Duane Allman - guitar, slide guitar; Gregg Allman - organ, piano, vocals; Dickey Betts - guitar; Berry Oakley - bass; Jai Johanny Johanson - drums, congas, timbales; Butch Trucks - drums, tympani; Guest: Thom Douchette - harmonica on tracks 2, 3 & 5; Guest: Elvin Bishop - vocals, guitar on "Drunken Hearted Boy"; Guest: Steve Miller - piano on "Drunken Hearted Boy"; Guest: Bobby Caldwell - percussion on "Drunken Hearted Boy"
Developing the soaring twin lead guitar attack that served as the foundation for much of Southern rock, the Allman Brothers Band were 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.
There were a number of elements responsible for the group being in such inspired form in March of 1971, when the "Live at Fillmore East" album recordings were made. They had released two studio albums that were selling only modestly and failed to capture their spontaneous creativity on stage. They were still hungry in terms of financial success and mainstream recognition. However, their confidence level had dramatically increased over previous months. Duane Allman was fresh off the sessions for Derek & The Dominoes Layla album, where he had proved himself an equal to one of his ultimate heroes, Eric Clapton. The band was often still relegated to opener status (as they were on the night's of the Fillmore East album recordings), but they were confident that a live album would both capture the true magic of the band on stage and help elevate them to headliner status, which is exactly how things would pan out.
Bill Graham had been an early supporter of the group and nowhere was the group more comfortable or better received than at Fillmore East, so the venue was the obvious location in which to record. Booked for two shows each night on Friday March 12 and Saturday, March 13 and performing between two bands that The Allman Brothers admired (opener Elvin Bishop and headliners Johnny Winter And), these performances would prove to be some of the most definitive and inspired performances of their career and thanks to the superb recordings made by Tom Dowd, the evidence was captured for all to hear.
Rumor has it that following the early show on March 13, Dowd relayed to the band that they had captured everything they needed and that for the final show the group should just have fun and relax. With the pressure eliminated, that final set would prove to be one of greatest, if not the single greatest performance ever by the original lineup, containing blistering reads of their blues-based covers and truly glorious performances of their improvisational vehicles like "In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed," "Whipping Post" and "Mountain Jam." These latter mentioned performances were so inspired that these three numbers would comprise not only half of the material for the Live At Fillmore East album, but also supply the entire second disc of their follow-up album, Eat A Peach. In fact, the band's reputation to this day is still largely based on the unforgettable performances from that particular set.
Here we present that late show set from Saturday, March 13, 1971 in near entirety and while much of this material is now legendary and familiar, hearing it in context and with the unreleased material intact is a thrilling experience not to be missed.
The first three numbers of the set emphasize the blues-based roots of the band; beginning slightly in progress with incendiary takes on "Statesboro Blues" and "Done Somebody Wrong." Both feature sizzling bottleneck slide work from DuaneAllman and brother Gregg handling lead vocals in a deeply emotive voice that belies his young age. While the latter will be familiar, as it was chosen for inclusion on the live album, the opening number, despite starting in progress, is an alternate version that has never been issued. The same goes for the "One Way Out" that follows, which includes some fiery blues harp work by unofficial band member, Thom Douchette. The variations to the version chosen for Eat A Peach make this a particular exciting listen and another worthy addition to the band's legacy.
The band truly hit their stride on Dickey Betts' instrumental, "In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed," which would become a staple of the band's repertoire for decades to come. Here is the definitive version in all it's glory, featuring the synchronized and intertwining guitar work of Allman and Betts, the incredibly melodic bass playing of Berry Oakley and the drummers adding a decidedly jazzy flavor to the proceedings. All of these musicians are particularly inspired here, which forms the base that triggers some of the most brilliant guitar playing of Duane Allman's career. Here, his approach is not unlike John Coltrane, with Duane creating notes between the notes and his Les Paul literally oozes with raw emotional impact.
A cover of T-Bone Walker's classic "Stormy Monday" follows, which was also chosen for the live album, but here, it is unedited and includes the Thom Douchette solo excised from the album version. It is yet another fine example of the group's traditional blues roots. Another new (at the time) instrumental follows with "Hot "Lanta." This is perhaps the best example of Allman and Betts's ability to play in perfect unison, creating the trademark "southern rock guitar sound" in the process.. The album version was recorded the previous night and this night's take is nearly identical and conveys the same burning intensity, much of it triggered by the interplay between Berry Oakley and Duane Allman, which is nothing short of telepathic. When the final crescendo suddenly dissipates, one can hear the Fillmore audience collectively catch their breath before exploding into applause.. A breathtaking performance - literally!
This all leads up to the penultimate sequence of the set and possibly the single greatest live sequence ever recorded by the original lineup, "Whipping Post" segueing directly into "Mountain Jam." Not much else can be said about this version of "Whipping Post" that hasn't already been said countless times before, but suffice it to say that it leaves the studio version behind in every conceivable way. Gregg's voice has never better conveyed a lyric than it does here and this performance alone is enough to establish Berry Oakley as one of the greatest and most important bass players in all of rock music. The entire band is at a creative peak here and it was this very performance that made "Whipping Post" an undeniable classic. On the album version, it fades out just as the opening riff to "Mountain Jam" is heard, but here one can enjoy this truly staggering sequence in its entirety. Here the band goes into full improvisational mode, taking the simplest of folky riffs, borrowed from the 1960s Donovan single, "First There Is A Mountain," to epic proportions. This 34-minute exploration, which ended up comprising two full sides of the band's Eat A Peachalbum, is the original lineup at their most adventurous. By taking a very simple element and exploring all its possibilities, the band creates a magical panorama of sound. This exploration vacillates between raw aggression and contemplative passion and may be the single greatest example of the original lineup's chemistry. Everyone contributes and despite its extraordinary length, this performance is rarely less than captivating. The two guitarists intertwine and synchronize, as do the drummers, as they weave through Berry Oakley's bass line, which often leads the way. 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 and this Fillmore East performance provides listeners an unedited glimpse of the original band at the pinnacle moment.
No doubt exhausted, the group does return to the stage for a brief jam with members of the other bands on the bill. In addition to the Allman Brothers Band, this version of "Drunken Hearted Boy" features two members of Elvin Bishop's group (Bishop on lead vocals and pianist Steve Miller - not to be confused with Miller of, The Steve Miller Band) and Johnny Winter's drummer, Bobby Caldwell, adding additional percussion. It's a loose and enjoyable blues, but is ant-climactic following what just preceded it. Still, it's interesting to hear these particular musicians messing around together in such a loose unrehearsed manner.
The Allman Brothers 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, of which this particular performance is perhaps the single greatest example.