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Eric Clapton & The Allman Brothers: Sharing The Key To The Highway

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Long before Duane Allman prevailed upon famed record producer Tom Dowd to usher him into a session with Derek and The Dominos, the respective fates of The Allman Brothers and Eric Clapton were inextricably intertwined.

Early in their development as the Allman Joys and The Hourglass, Skydog, as Duane was nicknamed, and Gregg had covered Yardbirds' material and as they developed in to The Brothers proper, their blues-based, hard-rock riffing was directly descended from the highly-electrified likes of Clapton's work with John Mayall's Bluesbreakers.

The original ABB's progression was hitting an apex in the summer of 1971 when they closed Fillmore East in New York City for famed rock impresario Bill Graham. The inclusion of their complete set on that occasion renders the Deluxe Edition of Eat A Peach worth hearing because, apart from a pair of tracks randomly inserted on other packages, this vintage ABB performance has never been officially available.

Eric Clapton
Eric Clapton: Deluxe Edition
Polydor Records
2006 (1970)

Likewise, through a series of mis-steps and miscommunications, the original mix of Eric Clapton's very first solo album from 1970 has never been available. Produced by Delaney Bramlett, who had developed such an abiding relationship with Slowhand in the latter's post-supergroup (Cream, Blind Faith) days, this sequence of tracks combined with other selected recordings during this period. It collects virtually the entire output of Clapton's from this pivotal point in his career(not the least of which is the near-perfect electric rock and roll "Comin' Home" with Delaney & Bonnie and Friends).

After having heard The Band's Music From Big Pink, and yearning for a more down-home, roots-based music, Clapton decided to leave Cream, only to find himself diverted into another supergroup, Blind Faith. Short-lived as that collaboration with Steve Winwood turned out to be, Eric then moved himself almost directly into a role with which he felt comfortable, as a sideman and guitarist for Delaney & Bonnie (Bramlett) and Friends.

They toured, recorded together—for themselves and as backing band for King Curtis, who had also worked with Duane Allman (and who regularly paid him homage after the saxophonist's own tragic murder by teasing "Soul Serenade during solo spots with the ABB), and then served as Clapton's band for his first recording sessions under his own name.

The performances contained here, as bonuses on disc one of the package and the whole of disc two, radiate a bluesy authenticity that's a natural progression for Eric Clapton from his days as blues purist with John Mayall. It is in marked contrast to the sleek sound tailored by Tom Dowd (as included in remastered form here) and, even more importantly, especially in retrospect, it gives Slowhand room to play, over and above the instrumental opener "Slunky," as well as the beautiful closer "Let It Rain," without sacrificing the economy and ingenuity of the arrangements. As on "Blues Power" and "After Midnight, Clapton's guitar work embroiders upon the somewhat prosaic lyrics, rendering them a secondary statement.

Bramlett's production, as well as the influence brought to bear as they performed together, also fosters Clapton's efforts to begin developing as a singer. Accordingly, Eric's performances brim with a confidence in the direction he's chosen that's in stark contrast to subsequent solo albums. And it's not just in terms of style: Clapton knows what he's doing here in a way that often eludes him even today. EC remains the focal point largely because of that self-assured stance, yet the digital remastering of these heretofore unreleased tapes reveal a depth and warmth contained in the mix of horns, keyboards and background vocals Delaney crafted with engineer Bill Halverson.

Delaney & Bonnie
Home
Stax Records
2006 (1969)

It's a joyous revelation to compare the sound of this album to Home, a Delaney & Bonnie jewel recorded in Memphis for Stax and recently (perhaps not coincidentally) released with bonus tracks. Not only are these arrangements similar, in their upbeat funky tone, to Delaney's supervised sound of Eric Clapton, but it's fascinating to note exactly how much the singer/songwriter/guitarist/producer had influenced Eric Clapton's nascent vocal style, right down to the smallest inflections. The production of this album, whose musical roster is a veritable who's who of the legendary label—Isaac Hayes, Booker T & The MG's, The Memphis Horns, and more—breathes with an easygoing informality much as the alternate mix of EC's solo album does. And how rare it is to hear musicians playing a music that comes wholly naturally to them, totally free from contrivance for the sake of commerciality or self-consciousness in regards to cosmetic appearances. This may in fact be the definitive D&B (though only a few of their Friends who went on to be included in Joe cocker's Mad Dogs & Englishmen, appear here.)

