Allman Brothers

(Copyright © 1999-2017 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )
The Allman Brothers Band (1969), 7/10
Idlewild South (1970), 6/10
Live At Fillmore East (1971), 7.5/10
Eat A Peach (1972), 7.5/10
Brothers And Sisters (1973), 6/10
Win Lose Or Draw (1975), 5/10
Enlightened Rogues (1979), 5/10
Reach For The Sky (1980), 5/10
Brothers Of The Road (1981), 5/10
Seven Turns (1990), 6/10
Shades Of Two Worlds (1991), 6.5/10
Where It All Begins (1994), 5/10

Gov't Mule: Gov't Mule (1995), 6.5/10
Gov't Mule: Dose (1998), 6/10
Gov't Mule: Life Before Insanity (2000), 6/10
Gov't Mule: The Deep End Vol 1 (2001), 5.5/10
Gov't Mule: The Deep End Vol 2 (2002), 5/10
Gov't Mule: Deja Voodoo (2004), 4.5/10
Gov't Mule: High & Mighty (2006), 5/10
Gov't Mule: Mighty High (2007), 4/10
Gov't Mule: By a Thread (2009), 4/10
Gov't Mule: Shout (2013), 5/10
Gov't Mule: Dark Side of the Mule (2014), 4/10
Gov't Mule: Revolution Come...Revolution Go (2017), 5/10
Gov't Mule: Heavy Load Blues (2021), 4/10

(Clicka qua per la versione Italiana)

The Allman Brothers, featuring two lead guitars (Duane Allman and Dickey Betts), were the first major band since the Grateful Dead for whom the (improvised) live performance was more relevant than the (composed) studio album. Not surprisingly, they became the only band capable of competing with the Grateful Dead in terms of crowds. Their debut album, The Allman Brothers Band (1969), introduced a form of loose, guitar-intensive blues-rock ballad, a southern version of the Band's roots-rock, but it was the live albums, Live At Fillmore East (1971) and Eat A Peach (1972), that transformed those ballads into epic sonic excursions.

(Translation of my original Italian text by Nicole Zimmerman)

(This translation needs verification. If you are fluent in Italian and can volunteer to doublecheck it vs the original Italian text, please contact me)

Truly the kings of the rock music scene of the 1970's and the torch-bearers for Southern rock, the Allman Brothers were the emblematic rock group of the decade, based on the preparation and teamwork that placed the collective performance ahead of composition. Long, improvised tracks resembled a melody of reasons to party rather than inciting delusions of the psyche. Additionally, blues-rock is more stimulated by alcohol than acid, and functioned to entertain the audience rather than expand their minds.

The Allman Brothers largely followed the same path as the Grateful Dead, although much later, to country rock, adapting more to the traditional sounds, and less innovative culture, of the South. The intricate solos of Duane and guitar harmonies of Betts, paired together, were the only true innovation by the group.

Natives of Tennessee, brothers Duane and Gregg Allman, in 1968 (with respect to guitar and organ), formed one of the many complex Californian blues-rock bands: The Hour Glass with albums titled The Hour Glass (1967) and Power of Love (1968). In 1969, they settled in Jacksonville, Florida, and after merging with a local rhythm and blues group, they formed the Allman Brothers. The group debuted with a whiny funk that became their signature sound (Midnight Rider, 1970).

With the group's first two albums, The Allman Brothers Band (Capricorn, 1969) and Idlewild South (1970), reprinted as Beginnings (1974), they gained fame from two sides: Duane participated in dozens of sessions with the giants of soul (such as Aretha Franklin and Wilson Pickett, among others), thus becoming one of the most respected guitarists of the decade. Since he was very familiar with the boogie style, he preceded the slide style of Elmore James, with as much country style picking as jazz phrasing; and the audiences were delighted with the repertoire that included such classics as Whipping Post, Dreams (the first), and In Memory of Elizabeth Reed, coupled with excerpts from the blues ballads of Willie McTell and Sonny Boy Williamson.

The Allman Brothers used their songs as canvases, on which they slowly applied the solid sound of two guitars (usually Duane Allman and Dickey Betts in sensational, creative duets), with a consistently fierce and inventive style (supplemented with keyboard by Gregg and bass by Barry Oakley). Their talents enabled them to frequently change themes, a practice that is more common in jazz than rock, but still keep them fully charged and full of manly Southern sound.

