Saying goodbye to the Allman Brothers Band
By NICK TAVARES
STATIC and FEEDBACK Editor
It had been in the back of my mind as one of those seemingly trivial news tidbits for months. But until I read David Fricke’s review of the last show the Allman Brothers Band will ever play, the actuality of the band actually stopping never truly registered.
It’s not a huge surprise that the band is calling it a career — Jaimoe is 70 years old, Gregg Allman will soon be 67, and Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks each have time-consuming careers away from the Allmans. But it was still a bit of a shock to the system to think that they wouldn’t be playing as a unit anymore. Fittingly, the band closed out their career with a ridiculous four-hour show, packing practically every great moment of their recorded career into three sets that could stand as one final testament.
After reading Fricke’s story, I turned back to At Fillmore East, and reveled in every great song, solo and note again, and remained stuck on it for days, transfixed by Duane Allman’s unaccompanied guitar solo on “You Don’t Love Me” and the way his guitar so gracefully danced with Dickey Betts’ on “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed.”
There are moments where Duane’s guitar reaches an incredible blend of melody and raw inspiration that serves as the closest rock and roll ever got to answering Billie Holliday’s voice. If the early Allmans played like jazz music for rock fans, it wasn’t by accident. Where peers the Grateful Dead were into a form of improvisation that was completely free and at times without structure, the Allmans were interested in exploring the space and possibilities within the loose guidelines of the blues and their own compositions. In that, they took whatever was possible, referenced other works and created beautiful pieces on the fly.
Duane died in 1971, and from there, the band sought to continue those lessons and aspire to reach the same highs. They had ups and downs — the Chuck Leavell era dissolved in the mid-1970s, and the brief creative spark later that decade with Dan Toler in the second guitar slot fizzled out again just a couple of years later. Then came the real revival in 1989, with Seven Turns and Haynes in the fold, the first guitarist worthy of paying tribute to Duane’s spot. Gregg Allman’s voice was in full force, and that began a 25-year stretch of fantastic shows, with the band tirelessly trotting out to halls and amphitheaters every summer.
In the studio, the band hit highs in 1994 with Where it All Begins, and again in 2003 with Hittin’ the Note, with Haynes and now Trucks on guitar. In both instances, the band recorded live and captured their fiery, precise playing on tape on new material that was written not with nostalgia in mind but in an effort to match all those incredible early efforts. What was happening on stage every night was now preserved on LP.
That first time I saw the Allmans was in 2000 shortly after Betts was sent packing for the final time, and Jimmy Herring was in his guitar slot, opposite Derek Trucks. This was my third concert ever, and instead of partying on the lawn or trying to find someone to buy me a beer during the show, I wanted nothing more than to just sit there, watch and listen. Glancing at the setlist again surprised me (they played “Franklin’s Tower?”) but the most vivid memory was of “Dreams,” and the haunting organ that set a bed under the weaving guitar lines for what felt like hours, beautiful, unending hours. It was transcendent in a way I hadn’t yet experienced live. There was just an incredible, deep appreciation for the music being made, both in its respect for history and for the new paths being dug out of the grooves.
I saw the Allmans three more times — once a year for the next three years, all with Warren Haynes back at guitar alongside Trucks. They reached new, more impressive heights each time, whether it was opening with “Whipping Post” or a long and dreamy “Mountain Jam” dedicated to the memory of Widespread Panic’s Michael Houser. All together, a little jewel box of indelible memories, and in the grand scheme, just four random nights pulled from their long journey.
But I never saw them after 2003. I never made it to the Beacon Theater, and though I had a chance to see them again last year in Mansfield, work and life got in the way and made it too much of a hassle. That’s too bad, and it’s my loss. By all reports, right up to the end last week at the Beacon, they were on fire and locked in, trading furious grooves and taking their blues/jazz hybrid as far as it can go.
For most of their 45-year expedition, the band’s mission was to use Duane as a springboard of both inspiration and dedication, paying tribute to his music and memory by taking what he started in new directions. They’ve finished their job now, but the work isn’t over. The Allman Brothers Band’s music, with and without Duane, is a complete body of work now, available to be studied and cherished, with all those notes and runs there to be excavated and fawned over.
I’ll likely continue to live in the early 1970s, as far as their music is concerned, listening and re-listening to Duane and Dickey trade solos, with the mental image of Derek and Warren doing the same thing 30 years later out in the woods in Mansfield. The band is done, but the music won’t ever be.
Nov. 4, 2014
Email Nick Tavares at firstname.lastname@example.org