A Band of Brothers... 50th Anniversary Allman Brothers At Fillmore East
Recently, while excavating at an archeological dig better known as the Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland
, Ohio an intrepid tourist lingered long and hard at a find containing the remnants of a long forgotten tribe once known as The Allman Brothers Band. A band of brothers if you will.
These ancients in a modern world were known for utilizing wooden sticks, taught animal skins, ivory, metal wires and various howls and screams to express themselves and comment on the strange world they saw around them. Some of these primitive sounds can still be heard in the minds, souls and hearts of the innocents that were conquered and remain to many among the staples of the Rock era. Though the 4th of July is traditionally celebrated with fireworks and explosions of various sorts, the Independence Day festivities which ocurred in 1971 took on an import of another sort for it was the weekend of the release of At Fillmore East
by The Allman Brothers Band and it subsequently created its own everlasting blast.
We are on the lower east side of Manhattan decades later and as one walks slowly by it is not the banking institution located at 105 second avenue in and of itself that can elicit a tear drop rolling from the eye, down the cheek and splattering unceremoniously on the concrete ground below. No, to those that remember it was much more than that. There had been no bounced checks, no emptied bank accounts, and no foreclosures to speak of. There was only one solitary thought, off this corner in the late '60s and early '70s, stood one of the grand rock palaces that had set the standard for and presented some of the most frenetic performances the form had been witness to.
Continuing on a few awkward steps past the nationally known bank one can see, emblazoned on a nearby lightpole, the words "Fillmore East" written in ancient mosaic form. The legendary Fillmore East. It was always deceptively narrow and unassuming, it's facade looking barely sturdy enough to secure the massive marquee bolted to it. Yet this same facade, at times, appeared to be the bow of a great eastbound ship journeying towards the Atlantic, which lay just steps away, with grand adventures in mind and with merry passengers in tow. Past the gangplank, beyond the ticket takers and vendors, the building widened evermore into a larger hull shaped hall that accommodated the audience and the performance space. Bill Graham, the Captain at the helm of the rocking and rolling wayward vessel would often take to the stage to proffer his announcements to an often excited but weary public acquainted with his instructions and denouncements. Yet all awaited expectantly in anticipation of the cutting edge music that would soon be pouring off the stage like waves on a roiling sea.
It was here in mid March of '71 that The Allman Brothers took to the stage and created one of the brawniest and most spiritual live performances captured on tape to that point and beyond. Free format radio stations such as WNEW-FM in New York City
and KMPX FM in San Francisco
quickly embraced the July '71 release and played entire sides of the lengthy jam album to astounded listeners. They may not have been reading the Declaration of Independence, nor the Emancipation Proclamation or the Magna Carta, but tunes like "Hot Lanta," "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed" and "Whipping Post" all bleeding into each other with remarkable ease seemed to be making powerful declarations of their own and had as much to say about pain, sorrow, joy, freedom, and the other struggles and victories in life to the entranced listeners as anything they'd encountered before.
Now, many suggest that the evening of the recording was just another night in the long and distinguished career of an accomplished band's heavily laden touring schedule but to those who have heard tapes of the band performing several days before the Fillmore performance and a week later in New Orleans
, La. at The Warehouse agree that something special was indeed taking place on that stage that particular night. With their amps buzzing and their snares sizzling the players are raw, primal and yet there is a nobility and majesty to the sound that strikes an eternal chord. The musicians are interlocked, listening to each other and pushing the music forward as a single unit on a distinct mission. The rhythm support each guitarist lends while the other solos is selfless, boundless and done strictly in service of the music. Rock turns to blues turns to jazz turns to rhythm and blues and the genres twist and turn under the controlled collective hand of the six southern musicians. At one point, during guitarist Dickie Betts' solo in "Whipping Post" he steers the music down low and soft for a time then builds back into a crescendo with a verse heard previously in bits and pieces but now fully and powerfully formed. The audience draws back at the hauntingly magical melody that cascades over the listeners sounding as beautiful as any well penned aria Opera titan Giacomo Puccini ever composed.
And at evenings' end with the frantic crowd dispersed and with the band in a descending calm they entered the cool chill of a New York City night humbly hailing a cab along with producer Tom Dowd and headed north to the Atlantic Recording studio just off Columbus Circle to listen to the evenings' crop of performances in order to select tracks for the soon to be historic double album.
With half a centuries' reflection behind us, At Fillmore East
remains a work of profound depth and has been inspirational to a legion of musicians. As importantly perhaps, the band's roots in Daytona, Jacksonville, Nashville, Macon and Ocean Springs, Mississippi deeply affected young southern listeners in helping to found a new identity grounded not in the old south but one more contemporaneous and forward thinking.
As the tourist ponders these things before a diorama dedicated to the band a security guard approaches and advises that the Rock hall will be closing shortly. Outside the empty streets of Cleveland await as the late afternoon sun hangs low and forbodingly on the mid western horizon.
But wait. This is not an ending, there is soon to be released a CD and Blu-ray of a concert held in Madison Square Garden in March of 2020 featuring the remnants of the Allman Brothers Band known as "The Brothers." A sold out gathering of the tribe had taken place and following such a powerful and muscular performance by all involved is it any wonder, though some credit the closures as a covid response, that the world shut down the following day. How could it not?
In acknowledging the deceased members of the Allman Brothers Band that evening guitarist Warren Haynes stepped up to the mike, raised his hands skyward, and simply said; "They're Here!" All in the audience fully grasped what he meant and rose to honor them. Apparently, the road does indeed go on forever.
Statesboro Blues; Done Somebody Wrong; Stormy Monday; You Don't Love Me;
Hot 'Lanta; In Memory of Elizabeth Reed; Whipping Post.
Gregg Allman: organ, piano, vocals, Dickey Betts: guitar, Duane
Allman: guitar, slide guitar, Thom Doucette: harmonica, Jai Johanny
Johanson: conga, drums, timbales, Berry Oakley: bass, Butch Trucks:
drums, timbales, Bobby Caldwell: percussion.