The Allman Brothers Band took the stage at Haymarket Park to close out the Bluesmasters Blues Festival at 11:00 pm in Lincoln, Nebraska, on Friday. The fourth band on the slate this night, the ABB is in their 43rd year of existence. Although only the first two and a half years of that time frame included band founder Duane Allman, the group has persevered and triumphed through tragedy and personal conflict to remain one of the most exhilarating live performers to this day. Formed in 1969, and playing their first live show on March 26th of that year, they initially released two studio albums; followed in 1971 by a live, double album release titled “Live at Fillmore East”. Regarded as one of the greatest releases of all time, “LAFE” still appears high on many Rolling Stone Magazine type “Best Album Ever” polls today.
The loss of Duane in 1971, followed a year later by the tragic death of bassist Berry Oakley, had the band reeling in an emotional tail spin. Following another double album release, “Eat A Peach”, a hybrid of live and studio material, fellow founding member Dickey Betts put the band on his shoulders, and instead of trying to replace Duane with another guitar player, which would have been impossible, they added Chuck Leavell on keyboards, and the mostly Betts influenced 1973 release “Brothers & Sisters” found The Allman Brothers on top as the highest selling American touring band that year.* Stress, strife, a few less than stellar studio recordings, along with the lingering effects of an in house legal battle eventually put the band on the shelf by the end of 1981. The Allman Brothers would remain dormant for the next eight years.
Then, following the recording of his solo album “Pattern Disruptive”, Mr. Betts was stoking the flames of an Allman Brothers reunion in 1989. With the studio guitar player from his solo album, Warren Haynes, in tow, Dickey rounded up the three other founding members to hear Warren play some of the original Duane parts on guitar. They came away very impressed watching Haynes perform some slick slide guitar playing, reminiscent of the sound of their early years. Although they had revisited a two guitar format in the late seventies, and early eighties with the great Dan Toler, Warren brought a skill on slide that brought back a sound that had been missing since Duane’s passing. The Betts- Haynes guitar duo would forge ahead for the next 10 plus years, producing three very solid studio albums in the process.
Once again, turmoil would be found. Internal tension and the desire to embark out on his own full time saw Warren leave the band, taking bass player Allan Woody along with him in his then trio Gov’t Mule. For the 1999 Allman Brothers summer tour, Dickey was teamed up with a shy nineteen year old from Atlanta by the name of Derek Trucks. Derek is the nephew of founding member Butch Trucks. Derek, who has been touring since he was 13, was also quite an accomplished slide guitar player, so the Allman Brothers Band sound was alive and well. However, another tragedy would strike the extended ABB family, as in August of 2000, former bass player Allan Woody would be found dead. Coinciding with the Allman Brothers own controversial decision to fire Mr. Betts from the band in June of that same year, the future of the band looked rather murky. However, the rest of the band had grown so disenchanted with Dickey’s actions, that they confided amongst themselves that they would rather disband then continue forward with such a hostile working environment. An astonished fan base was left to try and make sense of the situation. In looking back, it can be best described as “severing the leg to save the body”. What happened next would actually pave the way for what is by far the longest continuous lineup in the history of the band.
