Gregg Allman, interestingly enough, had an interest in medicine growing up. In particular dentistry. Despite childhood rivalry with his older Duane,the Nashville native formed the Allman Brothers Band (as a keyboardist) with Duane and Dickey Betts. While years of drug abuse likely contributed to Allman’s fairly young passing at the age of 69 this past Saturday,the music he created with the Allman Brothers Band was not merely innovating Southern rock. But also allowing for long,instrumentally focused songs with jazz and funk elements helped expand the basic framework of countrified 70’s rock.
My personal chance to see Gregg Allman performed with the Allman Brothers Band was deferred. As I understand it,he was unable to appear with the band as one of the opening acts for the now deceased (and musical hero) B.B. King because of a reappearance of liver cancer with him. The concert was a bit of a fiasco in some ways. At the same time,it got my into exploring the Allman Brothers’ earlier albums. There’s much more I have to look into. But today,wanted to review my Amazon.com reviews of the Allman’s first four studio albums released from 1969 to 1973.
The Beginning (1969-70)
A few years ago when I was first getting heavily into beginning my collection of music from The Allman Brothers Band? There was an inner debate going on about how exactly to purchase their first two albums. Realizing these were considered the major cornerstone of their catalog? The two choices had an awkward wrinkle between them. Both albums were available separately on CD.
Yet so was this edition-both released unedited on a single CD. One of the reviews I read here actually mentioned the debut being remixed for this set. Still it was finding an used original CD edition of this double set at a reduced price (under $5) that decided me. After all,it’s all about the musical content in cases like this. And on that level?PHEW! What an set this is!
“Don’t Want To Bear No More” is a percussive,organ based instrumental while “It’s Not My Cross To Bear”,a cover of Muddy Water’s “Trouble No More” and “Dreams are more deeply blues oriented pieces. “Black Hearted Woman” and “Every Hungry Woman” are both riff heavy power blues/rock pieces.
“Whipping Post” blends an atmospheric jazzy rock flavor with yet more of a blues flavor. “Revival” opens the second album in this set with a rousing uptempo jam based in rhythm guitar/bass/organ interaction at it’s core. “Don’t Keep Me Wondering”,”Midnight Rider” and a version of “Hoochie Coochie Man” again deal with the shuffling blues again.
“Please Come Home” is a slowed down,classic Southern Rock ballad while “In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed” is a creamy guitar/organ led Latin jazz/rocker while “Leave My Blues Alone” ends the album with a thickly grooving power blues number. Both of these albums taken together have the effect of being part one and part two.
The powerful presence of Duane and Gregg Allman,along with drummer Jai Johanny Johanson really give this band the sort of jamming instrumental jazz/rock improvisational touch that set them in a class by themselves from many of the more pop oriented Southern rockers who came after them. Whatever way you pick these up? These are absolute essentials to build any Allman Brothers collection.
Eat A Peach/1972
The Allman Brothers Band,as led by Dicky Betts,are one of the few famous bands I’ve had the pleasure of seeing perform live. Their facility,even without an absently ill Gregg Allman on the keys,on elongated grooving jams is something worth hearing on the stage if the opportunity arises. Of course this album had a difficult place in Allman Brothers history.
It would have to be the transition from the original band led by Duane,who died in a motorcycle crash at the end of 1971 and the Dicky Betts led group that would come later. The juxtaposition of talents in this band seems to be of a sort that could have a domino effect if not handled very carefully. Luckily the way in which this album pulls that off really does the trick.
“Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More” and “Stand Back” are both hard grooving funk/rock jams that are loaded with Dicky’s Mississippi Delta blues flavor. “Melissa” and “Blue Sky” are more mellow countrified numbers filled with soulful melodies “Les Brers In A Minor” begins with Betts’ psychedelicized lead guitar before going into another of those great percussive 9+ Allman jams.
The middle core of this album was the last recordings from when Duane was alive-recorded at the Fillmore East. The highlight of this is “Mountain Jam”-an over half hour epic that is essentially several different songs: a guitar improvisation of Donovan’s “There Is A Mountain”,than a massive drum solo from Jai Johanny Johnson,a funkified electric bass solo from Berry Oakley and than a Southern Soul ballad before going back to the original theme.
Two faithful and amazingly played blues covers of Muddy Waters’ “Trouble No More” and Elmore James “One Way Out” round out the Fillmore set while the bluegrass guitar picking of “Little Martha” closes things out. Black Rock Coalition member/lead guitarist of Living Colour Vernon Reid claims this album as being a huge part of his musical education. Listening to it I can see why. It finds a band of musicians of different sorts bringing their different styles into clear focus.
The country slide guitar twang along with Dicky and Duane’s wonderful feel for the blues,along with the percussive drumming approach leads to enormous levels of instrumental improvisation here that puts the Southern Rock genre the Allman’s help pioneer into perspective between the psychedelic soul/rock and jazz fusion of Jimi Hendrix and Miles Davis respectively. One of the most fluidly musicinaly rock ‘n’ roll albums I’ve heard from the early 70’s!
Brothers & Sisters/1973
It would seem that a metaphorical specter of death was hanging over the Allman Brothers in the early 70’s When they were just hitting their very early stride as a recording entity? First band founder Duane is killed in an accident. Then during the making of their follow up without him,bassist Berry Oakley dies as well.
Dicky Betts, Gregg Allman and the remaining members made what turned out to be the very good decision of soldiering on without their two departed fellow band members and creative guiding lights. Being that they still celebrated an improvisational spirit? They actually found a functional way to adapt their sound to suit the circumstances.
“Wasted Words” starts out the album with a piano driven Stonsey blues/rocker. The electric organ fueled and more jazzy “Come And Go Blues” as well as the classic urban blues wailing of “Jelly Jelly” pretty much keep that essential core going right along with it. The bigger successes here ended up being the huge hit “Ramblin Man” with,along with the somewhat more instrumentally inclined “Jessica” showcase a sleeker and more relaxed sounding melodic variation of their Southern Rock approach.
“Southbound” brings a percussively shuffling funky soul rhythm to the affair and brings out some of the bands more jazzy improvisational instrumental spirit again “Pony Boy” closes out the album with a fast paced acoustic 12 bar blues.
Actually this is the very first Allman Brothers CD I ever saw. When I was 16,a friend of mine named Jeff gave me some things he was about to put in a yard sale and a copy of this album on CD was among them. I listened to it and intended to keep it. When he told me the CD went in the box he gave me by accident? I of course gave it back.
But I was happy to hear it a second time,after getting a copy of my own and realizing just how well the Allman’s musical broad mindedness helped them to survive as a band even when circumstances would seem to dictate otherwise. This album lacks the elongated instrumental approach they had with Duane and Berry in the band. But they were gaining another kind of ground. And even even greater commercial success while they were at it. And so they’d continue for decades to come after this!
Gregg Allman is survived by five children by from a number of his female partners and wives over the years. Most famously his now 40 year old son with Cher Elijah Blue-lead singer of the nu metal band Deadsy. Devon,four years older, is also the lead singer of a band called Honeytribe. No matter makes mark his progeny make on music in the future, what Allman did as a member of the Allman Brothers,despite personal problems between him and the group,was the most history making music he was associated with.