As with the Deluxe Edition of Eric Clapton, there are few archive collections so revelatory as Home or as musically satisfying strictly on their own terms. Scott Shindler's liner notes for the former may over-explain a bit in describing the sequence of events that includes EC's roadwork with D&B & Friends, as well as some initial recordings including "Teasin', a single track with King Curtis, included as a bonus cut. But you can excuse the author because the music there makes a such a resounding statement itself, its inspiration so infectious it's tempting to try to explain it.

King Curtis
Live At Fillmore West
Rhino/WSM
2006 (1971)

Which is also the case with King Curtis' Live At Fillmore West. The saxophonist bandleader was just about reaching his artistic apogee at this point, his soulful take on contemporary jazz in full flight with an all star band including the Memphis Horns, Bernard Purdie as drummer and bassist Jerry Jemmott. Five bonus tracks in addition to remastered version of original recording are not redundant but more of a good thing of which you probably cannot get enough. Hearing this music (slightly cornball showbiz intros aside) is akin to entering a church of funky soul where material as diverse as Led Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love sounds as ready-made for Curtis & Co, as Buddy Miles' "Them Changes.

The two-disc version of Eric Clapton also suggests how prolific the musicians were feeling at this time. Once you get past the curios such as the alternate version of "Let It Rain, titled, with a wholly different set of lyrics, "She Rides, and a blues jam that just takes up space, you may never return to the familiar Tom Dowd mix. On Bramlett's alternate, you're hearing a group of musicians as mutually comfortable as can be and all to a purpose: helping launch a new stage in the career of a fellow musician (albeit an renowned one). And knowing of EC's fondness for The Band, It's interesting to note the presence of John Simon on piano, who worked closely with that group on their first two and most famous albums.

In hindsight, you might wonder how Slowhand's career might've developed had he gone on the road again with this unit, sharing the stage, then fronting them in a revue style package (perhaps presented much as Curtis introduces his music on Fillmore) Instead, Clapton hijacked drummer Jim Gordon, keyboardist/vocalist Bobby Whitlock and bassist Carl Radle, the quartet hightailing it to England to form Derek & The Dominos, only to return to America, Florida's Criteria Studios to be exact, to record the legendary album Layla( And Other Assorted Love Songs). For Clapton, Dowd and company to find themselves virtually in Duane Allman's backyard in late summer of 1970 seems to suggest destiny in the enlistment of the guitarist to join in the recording and, by most accounts, provide the spark that would ignite the sessions after a fitful start.

Allman Brothers Band
Eat A Peach: Deluxe Edition
Universal
2006 (1972)

It's savvy for Universal to release this expanded version of The Allman Brothers' Eat A Peach coincidental with the band's summer tour. Nevertheless, it's not just marketing: the musical virtues of this two-disc package reflect positively on the band past and present. The original recording, a classy and artistically potent combination of studio and live material recorded just before Duane Allman's death in October of the year his band closed the Fillmore, has never sounded better (even in the 3-D SACD mix of a year ago). Its eclectic range of material foreshadows the approach of the current Allman lineup as much as, at the time, it extended the development of the original Brothers.

Yet the truly unique cache of this two disc package is its second disc, a heretofore unreleased live recording capturing the entire set by the original lineup of the Allman Brothers Band from the final night of Fillmore East in New York. The occasion is notable for that reason in rock history at large, but also in ABB chronology: it occurred roughly two months before the release of ABB's breakthrough album, At Fillmore East, and four months before the death of Duane Allman, partway through the project that would eventually come to be the familiar version of EAP (contained on disc one of this Deluxe Edition).

There's clarity and space aplenty in the live recording as well, only two tracks of which have previously found themselves available to the public (though a recording of the performance in full has been widely-bootlegged). Taken as a whole, though, this performance is arguably the equal of Fillmore, perhaps its superior since, unlike that landmark album a produced by Tom Dowd, this seventy-minutes plus has no editing to its performances (other than the excision of Bill Graham's introduction).

Despite the fact The Allmans hadn't assembled a very extensive repertoire at this point (see Live At The Atlanta Pop Festival 1970 for just minor differences), the panache The Brothers display here, combined with the potent ingenuity of their individual and collective musicianship, is the likes of which their fans claim as the reason for their fame and more importantly, the durability of the seminal Southern band's sound.

