Thursday, April 3, 2014

49. At Fillmore East (1971) The Allman Brothers Band



1. Statesboro Blues
2. Done Somebody Wrong
3. Stormy Monday
4. You Don't Love Me / Soul Serenade
5. Hot 'Lanta
6. In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed
7. Whipping Post


Whether you've got your hands on the original At Fillmore East, or the completely revamped Fillmore Concerts or the further revamped Fillmore East Deluxe edition you've got some combination of songs that the original line up of the Allman Brothers Band played at the Fillmore Auditorium in March 1971. I'm not sure which one I'm writing about exactly but whichever one it is I can tell you that it's fantastic.

I love the Allman Brothers, they're just a magnificent group of musicians and the closest thing you can get to The Grateful Dead without spotting some Tie Dye. While the Dead were influenced by the Blues, Folk music, free jazz and lots of other things besides, Duanne and Gregg Allman, and their bandmates were pretty much entrenched in the Blues. They were steeped in the the delta blues tradition and could not only cover a blues standard and do it justice they could write a great blues track that didn't just sound like some new words slapped onto an old Muddy Waters tune.

They might be a bit more one-trick that The Dead who had many strings to their bow but the one trick they had they did incredibly well thanks to the combined talents of the group. Duane Allman is one of the greatest guitarists to ever wield an instrument and without a shadow of a doubt the most talented person named Duane to ever live. For many he deserves to be held in the same pantheon as Clapton, Page and Beck and there are some that even rank him with Hendrix, he's that good. He can certainly play the blues and throws out some amazing solos. His slide work also deserves a mention. Slide guitar is an under rated skill and is harder than it looks. It's not just guitar playing for those who can't be bothered learning chords.

Frequently overlooked and unjustly ignored, is second lead guitarist Dicky Betts who is not only a great guitarist he's the most talented person to ever willingly call themselves Dicky. Betts hardly ever gets mentioned as a guitar great but Rolling Stone Magazine felt the need to rank him at number 58 on their list of the top 100 guitarists of all time. Betts was a more straight ahead leader player than Allman who could produce some stellar bluesy solos that sadly many attribute to Duane when they hear the two of them together.

There aren't too many bands who can boast two great guitarists playing together at the same time. But the strength of the Allman's isn't just the individual talents, it's the way the Dicky and Duane played together. They didn't just play rhythm and lead they played joint lead guitar which pushed and challenged each other in new directions. Their combined guitar work is unlike anyone else playing at the time and while there may be those who prefer Hendrix as a player, there's no doubt Jimi never had someone who he could partner like Duane could.

The rest of the band are no slouches either. The double drum attack of Jai Johnny Johanson and Butch Trucks created an explosive rhythm section which was complimented nicely by Berry Oakely on bass. It goes without saying that there have never been more talented people named Jai, Butch and Berry.

Gregg Allman's keyboard work isn't as dynamic as other great piano players, his chords lay down a rhythm background for Duane and Dicky to play over the top of but his voice is Gregg's true gift to the Allman Brothers. Lots of other bands had great musicians but many of them were let down in the vocal department. Fleetwood Mac had a great blues guitarist and a talented line up but nobody who could sing a song with anything approaching the passion of Gregg. His voice made sure the Allman Brothers weren't just a blues jamming outfit, they could play great songs.

While we're crediting individual players for being so good we should never lose sight of the fact that the band worked so well as an outfit. Cream couldn't combine three great talents without losing focus and becoming a mess, Led Zeppelin only managed it by stopping everything to give each individual their chance to shine. The Allman Brothers Band were one of the few outfits who sere so much greater than the sum of their parts. They brought out the best in each other and whether they were charging through a fairly straight forward 5 minute blues track (Statesboro Blues, Done Somebody wrong, one way out) or stretching out on an extended jam, they never played a song the same way twice which is what makes their extensive bootleg catalogue so compelling.

Fillmore East doesn't have a single dull moment. While a half hour jam loosely based on an obscure Donovan track might sound like the ultimate in self indulgence it's actually a fantastic listen that never collapses in on itself and becomes aimless. Although I must admit I think the extended and jammed version of Whipping Post isn't nearly as good as the studio version. Whipping Post is one of my favourite songs of all time. I know I've raved about lots of tracks on this countdown but if I was forced to list a top ten there is no doubt Whipping Post would be there somewhere. It's a magnificently powerful entity with a crunching baseline and words that are just perfect to shout along to. I love Whipping Post but just like Dixie Chicken by Little Feat, I think I prefer it as a perfectly contained five minute track rather than an opportunity to extend into a huge jam. The 22 minute live version of Whipping Post lets it wander too far from it's origins into jam territory that's fun to listen to but leaves you wistful for the main refrain which feels so far removed.

Fillmore East works because it's a band of incredibly talented musicians who bring out the best in each other. It helps that their choice of Blues covers move beyond the standard tracks that everyone else seemed to do into some of the more obscure performer's catalogues which means the listener isn't making any comparisons. The few originals all hold up to the blues tracks including In Memory of Elizabeth Reed which is one of rock's most perfect instrumentals and shows how the band weren't just great improvisers they could learn a complicated piece of music and replicate it onstage.

Not long after the Fillmore shows were recorded, Duane died in a motorcycling accident. A year later Berry Oakley met the same fate. The band continued on throughout the seventies but were never the same again and disbanded.

Like a lot of groups who had success in the sixties the Allman Brothers have reformed as best they could. Dicky Betts has fallen out with the rest of the group but Gregg, Jai and Butch have kept the name alive in the 2000's and beyond. But unlike other groups who are basically nostalgia acts, The Allman Brothers have reinvented themselves to be much more than just a shadow of what went before. Berry Oakely was always a fine bass player but his replacement in the new outfit is Oteil Burbridge who is just insanely good and one of those bass players who pushes the boundaries of his instrument to new and fascinating places.

Replacing Dicky and Duane was always going to be difficult but Gregg Allman managed to find two of the most talented guitar players of their generation. Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks are incredible players who are fantastic individually in their respective bands (Govt Mule and The Tedeschi Trucks band) and are lifetime friends who know how to bring out the best in each other. Haynes also has a fantastic blues voice which compliments Gregg's nicely. Is it sacrilege to say the current line up of the Allman Brothers Band is as good as the classic line up? Probably, but their recent live releases could make a believer out of even the most hardened sceptic.

I can't recommend the Fillmore concerts enough and I urge you check out as much Allman Brothers as you can get your hands on. It's well worth the effort.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "I am primarily a lover of classical music. My roommate in College forced me to listen to this in the seventies. I was flabbergasted. Not only is there jazz and blues in the music, but the structure, the crescendos, the "evocativeness" of the music and the tightness of the band remind me of Beethoven with electric guitars."

-That's it, I'm playing this to my dad tomorrow. I'm sure he'll thank me.

So does this move you or would you rather be tied to a Whipping Post? Let me know below.

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