Saturday, February 13, 2010

Need a good Allman Brothers Band overview? Start with 'A Decade of Hits (1969-79)'

It is not often that a band ushers in an entire genre of music, but that is what happened when the Allman Brothers Band began releasing albums in the late 1960s.

Known as "Southern Rock," it was an outgrowth of musicians attempting to bring rock and roll back to its geographical roots. At a time when country music had drifted toward pop and soul music dominated in Memphis and Muscle Shoals, rock and roll had become something of an afterthought in the South.

That changed when the Allman Brothers released their first album in 1969. Then, as they found commercial success in the early 70s, they opened the door for acts like Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Marshall Tucker Band, and the Charlie Daniels Band. Though they are the genre's undisputed godfathers, death cut short their success.

In the late 60s, Duane Allman had a sizeable reputation as a session musician, working with people like Aretha Franklin and Wilson Pickett. Most mainstream rock and roll fans knew him only for his slide guitar work on Eric Clapton's song "Layla." As his band emerged, however, he put his lucrative session work on the back burner while reinvigorating rock and roll in an entire region of the country.

Propelled by the soulful vocals of his brother Gregg, the Allmans' approach was unique. The group had two remarkable guitarists (Duane and Dickey Betts) and the dueling of the two was uncommon for its time. This is especially obvious on the group's At Fillmore East album. The Fillmore album is easily one of the 10 greatest live albums ever recorded.

However, just as the band was establishing itself as one of the country's best, tragedy stopped them cold. In late 1971, Duane died in a motorcycle wreck. A little more than one year later bassist Berry Oakley died in a similar way. The band continued to produce commercially successful music for a few years, but the creative spark slowly died out.

For anybody looking for an introduction to the band's music check out A Decade of Hits (1969-79). It contains all the obvious songs: "Statesboro Blues," "One Way Out," "Whipping Post," "Jessica," "Southbound," "Dreams," "Ramblin’ Man," and more.

Duane's vicious slide guitar work on "Statesboro Blues" and toward the end of "One Way Out" by themselves justify this album’s purchase. However, there is much more. Gregg’s vocals on "Whipping Post" are harrowing, especially the way he spits out the song's words in the verses following the first guitar solos.

"Ramblin’ Man" is as nice and breezy as ever. It is the type of song that reminds the listener of driving down the highway on a sunny day with the windows rolled down. However, even a casual fan can immediately recognize that this was recorded after Duane’s death. As good as the song is, it lacks the snap, crackle, and bite that Duane brought to the band. It is a laid back, feel good song that could have been made by any other southern band.

However, that is a small criticism. This album is rock solid. Even though southern rock is not what it used to be, this album is a nice reminder of what it was. Looking back can sometimes be a good thing.

Resource material: The Rolling Stone Album Guide, The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock and Roll


Joltin' Django said...

The current "Acoustic Guitar" magazine features dual interviews with Greg Allman and Dickey Betts. Both of the articles mention that Betts was "dismissed" from the band, but no other elaboration is provided. Do you know what happened to get Betts kicked out?

Mister Jimmy said...

Agreed. Fillmore is a classic among classics.

Chris said...

I can't pinpoint for sure why Betts was booted. One source says he missed some shows for 'personal reasons.' I have no idea what they were.