Nothing warms the heart cockles of a late-Baby Boomer more than a discussion of music, specifically that of his or her childhood. Baby Boomers are a boisterous and opinionated bunch regarding their music, fully justified in believing that the period between mid-1950s and mid-1970s was, in the words of VH1 Executive Director Bill Flanagan, a "Golden Age" in American Music. Restrict that conversation to the best live rock recordings and the dialog shifts to a high simmer, under pressure, threatening rebellion or all-out apocalypse at any moment as I was to learn with my graded publication of "The Best Live Rock Recordings
Were the reader to select that hot link, he or she would find that an editor had decided to limit my title with the appended " (196979)." I respectfully disagreed with that restriction then then and continue to now. Since writing this series, I have heard only a handful of live recordings that deserved to be included in this list and the subsequent "The Best Live Rock RecordingsThe Best of The Rest
." One such recording that immediately comes to mind is Jerry Lee Lewis' crime scene of a concert Live at the Star Club, Hamburg
(Bear Family, 1962/1999). To my mind, there has been no comparable live rock recordings since Little Feat's Waiting for Columbus
(Warner Brothers, 1978). There! I said it! But, that, along with the death threats I received for my honest appraisal of Led Zeppelin's The Song Remains the Same
(Swan Song, 1976), are digressions and discussions for another time.
The 1970s saw the rise of the "Southern Rock" phenomenon manifesting in the quadrilateral of Lynyrd Skynyrd; Marshall Tucker Band, ZZ Top and the Allman Brothers Band. For every popular pejorative applied to this music: "Redneck Rock," "Cracker Country" or the like, the music still defined the era regionally and nationally. The musical Wotan of this movement was the Allman Brothers Band, whose candle burned incandescently in the original format for a little over two years. While the band's two studio recordings, Allman Brothers Band
(Capricorn. 1969) and Idlewild South
(Capricorn, 1970) were critically well received, like The Band and Little Feat, the Allman Brothers were destined to lay waste on the concert stage. The last number of years have seen the release of a plethora of live recordings, pre- and post-Duane Allman's and Berry Oakley's deaths. But it was the unusually productive period between March and July 1971 at New York City's Fillmore East that is formalin-fixed into a generation's collective unconscious, manifesting itself as the two-LP sets At Fillmore East
(Capricorn, 1971) and Eat a Peach
The near-myth surrounding the Allman Brothers Band's March 11-13 and June 27, 1971 Fillmore concerts is now hardening into a more-or-less factual account supported by the audio recordings with the current The 1971 Fillmore East Recordings
. The same may also be said for the recorded account, which has been, up until now, a mess. The original two-LP release was largely culled from a series of four shows performed on March 12 and 13, 1971 at New York City's Fillmore East Auditorium. Since that time At Fillmore East
has seen multiple releases on compact disc, each with differing levels of sonic cleansing, digital alchemy and the pornographic revelation of unreleased material.
While a superior musical document in itself, At Fillmore East
has existed as a robust but incomplete torso, like that of Mozart's Requiem
, neither fully annotated or, ultimately, realized. Several of the songs recorded from the March 1971 Fillmore concerts not included on At Fillmore East
were carelessly strewn across Eat A Peach
("Trouble No More" and "Mountain Jam"), Duane Allman: An Anthology
("Don't Keep Me Wondering"), Duane Allman: An Anthology, Volume 2
("Midnight Rider"), and The Allman Brothers Band: Dreams
("Drunken- Hearted Boy"). "One Way Out" which appeared first on Eat a Peach
was the only song not actually recorded March 1971. It was recorded on June 27, 1971 at the final Fillmore concert before the hall closed. Prior to the release of The Fillmore Concerts
in 1992, this discography accounted for all of the music in release from the famous March and June 1971 shows. The Fillmore Concerts
(1992) contained the first unreleased material from the Allman's famous stand at the Fillmore up to that time. Perhaps the greatest difference between At Fillmore East
and The Fillmore Concerts
outside of the additional material added is the digital editing on "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed" and "You Don't Love Me," combining the superior pieces of the multiple takes of each performed during the four shows. Needless to say, this was controversial. This bit of Tom Dowd wizardry also magnifies an additional issue to be considered: the amount of material drawn upon for the extant releases.
History documents that two shows each were performed on not only Friday, March 12th and Saturday, March 13th, the dates from which the bulk of the material was drawn but also Thursday, March 11th. My best Jethro Bodine cyphering around the time of the release of At Fillmore East, Deluxe Edition
, (Mercury, 2003) had me considering the 13 songs making up At Fillmore East, Deluxe Edition
as a typical ABB performance during this period. Were that true, then there would exist ostensibly 52 tracks of performances for March 12th and 13th, and 78 tracks if the March 11th shows are included. I was spectacularly wrong as I had failed to consider that the average Allman Brothers Band concert of the period was between six and nine songs. I take this time to correct my error.
