jam, an improvisation based around the Donovan motif hinted at earlier in this piece; the ABB did explore the motif fully, it must be said – the Dead had only used a portion of the full phrase.

Dickey Betts provided Blue Sky and stepped up as a vocalist with a distinctive softer country rock voice in contrast to Gregg’s bluesy growl. Duane and Dickey contributed one of their final pieces of interplay on the guitars. Gregg began to mature as a writer and his stately Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More opened the album with a fine chunk of white southern soul.

Eat A Peach had been a work in progress when Duane was killed and the focus had been on getting the project finished and out. That done, they faced the future. Duane was not replaced and instead fellow Capricorn recording artist Chuck Leavell (who of course would climb the ranks to the Rolling Stones over time) was added on piano to give a subtly revamped identity to the rejigged band. Gregg Allman was able to turn his hand to rhythm guitar when more six string power was needed and was also working on a solo LP Laid Back. With a line-up in place, but still grieving, the band purchased a farm to live communally and began work on Brothers And Sisters.

Berry Oakley took Duane’s death particularly badly. He began to decline in front of their eyes, drinking heavily; his spirit broken. In November 1972 he too suffered a fatal motorcycle crash; an eerie reprise of that of his best friend, roughly a year earlier and in the same part of town. The two men are buried alongside each other. Oakley appears on Wasted Words and Ramblin’ Man on Brothers And Sisters; following his death Lamar Williams was recruited and appears on the rest of the LP. Jelly Jelly was a lovely rendition of a Bobby Bland blues with both organ and piano solos from Allman and Leavell, and some fine guitar to bring the tune home. Gregg’s Come And Go Blues really showcased his newfound maturity as a writer. The album of course also featured Jessica, beloved of Top Gear fans. Notable guitarist Les Dudek had helped on this, but Duane remained unreplaced.

That’s my Topper 10. The 1969-73 period is peak form ABB and a good starting point for the would-be convert. A band who partied hard and were dealt two cruel blows had a colourful history thereafter: internal conflict was never off the agenda; a period of solo album competition from Allman & Betts; dissatisfaction from the others at being left in limbo and not least a general suspicion that Allman was less interested in the band than his nascent tabloid-friendly romance with Cher (whom he eventually married, briefly) saw the band call time in 1976 after a disappointing album Win, Lose Or Draw.

They were back together by 1979; split again by 1982! Yet a 1989 reunion lasted until 2014 and the albums Seven Turns and Shades Of Two Worlds were rather good. Conflict between Allman and Betts continued (the two seemed to have a habit of never being clean or sober at the same time) until links with Betts were severed finally in 2000. A variety of fine guitarists passed through the later ABB, most notably Warren Haynes (Gov’t Mule), Jack Pearson (now solo) and Derek Trucks (Butch’s nephew; these days, of course, he leads a tremendous band with his wife Susan Tedeschi).

The band retired for good in late 2014 after their annual run of shows at the Beacon Theatre, NY. Haynes and (Derek) Trucks had both given notice that they would concentrate on their own music from 2015 at the same time that Allman started to feel tired; he passed away with complications from liver cancer in 2017, heartbroken that the year had begun with the suicide of Butch Trucks, but Dickey Betts and Allman made their peace and would talk daily towards the end.

 

The Allman Brothers Band photo 1

Footnote from the author: this article is dedicated with much love to my dear friend and musical partner Jules Fothergill, a fine guitarist taken too soon by aggressive cancer at just 40 years of age. Among the tributes paid on social media, that of ABB guitarist Jack Pearson would have pleased him the most – Jules worshipped the Allmans; as young men meeting on the London blues circuit, this cemented a twenty-year friendship and many, many magical moments sparring on stage together, including two occasions in 2017/18 where we assembled a show that was entirely a celebration of the ABB catalogue. Thank heaven we finally did.

 

 

 

Duane Allman (1946–1971)

Berry Oakley (1948–1972)

Lamar Williams (1949-1983)

Butch Trucks (1947–2017)

Gregg Allman (1947–2017)

 

Allman Brothers Band official website

Allman Brothers Band discography

Duane Allman official website

Gregg Allman official website

Dickey Betts official website

The Allman Brothers Band Museum at the Big House

Rock & Roll Hall of Fame: The Allman Brothers Band

“Midnight Riders: The Story of the Allman Brothers Band” by Scott Freeman (Little, Brown 1995)

In Memory of Elizabeth Reed – Allman Brothers Band & Eric Clapton (YouTube 2009)

Derek & The Dominos and the making of “Layla” with Duane Allman (YouTube)

The Allman Brothers Band biography (Apple Music)

Rob Millis is a phoney; a hack. He’s not a writer, nor a professional musician and has a formal nine-to-five as the sales analyst/trainer in one of the ‘big three’ self-storage businesses in the UK. Somehow, he has found the time to have written for Shindig! magazine in addition to Toppermost. He has provided Hammond organ, Wurlitzer electric piano and vocals for such names as Dave Kelly, Micky Moody, John Fiddler and was honoured to play with Man at the memorial concert for his friend, the late Phil Ryan. Rob resides in the borough of Richmond-upon-Thames, where (as we all know) the blues was first invented..

