The Allman Brothers Band: A final closure

The Allman Brothers Band ended in 2014; but Gregg Allman’s death gives that a sad finality
The Allman Brothers Band’s diverse fan club came together to mourn Gregg Allman’s (above) recent death(Getty images)
The Allman Brothers Band’s diverse fan club came together to mourn Gregg Allman’s (above) recent death(Getty images)
Updated on Jun 11, 2017 12:05 AM IST
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Hindustan Times | By Sanjoy Narayan

The problem with a fortnightly column and one that has a super-early deadline is that events very often overtake you. So when Gregg Allman died on May 27, there was no way I could contribute to Download Central my tuppence as a eulogy. Many of us have been fans of the Allman Brothers Band for as long as we can remember. It’s the sort of band whose music it is impossible to get tired of. The sort of band whose entire discography, every album, and every song on each of them, got indelibly etched into your memory. Some songs by the Allman Brothers you could listen to anytime and many times, because you never got bored of them or you never got enough of them.

I can put At Fillmore East, their first live album from 1971, on continuous repeat and be certain that I’m going to enjoy it although I have heard it a zillion times. On side four of the original vinyl double album there is the captivating Whipping Post, Gregg Allman’s composition, which is performed for nearly 24 minutes – it is the only song on that side. Lead guitarist Duane Allman, Gregg’s older brother who died in a motorcycle crash not long after that Fillmore record, comes out and introduces the song; the band’s bassist Berry Oakley starts it off with what is one of rock’s finest bass lines; the two guitarists (Duane and co-lead Dickey Betts) enter as does Gregg Allman on his Hammond organ and with his inimitable, gritty, growling vocals; and thus begins a super-long treat. At Fillmore East has a Deluxe version with additional tracks; and a Super Deluxe version with even more unreleased add-ons. And yes, I have both!

In the past couple of weeks, after Allman’s death, there have been several obituaries, tributes and reminisces – by remaining band members, musicians who played with him and critics who’ve followed his and the band’s tumultuous career. Formed in 1969, the Allman Brothers Band disbanded in 2014 but there were two deaths (Duane’s was closely followed by an eerily similar accident that took Oakley); at least two break-ups (which many accounts say had to do with Gregg Allman’s conduct); two reformations; and a glorious return to form and live gigging. One of those live dates was a regular annual residency at New York’s legendary Beacon Theatre where, aptly, in October 2014, the band played its last gig before dissolving forever. 

I was lucky to catch a night during their 2011 Beacon Theatre run. The band’s line-up then included, besides Gregg, Butch Trucks and Jai Johanny Johanson (better known as Jaimoe), both on drums, Oteil Burbridge on bass guitar, Marc Quinones on percussion, and the terrific duo, Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks, on lead guitars. The vocal duties were split between Gregg and Warren, and although they didn’t do Whipping Post that night, Gregg did a straight-from-the-heart version of Melissa, another of the band’s iconic songs. As was normal on those Beacon gigs by the band, there were guests stepping in one by one to jam on various songs with them – I remember Leslie West and John Kadlecik on guitar, and Jay Collins on sax. All the guests jammed together with the band as they came back for the encore song, Southbound, yet another classic Allman Bros tune. 

Three years after that year’s Beacon run, the band called it quits, mainly because of Gregg’s health issues. Years of living dangerously –personal tragedies, drugs, alcohol, six marriages (one was with pop diva Cher) – took their toll. Also in 2014, at Atlanta’s Fox Theatre, a galaxy of musicians came together to play in a concert along with the Allman Brothers and Gregg Allman in what was a tribute to his music and songs. That recording yielded an album, which features, besides Gregg and the Allman Brothers, Susan Tedeschi, Widespread Panic, Keb’ Mo’, Dr. John, Jackson Browne and plenty of others. No fan of the Bros should miss that.

The Allman Brothers Band have been called the pioneers of Southern Rock, a label critics like to use (and musicians abhor) to describe the amalgam of blues, rock, jazz and country music that characterises their sound and that of other ‘southern’ bands that were formed in the USA’s southern states such as, not only the early ones – Lynyrd Skynyrd, Marshall Tucker Band, and Charlie Daniels Band – but also the more contemporary ones – Drive-By Truckers, Gov’t Mule and Widespread Panic. Such a categorisation is not always accurate because each of these bands have a unique style and some such as the Allman Brothers Band always tried to push the boundaries to make music that is not easy to pigeonhole. The influence of jazz or improvisational blues-rock in their music, particularly the live recordings, made them stand apart just as the pioneers of jam-bands, the Grateful Dead did. 

The film, Almost Famous, was said to be based on journalist-turned-director Cameron Crowe’s experiences with the band.
The film, Almost Famous, was said to be based on journalist-turned-director Cameron Crowe’s experiences with the band.

In 1973, Cameron Crowe, the film-director, producer, actor and journalist, wrote a profile of the Allman Brothers Band for Rolling Stone magazine. When Gregg died on May 27, the magazine put it out again on social media sites. It opens with an interview of Gregg Allman and to date it remains the gold standard article on the band. Crowe was 16 when he wrote it. And years later when he made the part-autobiographical film, Almost Famous , it was said to be loosely based on the Allman Brothers Band and his experience of covering them. Read it. Watch it. If you haven’t already, that is!

DC recommends: Six ‘Southern rock’ tracks to add to your playlist

Tiny Dest Concert by Drive-By Truckers

Porch Song by Widespread Panic

Banks of the Deep End by Govt. Mule

Cover Me Up by Jason Isbell

Holda You (I’m Psycho) by White Denim

Don’t Wanna Fight by Alabama Shakes

From HT Brunch, June 11, 2017

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