CLASSIC ALBUM: THE ALLMAN BROTHERS BAND AT FILLMORE EAST.

Classic Album: The Allman Brothers Band At Fillmore East.

Nowadays, there aren’t many bands who make a commercial breakthrough with a live album. That, however, is what happened to The Allman Brothers Band in 1971 when they released their third album At Fillmore East. It was a gamechanger reaching number thirteen in the US Billboard 200 and when it sold over one million copies the album was certified platinum. This transformed The Allman Brothers Band’s career.

Just two years previously, brothers Duane and Gregg Allman had founded The Allman Brothers Band in Jacksonville, Florida. The pair had been involved in music since they attended high school in Dayton, Florida. Gregg Allman was first to get the music bug. Then when Duane discovered music, he bought a guitar and set about mastering it. Before long, he quit high school, determined to make a  living out of music. The Escorts was the first step on that road. 

Not long after founding The Escorts, one of Gregg Allman’s friend introduced him to R&B and soul. Gregg Allman was hooked. Soon, The Escorts began to incorporate R&B and soul into their sets. Then in 1967, The Escorts made a breakthrough.

The Escorts were playing in St. Louis when a Los Angeles’ based music executive heard them. He suggested they move to Los Angeles and change their name to The Hour Glass. 

Taking his advice, The Hour Glass. headed to L.A. That’s where they recorded two albums. Sadly, neither 1967s The Hour Glass, nor 1968s Power Of Love were a commercial success. As a result, a disillusioned  Duane Allman left L.A. to make a living as a session musician.

Meanwhile, Gregg Allman wanted to embark upon a solo career. However, the contract with Liberty meant this wasn’t possible. So he stayed in L.A. and for the first time in a year the brothers were apart.

The only time the two brothers worked together, was when they produced 31st of  February. They were a Florida based rock band, featuring Jacksonville Florida natives’ Scott Boyer, David Brown and Butch Trucks, who later, would play an important part in The Allman Brothers Band story. Before that, Duane Allman was well on his way to establishing a reputation as one of the best session guitarists.

Having left Los Angeles, Duane Allman travelled to Muscle Shoals, where he became the primary guitarist in Fame Records house band. Duane accompanied some of the biggest names in R&B and soul music including Aretha Franklin, King Curtis and Wilson Pickett. Then after Duane Allman suggested Wilson Pickett cover The Beatles’ Hey Jude he was offered a five year recording contract and began putting together a band.

The new band included Johnny Sandlin and Paul Hornsby and soon, drummer Jai Johanny “Jaimoe” Johanson was recruited. Not only did Duane Allman get a new drummer but a place to stay. He moved into Jai’s house on the Tennessee River. Bassist Berry Oakley was next to come onboard the nascent band after being asked to jam with them. However, this was very different to most bands around in the late-sixties.

Duane decided that his new band should feature two lead guitarists and two drummers. This didn’t please Rick Hall at Fame Records. He wasn’t impressed with the way Duane Allman’s new band were approaching the recording sessions and offered the group’s five year contract to Jerry Wexler of Atlantic Records and Phil Walden, who formerly had managed Otis Redding. He was looking for rock groups to manage and the new band fitted the bill. Especially when Rick Hall was only asking $10,000 for their contract. Little did he realise he’d sold what would’ve been his most successful band for $10,000.

Disillusioned with being a session guitarist at Fame Records, and playing the “house sound” day in, day out, Duane Allman moved with Jaimoe to Jacksonville in early March 1969. As soon as he was settled, he sent out an invitation to local musicians that if they wanted to join his jam sessions they were welcome to do so. 

These sessions resulted in Dickey Betts of The Second Coming becoming The Allman Brothers Band second lead guitarist. Butch Trucks who previously had been a member of 31st Of February and who Duane Allman co-produced less than a year earlier,  became The Allman Brothers Band’ second drummer. Keyboardist Reese Wynans briefly joined the band. He was replaced by Gregg Allman on 26th March 1969, who could also play keyboards. After a few months honing their sound and where the band’s lineup is best described as fluid, the as yet unnamed band moved to Macon, Georgia.