It is no coincidence that band was glorified by the live performance of Live at Fillmore East (Capricorn, 1971) and the album Eat A Peach (Capricorn, 1972), which are definitive collections of their musical strengths. On the former, the extended versions of Whipping Post and Elizabeth Reed dominated the album, on the latter, a tremendous version of There Is A Mountain by Donovan that has a series of improvised variations that lasts about half an hour, and is the heart and soul of the psychedelic -blues genre (from the influences of Cream and the Grateful Dead). Also on the latter, versions of the group's classics (true to the originals) stand out. Such as Ain't Wasting No More Time, Melissa (a romantic country ballad by Gregg), Les Brers In A Minor (a psychedelic instrumental), and a breath-taking version of One Way Out. Blue Sky has two solos, the first one by Duane Allman and the second one by Dickey Betts.

Duane Allman was killed in a motorcycle accident in October 1971 solidifying him as a recording legend, followed by Oakley (also killed in a motorcycle accident in 1972 near the spot where Duane was killed). In 1973, approximately 600,000 fans gathered for a concert at Watkins Glen - an event that made Watkins Glen famous, even today. However, the group was never the same. After Brother And Sisters (1973), which sold over a million copies, the group made it on the soft compositions of the new guitarist Dickey Betts, with ballads such as Southbound, both funky and lively with the velvety piano from keyboardist Chuck Leavell, and Ramblin' Man, the groups most catchy country-rock (written by Betts). There was also the syncopated blues song (using a dobro guitar) Pony Boy, and Jessica, a franticly paced soulful instrumental that featured a soaring solo by Leavell on piano and an electrifying refrain on guitar by Betts. These were sophisticated songs that mixed country- blues with a modern spirit and were always enlivened by fluid mini-jam instrumentals. So also Don't Want You No More (on the new double, Wipe The Windows, 1976), but Win Lose Or Draw (1975) did not have much to offer.

The group's situation contributed to the divergent and ideological disagreements among the members about the style of music: the more bluesy Dickey Betts (the main composer) and the more country Gregg (the legitimate heir of the group and the husband of singer Cher). A more businesslike approach and rigid routines were the final blows and the group split up.

Betts formed the Great Southern and his band continued to produce the hypnotic sounds of the late Allman Brothers. The same applies to Gregg Allman. The keyboardist, Leavell, formed the Sea Level, which played a more interesting jazz-rock.

The Allman Brothers came together for a reunion (without Leavell) for Enlightened Rogues (1979), Reach For The Sky (1980), and Brothers Of The Road (1981) which imitated the old sound (Straight From The Heart), then Dreams (1989), and finally an anthology. This was Betts' group however, not Allmans', but in the end they were just as good as the original.

(Original text by Piero Scaruffi)

Allman and Betts reformed the Allman Brothers Band one more time with Warren Haynes on slide guitar and Johnny Neel on keyboards. Seven Turns (Epic, 1990) marked an unlikely return to form, with Good Clean Fun and Gambler's Roll sounding like a rejuvinated rock'n'roll band, the instrumental True Gravity stradding the border with jazz-rock, and Seven Turns sounding like the fare of an intellectual singer-songwriter.

Even better, Shades Of Two Worlds (Epic, 1991) includes the lengthy Nobody Knows and the jazzy instrumental Kind Of Bird (the title is a tribute to Charlie Parker and Miles Davis) and is perhaps their best studio album after the debut. But Where It All Begins (1994) is pure nostalgia. Guitarist Derek Trucks joined the Allman Brothers Band in 1998. Hittin' The Note (Sanctuary, 2003), without Betts, was the Allman Brothers' first studio album of new songs in nine years.

