MY ALLMAN JOY: THE ROAD GOES ON FOREVER

It all began with Live At Fillmore East, the Allman Brothers seminal live record released in 1971. A few years after it came out, we’d put that record on and drown in it’s waves of incredible guitar solos, hypnotizing organ sounds, memorable vocals and just plain killer jams. Southern Rock had arrived in Wilton, and the Allman Brothers ushered it in.

But my first actual night with the Allman Brothers wasn’t until 1979,  April 26th to be exact.

I had been an Allman Brothers fan for all of my high school years as Southern Rock infiltrated the minds and hearts of us young Connecticut boys; along with The Outlaws, Marshall Tucker and the great Lynyrd Skynyrd, our lives were a rolling Southern Rock soundtrack, the music was a part of everything and anything we did. But the Brothers had split up in the mid 70’s right in the middle of the beginning of our adoration of them…Gregg Allman’s drug problems and internal squabbling would cause them to go their separate ways for a period…so we never got a chance to see them live until that magical spring of ’79, my freshman year in college. 

The weathered ticket stub from my first Allman Bros. show, Springfield, 4/26/79

I remember the Springfield Civic Center (where I also saw my first Gratfeul Dead show) going dark, then the chills kicked in, then wham, the white hot stage lights blazed on, and in a flash,  there they were: longtime members Gregg Allman, Dickey Betts, Jaimoe and  Butch Trucks along with newcomers Dan Toler and David Goldflies, it was the Allman Brothers Band in full glory, opening with the opener-of-openers Don’t Want You No More,  then seguewaying into the wrenchingly beautiful Not My Cross To Bear. Shivers ran up, down and sideways through my body like never before, because it was them, the Brothers, the band that been along for so many of our high school memories, right up there, in the flesh.

Over the next couple of years, we’d see them everytime they’d do their East Coast swing, I remember a bunch of us even drove from Connecticut up to Lenox, Mass. to see them play, plus a couple of local arena & outdoor shows here and there; the Brothers would always be a concert staple for our gang up into the early 80’s.

But turmoil of one kind or another would split them up again in 1982, and it wouldn’t be until 1989, after some solo forays and a reunion one off or two, that the newly rejuvenated Allman Brothers Band would reform, replete with a relative newcomer to the jam band scene, guitarist Warren Haynes, who would invigorate the Brothers from that moment on, and largely keep them relevant and powerful to this day. Oh yeah, and the first show I took my now 14-year old son Ben to? The Allman Brothers Band in 2000 at then-Nissan Pavilion, when he was four.  He gallantly hung in there throughout the whole show, which to my delight also included a rare cover of the Grateful Dead’s Scarlet Begonias. Towards the end, I carried him sleepily out in my arms as the band wailed through one of their encores, gently laying him in the back seat, and he was fast asleep in about ten seconds.

Yes, the Allman Brothers, who had I had been on the musical road with starting as a teenager, and who helped usher me through my most formative years, would now lull my own child to sleep 20 years later. The circle of life, the unbroken chain, the road goes on forever, the Allman Brothers have always been there. All the way up until even today, or better, last night, when I saw them play one of the most dazzingly intense, powerful, and nearly perfect live rock and roll shows I have ever seen in my life.

 It was their first concert ever at the venerable DAR Constitution Hall in downtown DC, a few hundred feet from The White House and the Washington Monument, and the grandness of the venue seemed to fit this legendary warhorse outfit of consummate troubadour musicians. As I waited near the box office to receive my tickets, I wandered over to the tour bus area, and timing again was my best friend, as here came the band: the burly Warren Haynes, followed by slide guitar virtuoso, solo rock god and current Allman Bros. member Derek Trucks, and last but not least, yes, the great one, Mr. Allman, stopping briefly to sign an auotgraph and crack a smile before wandering in the stage door to prepare for the show.

It wasn’t lost on any of us that this was only the second show back for Gregg since he had undergone a liver transplant in June, and many wondered if he’d ever be able to return to the grueling rigors of the road again. His body had been battered by years of drinking and drugging, and really, how much can a body take? Well, there he was, a bit thinner than we remembered, but with his trademark pony tail and beard, ambling away with a nod and a smile. I shouted out “Welcome back, Gregg!” and yes, really, he briefly turned, nodded, and muttered, “Thanks”, before walking on. The night had begun with a true sparkle.

