(Pictured: The cover from our itinerary)
And you may find yourself
Behind the wheel of a large automobile
And you may find yourself in a beautiful house
With a beautiful wife
And you may ask yourself, well
How did I get here?
—-Once in a Lifetime, Talking Heads
Well, how did I get here? (Or there.) In a nutshell, I used to do contract computer work back in the Nineties. One lunchtime, bored, waiting for the project to get going, I started reading an interview with Duane Allman in Guitar Player magazine. I randomly wondered if the Allmans had a website and quickly found the Hittin’ the Web site.
I started getting involved in conversations about this or that iteration of the band, tape trading, which album is best, etc. You know, the usual shit. One day someone got to wondering if there had ever been an Allmans tribute album. On realizing there hadn’t been, some guy volunteered to pull one together with contributions from anyone on the list who wanted to do so.
To make a long story short, he disappeared one day. Just never responded. So without really thinking about it, I stepped up and volunteered to take the project over if someone else would produce it. There was a guy named Ray in Hartford, CT. who did audio-visual work for some school and had access to recording equipment. Hartford was a couple hours south of me but we figured we could do it in one or two visits.
What happened at that point is that contributors from the site started sending me tapes and CD’s and after a while, I had a pretty nice collection. (Not overwhelming though – there are always a lot more fans than musicians, especially those that can play at the caliber of the ABB.)
So what was on this thing? Well, we had enough material for two CD’s worth. Some of it was really good, some of it, so-so. But Ray and I didn’t want to prejudge. We weren’t out to make a masterpiece but to let those who wanted to honor this band, honor them. If they sent us something great, so be it. If shite, so be that.
I went down to Hartford and worked with Ray for a couple of afternoons, just trying to sequence the thing. I can confess that I personally didn’t know shit about producing anything but we had some fun for a couple of Saturdays. There was some lousy stuff which, in retrospect, I wish we’d ask the parties involved to re-record such as a poorly done, poorly recorded “Whippin’ Post.” (Or all things.)
But then there was some outstanding stuff from the album we eventually called Peaches from the Family Tree.* A highlight was the incredible piano solo by a guy named Barney Issen on the Brothers’ tune, “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed.” (Most of the contributors were amateurs.) This rendition, more than anything else, knocked our socks off. The band, too. Yes, thanks to Lana, they heard the album.**
We created a limited number of CD’s and sent them to whoever on the ABB list wanted a copy. Maybe we sent out 50-75, some overseas. Everybody pretty much dug it, some said it made them want to go back to the originals. (Of course. None of us were worthy.)
Another great number was “Blue Sky” as performed by a guy named Kevin, originally from Pittsburgh, more recently from San Diego. He and his drummer got together and did the song and Kevin played Duane’s solo note-for-note. I can play note-for-note solos of some songs now, I couldn’t then. Kevin, as I recall, was a pretty cool guy, great music lover, terrific guitarist, stone Allmans freak. Check this out:
Lastly, is yours truly. I had sort of known how to play Duane’s song “Little Martha” before but I kicked it up a notch and learned it for the CD. I will here confess that I later realized I was playing a couple of the wrong chords on this recording. But you wouldn’t know if you didn’t know.
Since corrected, but I will post this one anyway. That sound you might hear prior to the song is my taking a breath so I don’t screw up what was to be my third and final try.
So, that’s how I got invited. And on what I recall as being a clear, sunny day in April of 1996, I flew from Boston to Atlanta with my acoustic guitar. (I have no idea what compelled me to bring one. I think the only other acoustic I owned at the time was a nylon classical guitar, not suitable for ‘aw, play the blues.’ Anyway, bringing the guitar turned out to be fortuitous as we shall see.)
Lana met me at the airport. She was a cheerful, friendly sort. As mentioned, she and her guy were (and I suppose still are) passionate long-time ABB lovers. They set up the site, knew the guys (including their managers) and made my love for the band seem limp by comparison.
When we got to where the buses were, I met our fellow travelers, about 14 in all. It was a mix of mostly “more mature” (35 years and up) fans in a pretty good mix of male to female. Older, because the band didn’t want any bullshit like people partying to excess and/or OD’ing. (Lana’s thirteen-year-old daughter was with us as was, for a period of time, one of the other guys’ sons.)
In the words of then-tour manager Kirk West, “This may be your dream come true, but try to keep a lid on it.” Kirk probably spent more time on the bus with us than anyone, although Warren Haynes and then-bassist, the late Allen Woody breezed through once or twice.
Tour manager/photographer Kirk West
I am not going to bore you with every single detail of everything we did. For one thing, it was over twenty years ago. For another, it would be an endless series. I will say this – if you’ve never been on one of those band tour buses, it’s quite the thing. The one we were on had been previously used by Emmylou Harris and our driver had been her driver.
The bus was 45 feet long and 102 inches wide. We slept in bunks and there was a back (party) area where two of the women, Meg and Sarah, wound up sleeping. Plenty of electronics on board, also refrigerator and microwave. The bunks are referred to as “coffins” as there is just about enough space to fit yourself and then stare at the ceiling an inch or two over your head.
I don’t know if you’ve ever slept in a coffin-like bunk but it’s a hell of a thing. You can reach your arm up and touch the ceiling pretty easily, and maybe it’s as wide as a (very small) couch. You’ve got a vent in there for air, a curtain for privacy, and a reading light.
The first night I couldn’t sleep in it. It was hot, I didn’t know how to work the air, and all I could see was that closed curtain. Way too claustrophobic. I spent more time hanging out with the bus driver than I did actually sleeping.
Eventually, I grew to, well, not love it but I at least got used to it. I found myself often wondering how bands can stay on the road for such long periods of time and not get sick of it. Some people, that’s all they do and all they wanna do.
From my diary: “I can’t pretend to be an expert on it after only one week, but life on the road is weird, disorienting. The band travels on a bus to another town for the sole purpose of playing at a venue the next day. They may get in at 6:00 am and sleep part of the day away after a show the night before. It’s entirely possible that they may not actually play again until the next evening at 8.
So in some cases, they’ve got as much as 36 hours to kill because essentially they are in a waiting mode. Now I’m starting to understand a little bit why some people don’t come back from the road. If you’re 20 or so years old, have no real restraints, have people bringing you drugs to get next to you, and have all the time in the world, maybe you get high.”
Personally, believe it or not, I didn’t indulge in any drugs, not even pot-smoking. Those days are well behind me and the awesomeness of being on this tour wasn’t enough to convince me to change my mind on that. But there was a fairly continuous party going on in the back of the bus with a lot of strange people coming and going.
Next post – A few shows; Birmingham; a chance encounter
Sources: My own dim memory; Hittin’ the Note, Vols. 15 and 16.
*From a quote by Duane – “Every time I’m in Georgia, I eat a peach for peace.”
**The Allmans have a house where they used to live in Macon, GA called The Big House. It’s now a tourist spot. I was told they were going to put a copy of the tribute album in there. Don’t know if they ever did. Never made it there.