Warren Haynes was also the lead guitarist of Gov't Mule, a band that expanded the sounther-rock vocabulary to incoporate jazz and folk. They debuted with Gov't Mule (Relativity, 1995), containing three seven-minute songs (Trane, Painted Silver Light, Left Coast Groovies), an eight-minute version of Memphis Slim's Mother Earth and the ten-minute World of Difference next to the classic hard-rock of Monkey Hill. Dose (Capricorn, 1998) opens with two of their signature songs, Blind Man in the Dark and Thorazine Shuffle. But the real dimension of their music was the live one. Live at Roseland Ballroom (Foundation, 1996) contains the 16-minute John Coltrane tribute Trane and the ten-minute Kind of Bird. The double live With a Little Help From Our Friends (Capricorn, 1998) contains a 30-minute version of Mongo Santamaria's Afro-Blue, lengthy tributes to bluesmen (Albert King's The Hunter, Memphis Jimmy's Look on Yonder Wall, Robert Johnson's 32-20 Blues), covers of classic rock songs from the 1970s (a 20-minute version of Little Feat's Spanish Moon, a 14-minute version of the Traffic's Sad and Deep as You, a 17-minute version of Jimi Hendrix's Third Stone from the Sun, Free's Mr Big, Black Sabbath's War Pigs, a 14-minute version of Neil Young's Cortez the Killer) as well as the 14-minute Gambler's Roll, the 17-minute Mule, the ten-minute Devil Likes It Slow, I Shall Return, Soulshine Thorazine Shuffle and No Need to Suffer.

Life Before Insanity (Capricorn, 2000) closes with a 13-minute jam interpolating a Robert Johnson blues song (In My Life/ If I Had Possession Over Judgement Day) and contains the definitive version of No Need to Suffer.

When bassist Allen Woody died, they recorded two tribute albums to him with a rotating cast of bassists. The Deep End Vol 1 (2001), which contains the nine-minute Worried Down with the Blues and an eight-minute version of Soulshine (with Chuck Leavell on organ and Little Milton on vocals), casts Gregg Allman, Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers Bootsy Collins, Jack Bruce (in Fool's Moon with Bernie Worrell on organ), John Entwistle of the Who in Same Price (with Page McConnell of Phish on organ), Roger Glover of Deep Purple, and Mike Watt of Minutemen in the longest piece, a nine-minute version of Creedence Clearwater Revival's Effigy (with Jerry Cantrell of Alice In Chains on vocals). The Deep End Vol 2 (2002) employs jazz bassist Alphonso Johnson in the longest jam, Babylon Turnpike, female rapper Me'Shell NdegeOcello in a lengthy cover of the Staple Singers's Hammer and Nails, and Jimi Hendrix's Billy Cox in the notable Catfish Blues, besides Les Claypool of Primus, Jefferson Airplane's Jack Casady, Phil Lesh of the Grateful Dead, Chris Squire of Yes, Chris Wood of Medeski, Martin & Wood and Tony Levin. Then came: Deja Voodoo (2004), which replaced deceased bassist Allen Woody with Andy Hess and opted mostly for mellow material like Silent Scream, High & Mighty (2006), with Endless Parade and the hard-rocking Brand New Angel; Mighty High (2007), a sort of (lame) tribute to reggae music; the live Holy Haunted House (2008); By a Thread (2009), with Inside Outside Woman Blues #3; the live Mulennium (2010); the double album Shout (2013), containing Bring On the Music and an entire disc of the same songs performed by guest vocalists (Ben Harper, Elvis Costello, Dr John, Toots Hibbert, Dave Matthews, Steve Winwood etc); the Pink Floyd tribute Dark Side of the Mule (2014); the live Sco-Mule (2015), recorded with jazz guitarist John Scofield and jazz keyboardist Dan Matrazzo; the triple live Dub Side of the Mule (2015), devoted to reggae music; the double live Stoned Side of the Mule Vol. 1 & 2 (2015); the archival album The Tel-Star Sessions (2016); Revolution Come...Revolution Go (2017), with Thorns of Life, Revolution Come Revolution Go and a cover of the traditional gospel Dark Was the Night; the somnolent blues concept Heavy Load Blues (2021), with a nine-minute version of Howlin' Wolf's I Asked for Water; etc. For two decades, Warren Haynes was one of the hardest working musicians of southern-rock, but the group's songs were often plodding and repetitive.

The Derek Trucks also formed his own Band and released The Derek Trucks Band (1997), Out of The Madness (1998), Joyful Noise (Columbia, 2002).

Gregg Alman died in 2017.

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