We got to our seats, and what seats they were, 5th row, dead center, with an open aisle row of star spangled carpet in front of us, perfect for dancing and better yet, seeing everything clearly, all night, such a key to a perfect live concert experience. We knew we’d get a great show no matter where our seats were, but fifteen feet from Gregg’s piano? Oh boy. Dear friend and DC radio royalty Cerphe came out on stage to welcome the rabid fans in attendance, here’s a guy who has seen the band countless times but still exuded a sense of wonder and excitement and it conveyed onto us all. We were ready.

Trying to be objective but probably failing miserably, I have to say the next three hours was one of the best performed live concert experiences I have ever seen in my life.  From the opening 20 minute Mountain Jam, an instrumental canon unparalleled in it’s intensity and complexity and first released on record on the Bros. 1972 classic Eat A Peach, to it’s elegant reprise almost three hours later, this was to be a benchmark in my concert life, and  it was with a band that had been with me since back when I first learned how special the concert experience really is almost 35 years ago.

The evening was of course gloriously filled with spot on versions of Allman Brothers classics – Statesboro Blues, Melissa (featuring Gregg front and center on acoustic guitar), Come and Go Blues, Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More, Revival, Don’t Keep Me Wonderin’, Don’t Want You No More, Not My Cross To Bear (yes, there were those first two songs I ever saw them do live, back for me tonight) as well as mesmerizing covers like Dr. John’s I Walk On Guilded Splinters and Bob Dylan’s haunting Blind Willie McTell. On this night, there was to be no One Way Out, Southbound, Midnight Rider or my personal favorite Allman Brothers hymn, In Memory of Elizabeth Reed (the song I want played at my funeral), but there wasn’t one moment when I ever found myself  asking, “Why aren’t they playing this or that”, the show was simply that good.

The band was an unrelenting force of nature, out there on a mission to show everyone that they and their fearless newly-livered leader were back with a vengeance. Original drummers Jaimoe and Butch Trucks (Derek’s uncle) set the tempo perfectly all night, star-in-his-own-right bassist Oteil Burbridge laid down a picture-perfect deep end, and the legendary Gregg hypnotingly played the Hammond B-3 with typical mastery, peering out over it with his weathered face and blond locks. DC musical luminaries Ron Holloway on sax and Larry McRae on blistering electric guitar lent to the celebratory feel of the night.

The amazing tandem of Derek Trucks (left) and Warren Haynes trade licks last night in DC (Steve Houk photo)

But this epic journey was truly led down the golden road by the Allman Brothers’ two immensely talented and virtuostic guitar aces, who are major rock stars in their own right, Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks. The two were a true Fellowship Of The String, racing down the path of this journey trading dazzling solos, dueling on mindblowing leads, both playing consummate slide, then one playing slide while the other played rhythm, back and forth, up and down, it was truly a sight and sound to behold, as they constantly seemed to play better and better as the night wore on. It’s hard for me in my hundreds of prior concerts to ever remember two guitarists that good on one stage. Their performances together and apart were incredible, each showing why they rank at the top of the guitar playing craft of the day. I was directly in front of Trucks, whose slide prowess cannot help but be compared to Allman Brother founder and slide pioneer, the late Duane Allman. Trucks was simply masterful, wailing on solo after solo, one better than the next, no wonder he’s toured with greats like Clapton and others. I kept wondering if Duane and Dickey, back in their heyday, were ever this good. You have to believe they were, but for this one show, it’s hard to believe that the Allman Brothers ever had two guitarists this amazingly talented, playing this well, together on one stage.

After the second set ended with the Mountain Jam reprise, giving the night a ‘full circle’ kind of feel, it was only fitting that this monumental evening finished with a stunning 15 minute encore of arguably the Allmans most popular live tune, Whipping Post. Jump started with perhaps rock’s most famous bass intro, the band launched into a version of the song that had the entire DAR crowd swirling and dancing, and singing with every gravelly chorus of  “I been tied…to the Whipping Post!” that Gregg would deliver. I can’t think of any song that could have surpassed the previous two and a half hours of near perfection, but the Post pretty much did. Trucks and Haynes did virtual guitar battle through the solos, Uncle Butch Trucks and Jaimoe banged out a cacophony of drum nirvana behind them (along with superb percussionist Marc Quinones) and Gregg supplied some of the most recognized organ and vocal licks in rock history.

Gregg Allman at the keys last night in DC (Steve Houk photo)

It was especially poignant when, as the song wound down to a dramatic close, Gregg wailed out his classic line: “Sometimes, I feel like I’m dyyyyin….'” Well, he may have felt like that in the last year while gallantly battling liver disease, but on this night, the phoenix of Gregg Allman rose triumphantly from the ashes, and along with his legendary band, with members new and old, put a rock and roll mark on Constitution Hall that will not soon be forgotten, by me and the couple thousand lucky enough to witness it.

