First post here:
In 1973, the Allmans released their most successful album, Brothers and Sisters. This was the first one without Duane or Berry and they knew they could not just replace Duane with another guitarist. At least not yet. So they hired a pianist, Chuck Leavell. (Who in addition to being a tree farmer (!) now plays for the Stones). This was by far their most commercial album and the songs were inescapable.
For this brief shining moment, they were the most popular band in the land with all the pros and cons that come with that. (Gregg married Cher, the band got invited to the White House by fellow Georgian Jimmy Carter, pressure escalated, more drugs, more groupies, etc.) At least some of the Cameron Crowe movie Almost Famous is about the Allmans although disguised as a fictional band.
And “Ramblin’ Man”was playing everywhere. Second guitar by a cat named Les Dudek but that sweet country sound is all Dickey. (Betts is not only a great guitarist, he is really good songwriter. He played this song once with Dylan who not only knew all the words but wished he had written it):
Another titanic song from this album was also a Dickey Betts tune. (So not only was the shift from blues to country happening, so was the center of gravity somewhat from Gregg to Dickey. Duane’s personality was that of a forceful, dynamic leader. Today we’d probably call him a Type A. The other guys, not so much.)
Betts wrote “Jessica” in honor of French gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt but named it for his daughter who came crawling in the room just at the right moment.
The Wall Street Journal of all publications called this song a “true national heirloom.” (Who the hell at the Wall Street Journal knows anything about music? And can I have that job?) And a long-running British car show called Top Gear has for years used a sort of American Idol-sounding version of it as their theme song. Here’s the goods:
The rest of the ’70’s were not kind to the ABB. Disco and new wave came along, “southern rock” fell out of fashion, there were drug busts and betrayals, there were shitty albums. And then they broke up. They all kept themselves busy throughout the depressing eighties, playing in solo bands and in various combinations.
Gregg did a crummy album with Cher and they had a son – Elijah – who is also a musician. (Family business if you will). Does anyone else find it amusing that A) Gene Simmons of Kiss gave Elijah his first guitar and B) Elijah is much more of a Metallica than ABB fan?
But in 1989, they released a retrospective box set (“Dreams”) in the then-new new CD format. (Compiled by the same guy who had done Clapton’s “Crossroads” box set.) And everybody said, oh yeah, these guys were pretty good.
So on the heels of that they re-formed and put out a nice album called “Seven Turns.” (First good one, frankly, in years). Its kickoff song “Good Clean Fun” was a return to form that blasted out of FM radio full-force. The Allmans were back, baby. (Now with second guitarist Warren Haynes). This song swings!
Here they are on playing it on talk show host Johnny Carson’s show. (Carson thought they were great. If you’re curious, here’s a clip of the ABB playing “True Gravity” with the Tonight Show’s brass section right after that song. Carson’s reaction is priceless):
At the risk of giving them short shrift, I won’t detail everything from then till now. Suffice it to say that Dickey eventually got kicked out of the band for substance abuse and/or being a jerk; ace slide guitarist Derek Trucks (nephew of drummer Butch Trucks) joined and they added a percussionist named Marc Quinones.
And they kept up their Beacon Theater residency right up to the end. (Saw them there two or three times, the last being – as mentioned – a couple of nights before the final show. Over time they had a lot of guests including Clapton, Natalie Cole and a whole host of people.) Warren Haynes effectively became the – for want of a better expression – musical director, pushing them into new spaces like Van Morrison and even Cream songs.
So this final clip is what the band sounded like in their most recent incarnation. (For the record, they probably could have gone on like this forever. But both guitarists wanted to do their own thing. And every member has some sort of offshoot band anyway.)
If I had to differentiate this incarnation from the Duane/Dickey era, I’d say over and above individual skill levels on guitar, the first band was more adventurous. They played more with time shifts, dual leads, throwing in unrelated songs, jazz – and making it all work. (Duane and Dickey spent a lot of time listening to albums like Kind of Blue and My Favorite Things). But these guys aren’t half-bad either.
So ladies and gentlemen, I leave you with this old Bobby Bland song. Actually it’s a T-Bone Walker song:
Dickey Betts, Gregg Allman, Butch Trucks and Jaimoe sometimes tour and play with their respective solo bands; Derek Trucks and his wife Susan Tedeschi have a bluesy group called the Tedeschi/Trucks band; Marc Quinones – who had never heard of the ABB when he joined them – works with salsa bands and as a session musician. And Warren Haynes plays with everybody including the Dead. (He was part of a contingent who played blues for Obama at the White House).
The Allman Brothers Band were inducted (by Willie Nelson) into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995. Their album “At Fillmore East” was selected for preservation in the Library of Congress, deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically important” by the National Recording Registry.
And someday in the not-too-distant future I will recount my road adventure with some fellow Allmans fans.