The next Fillmore East revelation (of previously unreleased material) was the release of the Eat a Peach, Deluxe Edition
, Mercury, 2006 which liberated the entire June 27th show from the vaults making for a tidy complete document of that performance closing the Fillmore East. When the Eat a Peach, Deluxe Edition
was released, a glimmer of hope appeared that a responsible rendering of the 1971 Fillmore East shows may finally surface.
What is finally revealed in The 1971 Fillmore East Recordings
are 28 songs recorded over four March 12th and 13th shows with an additional 9 songs from the June 27th show for a total of 37 pieces making up this new collection. Fourteen of these 37 performances were previously unreleased (though available as bootlegs for years). What begs explanation was the fate of the two sets recording on March 11th. What became of them, this famous concert with a horn section? The story is part of Allman Brothers lore. Randy Poe details the colorful tale of the March 11th sets in his book Skydog: The Duane Allman Story
(Back Beat, 2006): Tom Dowd was back to produce [At Fillmore East], but this time he was flying by the seat of his pants. He hadn't even planned to be in New York when the live album was being cut. "I was supposed to be in Europe," [said Dowd] ...Dowd had been in Africa working on the film Soul to Soul. From there he planned to vacation in Rome, but when his plane touched down, he discovered it was snowing. "I looked and thought, 'I don't need Rome in the snow,'" [said Dowd]. So, Dowd caught the next plane to Paris, eventually arriving in New York at the crack of dawn on March 10.
After checking into a motel near the Atlantic Records office, [Dowd] slept all day. The following afternoon he called Jerry Wexler to let him know he was in town. "That's great," said Wexler, "because the Allman Brothers are recording tonight at the Fillmore. With such short notice, Dowd had no time to speak to Duane [Allman] or any of the other band members. He took a taxi down to the Fillmore East and hopped into the truck that housed Location Recorders' mobile studio.
"The band didn't even know I was back," said Dowd. "I'm sitting in the truck and prompting the engineers. So the band comes on stage and all of a sudden I hear horns and I nearly wet my pants, I went out of the truck, I mean, tear-assing down. And when they came off, I grabbed them and said, 'Get the fucking horns out of my life. They are out of tune, they don't know the songswhose stroke of genius was this?'"
When the band finally calmed him down, they asked Dowd if they could keep one horn player [Rudolph "Juicy" Carter, a friend of Jaimoe's] and Thom Doucette on harmonica. He agreed, but the [March 11th] show was a lost cause. "The first show, half the tracks that I could have used were wasted because I had horns on guitar parts, and they were terrible. "It was pretty grim," said Dowd. "So that night, in order to make a point, we went up to my studio with the tapes under my arms, and I played the whole concert back to them. They were sitting there and said, 'Yeah, you're right.' The next night [March 12th], I didn't have to worry about the horns."
It is delicious to consider what would have happened if a proper horn section had been assembled and given charts prepared by someone like Allen Toussaint as happened for The Band on Rock of Ages
(Capitol, 1972). But, alas, it was not to be.
With any questions about the value of the March 11th set safely addressed, this release of The 1971 Fillmore East Recordings
finally goes the distance in making up for a gratuitous, money- grubbing release schedule of the Fillmore East material over the past 40 years. We finally have the Allman Brothers Band's Holy Grail, definitive and complete as possible. So, what do these reunited 37 performances have to tell us all this time later? Plenty.
First, the Allman Brothers Band's closest musical relative was the Grateful Dead. The two bands frequently performed together, when the ABB was on the West Coast, and both were kindred spirits in the musical ether that would be known as jam band rock. While the ABB in its original configuration released much less live music, the music that exists is of a consistently higher quality than the majority
of the millennia of live Dead tapes that exist. Yes, the two were apples and oranges to a point, one can hear much of the Dead in "Mountain Jam" and a dense slice of the ABB in any performance of "Turn on Your Love Light." Head to head Duane Allman forged a molten sound that the Jerry Garcia and the Dead would only approach (for instance think side two of the original two-LP set of Live/Dead
(Warner Bros., 1969)) but never achieve. This may not the point of our discussion, but it does bear considering.
The 37 performances on The 1971 Fillmore East Recordings
represent 13 different songs, which allow comparison and analysis of the sound evolution taking place in a compressed space of history. The Allman Brothers Band performed 300 concert dates in 1970. That type of performance schedule will improve any band if it does not kill them first and the evidence of this fire refinement is heard on these recordings. But evolution in the moment, as with all jazz, is evident even in this closed space of time.