And it constitutes the benchmark from which the current lineup proceeds: as double drummers Jaimoe and Butch Trucks pump in time under the singing("Statesboro Blues") soaring("Don't Keep Me Wonderin'") slide playing of the guitarist sibling Duane, his younger brother Gregg wails the wisdom of the blues. While the main singer/songwriter and keyboardist of the band offers a jaunty attitude on the likes of "One Way Out," it is altogether unsettling to hear his ghostly intonations near the close of "Whipping Post." Keith Richards once said it is frightening to listen to blues icon Robert Johnson at times, and the effect is much the same here.

Meanwhile, bassist Berry Oakley and guitarist Dickey Betts play almost equally prominent roles in this band. The instrumental currents they generate during the course of "In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed," for instance, illustrate their camraderie with each other and the rest of the sextet and depict, through the course of close to thirteen minutes, how the original six-man alignment of ABB is that rarest of musical animals: a group of uniformly superlative players.

Their near-reckless love of the free-spirited may have brought them tragedy (both Duane Allman and, roughly a year later, Berry Oakley died in motorcycle accidents), but it also bore their allegiance to the ethic of jazz improvisation. Only slightly stronger might be their fondness for British hard rock and, in turn, country music. Hear Betts play reels on his electric guitar at the end of "You Don't Love Me, and you know you're hearing musicians who have no fear of boundaries musical or otherwise. Such a perception is only reaffirmed in the half-hour plus exploration of the melodic motif written by British Dylan- wannabe Donovan, titled "First There Is A Mountain, now famously known as "Mountain Jam.

There's an innate discipline necessary to reach the transcendence of such musicianship and it's rooted in the studio session work Duane Allman did before forming The Brothers (some of which found him alongside King Curtis). Little wonder then how, under Dowd's tutelage, The Allman Brothers evolved so quickly into the studio craftsmen they had become by this time. Dickey's "Blue Sky was probably not intended to be a crucial turning point in their discography anymore than the acoustic duet of "Little Martha." It's only in the wake of the elder Allman's death that this pair of tracks served as (much) more than solid contrast with the syncopated likes of Gregg's "Stand Back or his languid "Ain't Wastin' Time No More.

But the band's maturation process is nowhere more apparent than on the instrumental section of "Blue Sky, where Duane and Dickey elevated their fretboard teamwork from merely tandem harmonies to the sublime interplay that here takes the form of an intricate upward spiral of guitar lines that peak so gracefully before the vocal returns; it is the intensely dramatic antithesis of "Little Martha.

It's not surprising the ABB of 2006 still play much of the material from Eat A Peach. This music has gained tremendous emotional resonance over the years (mercenary commercialism of "Melissa notwithstanding). As a result, this double-disc package is not just an important piece of history. It stands on its own terms as a testament to the enduring power of music, even as it represents a significant chapter in the story of a great band.

Bound for glory with the release and universal praise for At Fillmore East, the Allman train went off-track (though remarkably not for long) with Duane's death no less surely than Eric Clapton's career took a decided turn, though perhaps not ultimately for the worse, with the lukewarm response afforded his heart-and-soul masterwork Layla. This sequence of events, including just one Dominos tour of America—wonder what might've happened had Duane acceded to Clapton's request to go on the road with them?—exacerbated personnel issue within the Dominos and the insecure English blues purist descended into his own personal hell, coincidentally, at basically the same point in time a five-man lineup of The Allman Brothers soldiered on in the wake of their leader's death.

Just as perusing the set list doesn't begin to express what The Allman Brothers' were doing onstage at the Fillmore in early summer of 1971, taking note of the seemingly slight differences in song sequence can't convey the disparity in sound of the Tom Dowd-Delaney Bramlett productions of Eric Clapton's first solo album. An important point of continuity is the retention of the lush acoustic cut "Easy Now," the likes of which has no counterpart in Slowhand's discography.

While Scott Schindler may goes too far in delineating the differences between the two mixes (right down to Delaney's track sequencing), he might've spent a bit more time in rendering an account of the Allmans' history at The Fillmore in NY as well as their abiding relationship with Fillmore founder Graham. This would put Eat A Peach Deluxe Edition into an even clearer perspective than it now occupies as the project The Brothers began in their original incarnation and finished without their founder.

It's a circuitous route over some thirty-five years from the original recordings to the unveiling of these two exceptional archival packages. Their release is timely in more ways than the primary one: to capitalize on upcoming Allmans and Clapton roadwork. The Allman Brothers of the new millennium will shortly be on the second leg of their annual summer shed tour and Eric Clapton, having just finished dates in Europe, has a full slate of American appearances set for the autumn.