Read the Toppermosts of some of the other artists mentioned in this post:
Bobby Bland, Cher, Eric Clapton, Ry Cooder, Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Spencer Davis Group, Taj Mahal

TopperPost #813

7 Comments

  1. Alex Lifson
    Sep 20, 2019

    Great article and a Top Ten list, of which I agree with every single choice. Hard to limit to ten choices but at least the other contenders were mentioned. I especially liked your choices from Brothers And Sisters, where Jessica would probably be everyone’s first choice. Love that you picked Jelly Jelly. I also have to admit a fondness for Pony Boy. Thank you Rob for putting in the time and effort.

    • Rob Millis
      Sep 21, 2019

      Alex, thank you. Jessica isn’t a favourite and I won’t pretend the Top Gear association hasn’t helped, or at least the Clarkson era – if it was still William Woollard and Chris Goffey genuinely reviewing cars I might think better! Jelly Jelly: not only a rare moment that Gregg contributed a beautiful, distinctive organ break rather than being in the shadow of the two guitars, but the whole tune a chance to show that the band could play a nicely arranged blues with a sense of economy – naysayers will opine that At Fillmore East is too self-indulgent and endless blues; I love the album but can see why those who say it do. It’s tempting to muse that it took the loss of Duane and the tempering of the wall to wall lead guitar to get to Bros & Sisters, which for me is their mature studio effort above all others; I doubt Come and Go Blues would have been so effective if more cluttered with guitar.

      • Alex Lifson
        Sep 21, 2019

        100% in agreement. Gregg’s vocal on Jelly Jelly is heavenly. You are right about the production of Come And Go Blues. They could have added Les Dudek to it but thankfully didn’t. Dudek’s first solo album, which included City Magic and What A Sacrifice is still a favourite of mine and was produced by Boz Scaggs and Steve Miller. A treasure.
        A minor footnote, I was Landmark on the Band Guestbook site and enjoyed your posts there.

        • Rob M
          Sep 22, 2019

          See, they are all coming out of the woodwork, now…..

  2. Peter Viney
    Sep 23, 2019

    Great work, Rob. For years on The Band site we discussed the comparatively low profile of the ABB in Britain. Often large stores might have 5 Band albums, but rarely even one Allmans (usually Eat A Peach). That might be Southern Rock in general, or more likely poor Capricorn distribution. They’re around now anyway. I bought the first Allmans album for a large glass of lager from a Frankfurt DJ who had been given it as a promo and found no use for it in the Zoom club. A second glass got me the German Hey Jude Beatles compilation. You know in advance that I will state the case for Jessica and it does have a terrific flow to it. Also Brothers and Sisters is my favourite ABB album. Good songs rather than riffs, so I’d go for the bleedin’ obvious: Jessica, Wasted Words, Ramblin’ Man. ‘Wipe The Windows, Check The Oil, Dollar Gas’ is their best sleeve design, but it’s years since I heard it. My most enjoyed in recent years is ‘Beacon Theatre 2009’. It’s a 3CD set, but it’s disc 2 with guests Levon Helm and Taj Mahal (Statesboro Blues of course).

    • Rob Millis
      Sep 23, 2019

      Peter. I actually disagree that Jessica has a good flow at all! It’s a great opening section then a load of filler. You don’t get it on the B&S original but live versions can be a bit boring. Wasted Words would have been the 11th choice, I must say, but the list was already too B&S-heavy. I must admit having now twice fronted to all intents and purposes an Allman Brothers tribute band, I’ve let that influence my decision a bit and my heart wanted to include Leave My Blues at Home for its almost Beefheartian guitar parts, or Please Call Home, because Midnight Rider bored us all to tears playing it (as did Ramblin’ Man) but for the Topper 10 purposes of ‘conversion’ it’s probably a better bet than either, and the slow and soulful side of Gregg is far better served by Ain’t Wasting Time anyway. Wipe The Windows…meh; In Memory of Elizabeth Reed ain’t the same with a Rhodes piano doing one of the parts way too politely. Funny how Brothers and Sisters stacks up like Man’s “Be Good To Yourself…”: one of the main ‘characters’ is missing and yet they served up their finest studio LP. Duane died so that puts an end to speculation, but Deke Leonard’s return to Man didn’t yield a better studio set than they’d recorded without him, despite a main, strong writer returning and the USA beckoning.

  3. Peter Viney
    Sep 23, 2019

    OK, Rob. You had me spending an hour hunting through various racks to find The Hour Glass album, which I discovered in a secondhand shop a couple of years ago.It’s not really psyche to me, more akin to a UK wannabe soul band with a touch of Traffic. There are no contenders for the ten (even if it counts … it has Duane & Greg and much is written by Greg). It’s not as disappointing as I thought it was when I found it. A guitar instrumental on Norwegian Wood is … well, different.

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