After grieving over the loss of his buddy and band mate the only way he knows how, Warren continued his challenge for the title of “The hardest working man in show business” by touring incessantly. Following a series of benefit concerts, Warren rejoined the Allman Brothers in late 2000, rounding out the lineup they still have today: Gregg Allman on keyboards and vocals, Butch Trucks on drums, Jaimoe (Jai Johanny Johnson) on drums, Marc Quinones on percussion, Oteil Burbridge on bass and vocals, Derek Trucks on guitar, and finally, Warren Haynes on guitar and vocals. Although only producing one studio album with this lineup, the well received 2003 release “Hittin’ the Note”, the band would maintain a heavy touring schedule throughout the first decade of the century. The formidable Haynes-Trucks guitar duo would continue to mesmerize audiences with their individual playing, as well as their amazing interplay. By 2009, the year of their 40th anniversary, the ABB had a repertoire of nearly 100 songs. You could attend three nights in a row during their annual Beacon Theater run in New York City during the 2000’s, and only hear a few songs repeated. This was a big departure from the Betts years of fairly regimented set lists from one show to the next. In 2010, Gregg Allman underwent liver transplant surgery, slowing the touring pace down considerably. This year’s annual Wanee Festival in Live Oak, Florida this past April showed a much weakened Allman. Gregg was only able to perform a few songs each night, and his vocals were decidedly soft. Fans of the band were first and foremost greatly concerned about his health and well being. But ever the trooper he is, Gregg managed to navigate through a book signing tour for his recently released auto-biography “My Cross to Bear”, followed by a 15 show summer tour, some of which were a co-bill with the legendary Carlos Santana.
Which leads us to tonight’s opening song at 11:00 pm, the classic Blind Willie McTell tune “Statesboro Blues”. It was heartwarming out of the gate to hear Mr. Allman sounding strong of throat once again, as he belted out “one, two three” and into “Wake up Mama, turn your lamp down low”. As I looked around, all seemed right and balanced in the Peach Head world. The second song, the ABB classic “Don’t Keep Me Wonderin” found Derek Trucks scintillating slide guitar take off on a mind boggling tear, followed by some remarkable interplay between Warren and Derek. There would be much more of that throughout the evening. The crowd pleasing Midnight Rider followed, the obligatory sing along carried out by the gallery. A few songs later found a pair of back-to-back Betts classics with first a solid, albeit shortened rendition of In Memory of Elizabeth Reed, followed by a mid- tempo version of Blue Sky, a song that has seen Warren take over on vocals. One Way Out preceded the encore of the Gregg Allman penned song Whipping Post. The compact 10 song, 90 minute set was tight and energetic, however many in the crowd were bemoaning the length of the third act at the expense of the Allman Brothers Band. After all, The Allman Brothers were in fact the headliner of the show. The more than two hour set by the Bluesmasters did, for many, drag on a little more than they would have preferred. However, it was the Bluesmasters concert, and the plan of surrounding themselves with longtime established bands like Elvin Bishop, Leon Russell and The Allman Brothers Band to draw exposure to themselves was a smart strategy. Unfortunately, it would turn out that they were the only performer of the four that really didn’t resonate with me. That sentiment was shared by others I spoke with after the show. But that review is a bird of another feather.
As for what’s in store for the Allman Brothers in the near future, it’s solo band touring time. Chicagoans can take note that Jaimoe’s Jasssz Band will be playing The Lefty Collins Room (It’s also known as “The Back Porch Stage” for the uninitiated) at the House of Blues in Chicago on Saturday, September 29th. Tickets are reasonable at $15.00 each. Warren Haynes Gov’t Mule brings their annual Halloween show to Chicago this year, performing at the Riviera Theater on Wednesday, October 31st. Tickets for that show go on sale this weekend. Word is that it’s being billed as “The Mule Experience”, which could be a clue that the traditional second set Halloween tribute will include tunes like All Along the Watchtower, Red House, Purple Haze, Hey Joe, etc. That should be entertaining. Derek and Oteil continue on with the Tedeschi-Trucks Band tour, while Gregg has some Gregg Allman Band dates coming up as well.
It is with a heavy heart that I would like to dedicate this overview of Friday’s show to the memory of one of the greatest of all Allman Brothers Band fans, and all things connected to the Peach Head community- Mr. Randy Stephens. Known by most simply as Buppalo, Randy passed away on Sunday, leaving many stunned and saddened. If you’ve ever heard the expression “I never heard him say a bad word about anybody”, it was written for Randy. Rest in peace my friend. You will be missed.
*It should be noted that Les Dudek did play as a second guitar on Brothers and Sisters
Reviewed by Patrick Kinsella on 8/31/12