Life at 33⅓: Electric guitars galore


Allman Brothers Band: At Fillmore East (Capricorn)

Recently a Norwegian newspaper listed the best live-albums ever made.  They could not decide on the winner and came up with a tie: The Who’s “Live At Leeds” and Allman Brothers Band’s “At Fillmore East”.  A silly compromise.  But be that as it may, lists like that are silly anyway, we all have our favourites and we would never agree.  Those two are as good a choice as any.

“At Fillmmore East” is a double album recorded at New York’s Fillmore East in March 1971, and its four sides turned the world on to Southern rock and made the band and particulary Duane Allman international stars.

The album is the perfect introduction to Southern boogie.  The playing is extremely tight and the elastic arrangements leave lofty space for improvisations.  The line-up of two drummers, two lead guitarists, a bass player and a keyboardist is impressive and it made for a fat sound and firey interplay between the members.

It smells of Grateful Dead of course and there are similarities, some of them very noticeable such as the tight ensemble playing, the musicians’ confidence in each other and their telepatic communication in freewheeling improvisations.  But the geographical and psychological distance between San Francisco to Macon, Georgia is vast.  The Dead’s musical roots were identical, but they were nurtured in significantly more psychedelic surroundings.  Allman Brothers lived and breathed in the ’Deep South’, their treatment of the musical legacy is more authentic, more clearly associated with its soil.

It is also important to mention that Grateful Dead never really represented a genre, there were no bands trying to catch up with them, they formed no school.  Grateful Dead remained unique, there was only one.

Allman Brothers, however, attracted many students, some of them tremendously good – like Lynyrd Skynyrd.  Southern rock is a huge genre.  Deadheads are Deadheads.  A digression: Bob Dylan would definitely have benefited from using Allman Brothers as his back-up band in 1987 instead of Grateful Dead.

Duane Allman is the god of the album.  His slide technique, funky precision and improvisational talent puts him in the Top 3 of rock’s all time guitarists.  Outside of Allman Brothers Band he was also on demand as a session musician blessing classic records by legends like Aretha Franklin and Wilson Pickett with his dintinctively recognisable playing.  His involvement in Eric Clapton’s Derek & the Dominos is legendary, what would “Layla” have been without the wonderful, chiming interplay between him and Clapton?

As if he hadn’t done it already he certainly fulfilled his potential on “At Fillmore East”, an album that captures the band in a stunningly creative eruption.  The music draws its water from a well of boogie, blues, soul, country, rock’n’roll – as it winds its way through the mythical South, never losing its rootsy identity, but always willing to investigate uncharted territory where time doesn’t mean a thing, and when they do as in the album’s kingpin, the 23 minute “Whipping Post”, the music bleeds into jazz.

The legendary John Coltrane is named as an inspiration, as he was for Roger McGuinn whose free form blistering guitar work turned the great “Eight Miles High” into a scary taste of the beyond.

The album is not all Duane, of course, it is a team work, it’s the groove and the interplay, and more than anything it is the dual playing of the band’s two guitarists, Duane Allman and the immensely gifted Dickey Betts.  Thanks to them “Live At Fillmore” is a wet dream for all fans of the electric guitar.

Three months after the album’s release Duane Allman was killed in a motorcycle accident.  He was 24.  A year earlier Jimi Hendrix died at 27.  Their legacy is still so alive it almost feels like they never left.

Released: July 1971 – (Recorded: March 12-13, 1971)

Side One
1.”Statesboro Blues” (Will McTell) – 4:17
2.”Done Somebody Wrong” (Clarence L. Lewis, Bobby Robinson, Elmore James) – 4:33
3.”Stormy Monday” (T. Bone Walker) – 8:44
Side Two
1.”You Don’t Love Me” (Willie Cobbs) – 19:15 (“Joy to the World” medley in the ending portions)
Side Three
1.”Hot ‘Lanta” (Gregg Allman, Duane Allman, Dickey Betts, Butch Trucks, Berry Oakley, Jai Johanny Johanson) – 5:17
2.”In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” (Dickey Betts) – 13:04
Side Four
1.”Whipping Post” (Gregg Allman) – 23:03

Duane Allman – lead guitar, slide guitar
Gregg Allman – organ, piano, Vocals
Dickey Betts – lead guitar
Berry Oakley – bass guitar
Jai Johanny Johanson – drums, congas, timbales
Butch Trucks – drums, tympani
Special guests:
Thom Doucette – Harmonica on “Done Somebody Wrong”, “Stormy Monday” and “You Don’t Love Me”
Jim Santi – Tambourine
Tom Dowd – Producer, Liner Notes
Bruce Malamut – Assistant Producer
Aaron Baron – Engineer
Larry Dahlstrom – Assistant Engineer
Dennis M. Drake – Mastering
Jim Marshall – Photography

First published in Pattaya Mail on August 8, 2013