Gregg Allman - organ, vocals; Duane Allman - guitar; Dickey Betts - guitar; Berry Oakley - bass, vocals; Butch Trucks - drums; Jai Johanny Johanson - drums
Developing the soaring twin lead guitar attack that served as the foundation for much of Southern rock, the Allman Brothers Band was much more than the founding fathers of a musical genre. Far more progressive and diverse than the school of music they inspired, the group incorporated blues, soul, rock, jazz, and country elements into a heady brew all their own. With improvisatory skills that rivaled the greatest of jazz musicians, the Brothers quickly established a reputation for endlessly inspired jamming. Their live performances at Bill Graham's Fillmore East have deservedly become the stuff of legend, and it was there, in March of 1971, that the original lineup recorded one of the greatest live albums of all time. That album, released as The Allman Brothers Band At Fillmore East was indisputable proof that this group was leading the charge into the new decade, and for that moment in time at least, they were arguably the most inspired rock band in North America.
Recorded a full year prior to the now legendary live album, this Fillmore East set captures The Allman Brothers when they were a new band, full of youthful passion and just beginning to establish their reputation. Performing on a bill that featured two of the best California bands of the era, the Los Angeles-based Love and San Francisco's Grateful Dead, this recording captures the Allman Brothers out to prove themselves to one of the country's most discerning audiences, working within a limited 45 minute framework as an opening act. Despite the limited stage time and a set containing a heavy emphasis on covers, the musicianship is extraordinary, and the band compresses an incredible amount of energy into the time allotted.
The set begins with the sole original number of the set, a magnificent new instrumental written by Dickey Betts, titled "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed." Soon to become a staple of the bands repertoire for decades to come, here it is in all its newborn glory featuring the synchronized and intertwining guitar work of Duane Allman and Dickey Betts and the incredibly melodic bass playing of Berry Oakley, all of whom are particularly inspired here.
The next three numbers emphasize the blues-based roots of the band, first with incendiary takes on "Statesboro Blues" and "Trouble No More," which are followed by a delightfully raunchy romp through Willie Dixon's "Hoochie Coochie Man." The first two feature Gregg Allman taking lead vocals, in a deeply emotive voice that belies his young age, while the latter features a rare lead vocal from bass player Berry Oakley. All three feature incendiary slide work from Duane and the entire band locked into a tight groove.
That tight groove is relaxed for the set closer as the band goes into full improvisational mode on "Mountain Jam." Based on the simplest of folky riffs, borrowed from the 1960s Donovan single, "First There Is A Mountain," this 18 minute exploration is the early Allman Brothers at their most adventurous. By taking a very simple element and exploring all its possibilities, the band creates a magical panorama of sound in the process. Shorter than the expansive 40 minute versions that would develop over the course of the next year, this version is all the more fascinating for it, as they deliver an incredible amount of creativity in the time they have left on stage. The two guitarists intertwine and synchronize in a manner nothing short of telepathic, as they weave through Berry Oakley's bass line, which often leads the way. The propulsive double drumming is also notable here and indeed, the entire band achieves a symbiotic instrumental communication level that can only be attained by musicians who are playing and listening to each other in equal measure.
There is no mistaking the unbridled passion of the original line-up of the Allman Brothers Band. This February 1970 Fillmore East performance allows listeners a glimpse of the youthful band at their hungriest, just as they were beginning to be recognized. The band would suffer devastating blows in the years to come, but despite numerous personnel changes, would become even more popular, achieving career longevity that endures to the present day. However, during this initial phase when Duane Allman, Berry Oakley and Dickey Betts were essentially the band's guiding lights, the Allman Brothers Band on stage was pure instrumental poetry in motion.