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May 23, 2008

Allmans, Allmans Everywhere...

My love of all things "Allman" (as in, related to the Allman Brothers Band) leads me to binge on them from time to time. I metaphorically drag out all my old recordings (they're on my iPod, so there's not much actual dragging required) and I immerse myself in published literature, fan webpages and so on.

I'm currently re-reading Randy Poe's Duane Allman biography, "Skydog". It's something like the third or fourth time I've been through it, searching for clues as to who Duane really was and what it was like to be in his presence. For those who've not read it, it's a surprisingly well written book which really does give some insight. It also attempts to make some sense of the chronology of Duane's musical career, from delinquent adolescent obsessed with blues guitar, through failed early album releases and record company traumas, to the height of the Allman Brothers' popularity. If you know anything about the history of the band, the you pretty much know how the story ends.

[...though the road goes on forever!]

Each time I read the book I follow track and album descriptions by listening to the songs as they're analysed, rekindling my passion for their unique style of music.

For those fan-boys (and girls) out there, I'd recommend "Skydog" over the other Allman Brothers biography, "Midnight Riders", by Scott Freeman. That's not to say that the latter isn't a good read. However, it tends to dwell on the conflicts within the band and Gregg's drug issues rather than being a celebration of Duane's life. Further, "Midnight Riders" purportedly contains 'facts' that are disputed by some of the real-life characters. When penning "Skydog" Randy Poe took the decision to publish the various different accounts of critical events to give a more rounded picture.

Heck, read "Midnight Riders", too, for all I care! One biography focusses on the positive impact that Duane's life had. The other focusses on the negative impact of his untimely death.

Hey, the latest gem I gleaned from the book was that Duane's daughter, Galadriel, was born in the exact same month and year as me. Fascinating fact #342!


Further on up the road said...

I know very little of the Allman Brothers - other than Jessica and the work with Clapton.

Oh yes and one of them died on the same strech of road as someone else famous or something.

Maybe I should learn some more....

Kenski said...

My take, probably not held by everyone (or even most fans)...

The Allmans are quite a hard sell for most people as, frankly, their studio material has been extremely dodgy in places. They always seemed to struggle with production and mis-directed attempts to package their sound. If you start off listening to the 'wrong' album then you're unlikely to give them a second chance.

As an introduction, I try to push people towards either their first studio album (which often comes packaged with their second under the title "Beginnings") or to "Live At Fillmore East", which is consistently rated as one of the best concert recordings ev-ah!

After Duane (slide guitar and band-leader) and then Berry (bassist) died on the same stretch of road, a year apart almost to the day, the line-up and direction has changed many times. Dickey Betts was the original second lead guitar, and if you watch rare concert video you can see that he really held down the sound as much as Duane did in the early days.

When Duane died, Dickey's country influences really came to the fore and the band moved somewhat away from their staple electric blues-rock. That's where the whole "Jessica" sound came from. Dickey really became the band-leader and started doing vocals as well as lead guitar.

Studio productions really started to get dodgy. Live, they could still kick it, even though they went through a range of mis-steps in trying to replace Duane's twin lead sound, not always with guitar. Technology in music is not always a good thing!

They started pulling things together again when Warren Haynes was brought in as the second guitarist. It was a long road, but Warren eventually surpassed Betts as far as his importance to the sound went. As the years went by Betts' solos and vocals started to fall apart. Various reasons were suggested (drink/drugs etc - no idea what the truth was). Finally, the band kicked him out, even though most fans would have considered him a vital part. I still much prefer his vocals to Warren Haynes, but that's a personal thing and probably driven by my history with the band.

Today, the band are a lot older, but they can still hold their own live. The original two drummer combo is intact (plus some percussion), Gregg Allmans vocals and Hammond B3 still work (though he slurs a bit more than he used to!). The strong, wandering bassline is still there. Most importantly for 'the sound', though, Warren Haynes has been joined by Derek Trucks and they take turns on slide. Warren rocks out, Derek starts slowly and builds jazzy improv solos which'll tear your brain apart.

To my mind the band still have yet to find their feet in the studio. Their last effort, "Hittin' The Note" was by far the best for a long time and has some great tracks, but still doesn't have 'space' for their trademark extended jams which swoop and soar live. People who see the shows expect (and are delivered) a trancendental musical experience.

I'd suggest people check out the "Live At The Beacon Theatre" DVD to see what they're about these days. There's not much action onstage as it's all about the music, but the set list is immense and gives you good value for money!

Once you're an ABB fan there's no going back, but it's not an easy road... especially coming to them late. Once you've heard and got into the way Duane played and you realise that he's gone you're stuck knowing that no matter what, you'll never hear him play again.