These Fillmore East shows produced the most perfect
electric blues performances on record, before or since. Perfect in the sense that the band proceeds as a tuned unit with each soloist tuned into the other, inspiring one another equally. All three were selected as original release performances. Blind Willie McTell's "Statesboro Blues," originally a 1928 Victor Race Record in McTell's signature Piedmont 12-string guitar version opens every performance. Duane Allman's conception of the song was derived from the rendition he heard on Taj Mahal's 1968 debut, Taj Mahal
(Columbia Legacy) with Jesse Ed Davis playing slide guitar. The versions are comparable, but Allman completed the piece, rounding out is arrangement and providing a dense sound wall Mahal could not achieve with is modest forces when compared with the Allman Brother Band. Taken from the first set on March 13th, it all began with, "Okay...The Allman Brothers Band." Duane Allman's slide guitar, plays note perfect, in the introduction and then behind an equally inspired Gregg Allman vocals. Duane Allman solos first, exploding out of the turnaround (a performance device he was too perfect on other pieces). After another verse, Richard Betts adds one of his most coherent solos, full of country pathos, whiskey and smoke.
Elmore James' "Done Somebody Wrong" was originally recorded by the Canton, Mississippi native for Fire Records in 1960, with a B-side of "Fine Little Mama." From the second set on March 12th, Duane Allman converts this original shuffle into a stop-time blues that again employs his formula of a slide guitar introduction and accompaniment behind Gregg's robust vocals. Sometime-band member Thom "Ace" Doucette adds a searing blues solo, at tempo, that makes one wonder what might have been had he formally joined the band. Betts again provides a tight and cogent solo, followed by another verse and then the breath-taking dual guitar break introducing Duane's scintillating slide spotlight, ultimately ending the song as it was started, with the slide guitar.
Finally there is the pinnacle of the short-form electric blues in the June 27th performance of the Elmore James/Sonny Boy Williamson II classic "One Way Out." Previously performed by the band during the second set of the March 13th show, that version is stilted and nor fully realized. Doucette's harmonica offers a nice touch in the earlier performance, but not nice enough to correct for Gregg's poor timing and Duane's tentative playing. That all changes in the late Spring when Bett's lays down and extended introduction full of funk and sweat, downshifted into a penetrating momentum that is never lost in the song's 5:24. Betts simmers behind Gregg's vocals before igniting into his finest solo on record. Betts and Allman trade eights over the dual drummers before Duane's trademark emergence into his precisely-structured solo. Gregg ends the song in a soulful, Southern Leibestod
. This is the only way to remember The Allman Brothers Band.
Blues rave-ups are not the be-all and end-all of the band. Three pieces provide vehicles for the standard tuning playing that Duane Allman and Richard Betts made famous. Betts' superb "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed" enjoys four probing performances, all at a very high level of musicianship. It is doubtless that the presence of saxophonist Juicy Carter mars the March 12th performances. Had Carter had more practice time, and the band employed more carefully arrangements, the horn would have been more than appropriate. Tom Dowd must have shit a brick during these recordings. However, there is nothing but inspired guitar playing here.
"You Don't Love Me," a Willie Cobbs piece originally recorded for VeeJay Records in Memphis in 1960, serves as the extended blues jam for the band. Always durable, it is established with an opening riff laying down the sonic law. It is presented in four slightly differing versions in this series each populated with robust guitar playing and percussion highlights. This is the cooker of the concerts, when the band was intent on finishing the audience off with a sonic machine gun blast. "You Don't Love Me" exist alongside the band's greatest achievement, "Whipping Post," a modern blues motif employing a crazy modulating time signature that stirs the earth's molten core. All three of these pieces allow the band to exercise their collective grasp of performance dynamics and dramatics. Any of these vehicles could be classified as jazz and the most exciting type. Allman and Betts' guitar interplay operates at a dangerously high level here. Even at it most flawed...this is superior to anything since...
After 40 years of an unforgivably negligent, aimless and commercially exploitative release schedule, finally someone has gotten it right, the persistent monument to live and improvised rock music. This is the definitive document of four nights in 1971 that continue to captivate and haunt our collective imaginations. Do you want to hear perfect jazz...listen to this and fuck every one else.... An Abbreviated The 1971 Fillmore Recordings Discography: The Allman Brothers Band at Fillmore East
, Polydor Records, 1971/1986 Eat a Peach
, Polydor, 1971/1986 Duane Allman Anthology, Volume 1
, Polydor, 1972/1986 Duane Allman Anthology, Volume 2
, Polydor, 1974/1987 Dreams
, Polydor, 1989 The Fillmore Concerts
, Polydor, 1992 The Allman Brothers Band at Fillmore East
(Deluxe Edition), Mercury, 2003 Eat a Peach
(Deluxe Edition), Mercury, 2006 Skydog: The Duane Allman Retrospective
, Rounder, 2013 The 1971 Fillmore East Recordings
, Mercury, 2014