And as for my long journey with the Allman Brothers, one that now spans over 35 years? Well, for me, this definitely IS a road that goes on forever.

Advertisements

12 Responses to “MY ALLMAN JOY: THE ROAD GOES ON FOREVER”

  1. Howard Blank Says:

    Nice write up by someone who gets it. June 24, 1979 was the night I was initiated.

  2. First Brothers show was probably one you attended, 12/12/81, a co-bill with Molly Hatchet in New Haven. I was 14 and had been hooked on them for a couple years prior and certainly since. Enjoyed your great write up, thanks. Hope I can catch them soon, been a couple years now. Catch Derek with his bands if you can.

    • midliferocker Says:

      Thanks much Ron. I caught Derek in the summer of ’09 here in DC with his band, really amazing. I actually wrote a quick column on him that’s back a ways on the blog, just have to scroll through. I am not sure I was at that New Haven Bros. show, but quite possibly. I loved Hatchet too, saw then numerous times warming up the Outlaws. They were pretty wild. Sorry Danny Joe passed a while back.

      Rock on.
      Steve

  3. I have probably seen Tha Allman Brothers Band 60 times but I must say that Friday night at Constitution Hall was one of the best shows ever!! Maybe it was the fact that I knew Gregg was just coming back from his illness and still fighting but there were many more reasons that that. In the many times that I had seen them over the years they had some bad nights and some good nights but by far this was one of thier best. With the opening Mountian jam to the ending Whipping Post it was mesmerizing and it brought tears to my eyes when I stood with my daugther as Gregg, Warren, Otiel, and Butch played Mellisa, it was tears of joy and tears of not knowing how much longer Gregg will still be able to come out and do it. Anyway, an awsome show!!

    • midliferocker Says:

      Wow Danny, awesome kudos coming from such a truly seasoned Allman Bros fan! You definitely reinfirce how great I thought it was, too. I loved your comment about the tears during Melissa, I felt the same. I almost felt for a few moments during the show like this might be the last time I see them. Gregg can’t go on forever, even though he has showed such resilience this year. I don’t know if I would have been ready to go on tour 5 months after a liver transplant! We’ll see.

      Thanks for reading and keep checking the blog!
      Steve

  4. Great write-up and story. I’m glad the ABB is back on the road and for all intents, Gregg is doing well. Here’s to seeing them sooner than later!

    The Road Goes On Forever!

    • midliferocker Says:

      Thanks a ton Steve! As you can see by Danny’s comment below, who has seen them 60 times, it was a true miracle of a show. Hope you get to catch them soon! And keep checkin’ in on midliferocker!

      Best,
      Steve

  5. My history with ABB goes back to the Hour Glass, 31st of February, Tiffany System, and free jams in Piedmont Park in Atlanta and yes, the Road Goes On Forever. I just finished Sky Dog, The Duane Allman Story, by Randy Poe and suggest that you buy it for yourself for Christmas if you haven’t read it yet.

    The show at DAR was fantastic. The intro to “Not My Cross to Bear” coming out of “You Don’t Love Me”, actually brought tears to my eyes. The classics were wonderfully performed, although I thought the bass mix was muddy (at least where I was sitting). The drum line kicked ass on Willie Dixon’s “Same Thing” and I had to download it as soon as I got home.

    The only tune I really would have wanted to hear that wasn’t chosen this night was “Gambler’s Roll”, but hey, the road does goe on. I’m sure I’ll hear it sometime later down that road.

    • midliferocker Says:

      Wow, Mike you’re a true longtime fan! Hourglass??? Free jams in the heart o’ Georgia?? That’s the beginnings for sure! Glad a true fan like yourself thought the DAR show was so good, I am getting all sorts of affirmations from longtime fans that the show was great so I know it wasn’t just me and my emotions!

      Thanks again for reading, subscribe to the blog and check in from time to time.
      Steve

      Steve

  6. Steve, Great review of the concert! It was truly a memorable evening. I was lucky enough to be able to bring in my camera and get about twelve good pictures within a few rows of the stage. Here is the link to my web site http://www.danspix.com.

    • midliferocker Says:

      Wow, thanks Dan! Means alot. I would love to check out your pics, but can’t seem to call up the site via the link. I’ll keep at it. Rock on.
      ~Steve

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: