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37

Duane Allman at 70: A Reflection

Alan Bryson By

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Fortuitously, on the same day Idlewild South was released, the Allman Brothers were at the Fillmore East playing a show that was filmed for National Education Television. N.E.T. would eventually morph into P.B.S. Bill Graham had assembled several groups who each played a short set as part of a program entitled, "Welcome to the Fillmore East." On October 10, 1970 it was broadcast on local television in New York City. At that time there was no such thing as stereo sound on television, so the audio was simulcast on a local FM radio station.

Unfortunately, the original Allman Brothers Band's television debut was marred by a major technical glitch. As a result, Gregg's vocals were barely audible for most of the first half of their short set. Moreover, the camera work, for me at least, is equally as frustrating. In general, the camera operators seemed to have been utterly oblivious about what was happening on stage, as if they had not understood the concept of a solo. It is particularly vexing with respect to Duane Allman; it almost seems as if they were purposefully avoiding close-ups of Duane's playing. During his solos there are often long distance shots of the band, tight facial close-ups of the band, and even tights shots of Dickey's hands playing rhythm guitar as Duane was soloing.

Nonetheless, this rare footage was an unexpected treasure that, thanks to the Internet, resurfaced in the early 2000s. For me it was an especially exciting development because it documents the band less than a week after I had seen them in Daytona Beach. It allowed me to compare this resurfaced video with my decades old memory of the band. Visually it is spot-on and captures the band as I remember them on stage. Actually, for the me the odd camera views, while frustrating, were also interesting because they showed extremely tight facial close-ups I couldn't have seen from a dozen rows back, and it showcased the skill of the drummers, who are more often than not relegated to the background.

With respect to the music, even though the sound quality isn't bad, it does not come close to capturing the experience of hearing them live with good acoustics. How would I compare it to being there? It is very difficult to find an analogy that combines the visual and auditory experience, so I'll just give you a visual analogy and note that the same degree of difference would also hold true for the sound.

Imagine if that same film crew had filmed the Grand Canyon in 1970. If you then compared that film to the experience of actually being at the Grand Canyon—that is the way I would describe the difference. The film is wonderful to have, but no substitute for the real thing. Nonetheless, thanks to the visual imagery it provides, if you use your imagination and shut your eyes in a dark room while listening to Tom Dowd's Fillmore recordings, that's about as close to the experience of being there as you can get.

A final thought about the video. Broadcast quality video footage of Duane is exceedingly rare; as far as I know, this is the only such visual recording of him playing an entire song. Given that, it's also worth mentioning that I remember him being much looser on stage and his playing seemed more fluid. To me he seems tense on the Fillmore video. Despite very marginal quality, the YouTube clips of him in Central Park and at Love Valley are much closer to my memory of him on stage.

Most of us know the feeling of driving when you notice a police car in the rear-view mirror; suddenly natural and routine actions are replaced by the conscious act of trying to steer perfectly, stay in the middle of the lane, and not exceed the speed limit. Did the prospect of the television appearance, the short set, drugs, or something else bother him? Of course I might be completely wrong in my assessment, but if you watch the Fillmore video closely, after 18 minutes you'll notice he misses a cue and is clearly lost during Whipping Post —a very rare occurrence indeed. Nonetheless, even on an off night Duane Allman is still Duane Allman.

There was another big surprise later that week, Delaney and Bonnie Bramlett released a new album, To Bonnie from Delaney. To my astonishment, this time it wasn't Eric Clapton or George Harrison guesting on guitar, it was Duane Allman! I rushed home with this one to listen to it. Delaney's vocals never quite did it for me, but Bonnie had always knocked me out. "Lay My Burden Down," the "Come On Into My Kitchen" medley, and Duane's slide on "Living on the Open Road" became instant favorites in my music collection.

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