The mythic guitarist's profile is never higher than when he tours, but Slowhand's 2006 concerts are more noteworthy than usual since he invited young Derek Trucks to join his band, a development further solidifying EC's link to ABB. The young guitarist effectively replaced Duane in the group as slide and lead guitarist (prompting Clapton to rework Dominos material for his current shows.) It is not, seemingly, a cliché to state the road goes on forever for two of the most famous improvisational acts rock has ever known.


Tracks and Personnel

Eric Clapton: Deluxe Edition

Tracks: CD1: Slunky; Bad Boy; Lonesome And A Long Way From Home; After Midnight; Easy Now Blues Power; Bottle Of Red Wine; Lovin' You Lovin' Me; I've Told You For The Last Time; I Don't Know Why; Let It Rain; Blues In "A"; Teasin'; She Rides. CD2: Slunky; Bad Boy; Easy Now; After Midnight; Blues Power; Bottle Of Red Wine; Lovin' You Lovin' Me; Lonesome And A Long Way From Home; Don't Know Why; Let It Rain; Don't Know Why; I've Told You For The Last Time; Comin' Home; Groupie (Superstar).

Personnel: Eric Clapton: guitar and lead vocals; Delaney Bramlett: rhythm guitar, vocals; Bonnie Bramlett: vocals; Leon Russell: piano; Bobby Whitlock: organ and vocals; John Simon: piano; Carl Radle: bass; Jim Gordon: drums; Jim Price: trumpet; Bobby Keys: sax; Tex Johns: percussion; Rita Coolidge: vocals; Sonny Curtis: vocals; Jerry Allison: vocals; Stephen Stills: vocals, guitar (?).

Live at Fillmore West

Tracks: Memphis Soul Stew; A Whiter Shade Of Pale; Whole Lotta Love; I Stand Accused; Them Changes; Ode To Billie Joe; Mr. Bojangles; Signed, Sealed, Delivered (I'm Yours); Soul Serenade; My Sweet Lord; Them Changes; Ode To Billie Joe; Soul Serenade; Memphis Soul Stew.

Personnel: King Curtis: tenor, alto and soprano saxophones; Billy Preston: organ; Cornell Dupree: guitar; Truman Thomas: electric piano; Jerry Jemmott: electric bass; Bernard Purdie: drums; Pancho Morales: congas; Wayne Jackson: trumpet; Andrew Love: tenor saxophone; Roger Hopps: trumpet; Jack Hale: trombone; Jimmy Mitchell: baritone saxophone; Lou Collins: tenor saxophone.

Home

Tracks: A Long Road Ahead; My Baby Specializes; Things Get Better; We Can Love; All We Really Want To Do; It's Been A Long Time Coming; Just Plain Beautiful; Everybody Loves A Winner; Look What We Have Found; Piece Of My Heart; A Right Now Love; I've Just Been Feeling Bad; Dirty Old Man; Get Ourselves Together; Pour Your Love On Me; Hard To Say Goodbye.

Personnel: Delaney Bramlett: guitar and vocals; Bonnie Bramlett: vocals; Steve Cropper: guitar; Donald "Duck Dunn: bass, Al Jackson Jr: drums; Isaac Hayes: keyboards; Leon Russell: keyboards; Booker T. Jones: keyboards; Carl Radle: bass; Wayne Jackson: trumpet; Ben Cauley: trumpet; Andrew Love: tenor saxophone; Joe Arnold: Saxophone; Ed Logan: tenor saxophone; Jay Pruitt: trumpet; Dick Steff: trumpet; John Davis: trumpet; Phil Forrest: background vocals; William Bell: background vocals; Jimmy Karstein: percussion.

Eat A Peach: Deluxe Edition

Tracks: CD1: Ain't Wastin' Time No More; Les Brers In A Minor; Melissa; Mountain Jam; One Way Out; Trouble No More; Stand Back; Blue Sky; Little Martha. CD2: Statesboro Blues; Don't Keep Me Wonderin'; Done Somebody Wrong; One Way Out; In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed; Midnight Rider; Hot 'Lanta; Whipping Post; You Don't Love Me

Personnel: Duane Allman: lead and slide guitar, acoustic guitar; Gegg Allman: organ, piano, electric piano, acoustic guitar and vocals; Dickey Betts: lead and slide guitar, acoustic guitar, vocals, monkey skulls; Berry Oakley: bass; Butch Trucks: drums, tympani, gong and vibes; Jai Johanny Johanson: drums, congas and timbales.

Visit The Allman Brothers Band and Eric Clapton on the web.


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