The reason for the move to Macon, was that’s where Phil Walden was going to base his Capricorn Records’ label. It was in Macon that The Allman Brothers Band met two of their most loyal lieutenants, roadies Mike Callahan and Joseph “Red Dog” Campbell, a former disabled Vietnam veteran who  helped to fund the band by giving them his disability checks. Meanwhile, The Allman Brothers Band were ‘bonding.’

These ‘bonding’ sessions took place at The Allman Brothers Band’ self-styled Hippie Crash Pad and the Rose Hill Cemetery. That’s where they consumed copious amounts of psychedelic drugs, wrote their early songs and rehearsed. Then on the 30th and 31st May 1969, The Allman Brothers Band made their debut, opening for The Velvet Underground. This was the start of the rise and rise of The Allman Brothers Band.

The Allman Brothers Band.

In August 1969, flew to New York, where they were meant to record their eponymous debut album, The Allman Brothers Band Band with Tom Dowd. Unfortunately, the man who had produced Aretha Franklin, Cream and John Coltrane was double booked. Finding someone of the the calibre of Tom Dowd was almost impossible.

Adrian Barber  an Atlantic Records’ engineer was given the job of producing The Allman Brothers Band Band Band. This was his production debut and for a new and up-and-coming band like The Allman Brothers Band, this was a big risk.

For The Allman Brothers Band Band, Greg Allman who was now the principal songwriter, had written five songs. The other two tracks were cover versions. This included The Spencer Davis Group’s Don’t Want You No More and Muddy Water’s Trouble No More. These seven songs were recorded between the 3rd and 12th September 1969 and less than two months later The Allman Brothers Band Band was released.

On November 4th 1969, The Allman Brothers Band Band was released, reaching just number 188 in the US Billboard 200. The Allman Brothers Band Band had sold just 35,000 copies. This was disappointing especially considering the critics response to The Allman Brothers Band Band.

Critics gave The Allman Brothers Band Band positive reviews and were won over by this unique fusion of blues, blues rock and rock. The Allman Brothers Band Band critics forecasted, had a bright future in front of them. How right they were. Southern Rock was about to be born, and The Allman Brothers Band were its founding fathers.

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Idlewild South.

Having failed to secure the services of Tom Dowd first time round, The Allman Brothers Band got their man for Idlewild South, their sophomore album. It was recorded between February and July 1970, while The Allman Brothers Band were on an extensive tour. As a result, three different studios were used to record Idlewild South.

Recording of Idlewild South took place at Phil Walden’s new Capricorn Studios in Macon and  then as the tour continued, other sessions took place at Criteria Studio, Miami, and Regent Sound Studios in New York. That’s where Tom Dowd produced Idlewild South, The Allman Brothers Band sophomore album.

Idlewild South featured seven tracks and just like their debut album it was a mixture of original songs and cover versions. Gregg Allman wrote Don’t Keep Me Wonderin,’ Please Call Home and Leave My Blues at Home. He also cowrote Midnight Rider with Robert Payne. Dickey Betts contributed Revival and In Memory of Elizabeth Reed. The only cover version was Willie Dixon’s blues’ classic Hoochie Coochie Man. These seven tracks became Idlewild South Rolling Stone later called one of the forty most groundbreaking albums of all time.

On Idlewood South, Southern Rock was born and The Allman Brothers Band were its founding fathers. Only in later years did critics and cultural commentators realise Idlewood South’s significance.

On its release on 23rd September 1970, Idlewood South was released to critical acclaim. A new genre had just been born and Idlewood South was hailed as a truly groundbreaking album. This was reflected in the record sales as the album  reached number thirty-eight on the US Billboard 200. The Allman Brothers Band were on their way.

Atlantic Records realised this and encouraged The Allman Brothers Band to move to Los Angeles. Despite telling The Allman Brothers Band they could be one of the biggest groups of the seventies, they were content to stay in Macon, Georgia. However, within a year, The Allman Brothers Band’ lives were transformed.

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At Fillmore East.

In between the recording of Idlewild South and At Fillmore East, Duane Allman had worked with Eric Clapton on his side project. Derek and The Dominoes. 

Duane Allman who had been a huge fan of Cream, had been asked to work with Eric Clapton on his Derek and The Dominoes’ album, Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs. For Duane Allman this was a no-brainer. He met Eric Clapton after a show and the pair jammed all night. Straight away, it became clear the pair were musical soul mates. 

During the recording of Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs Duane and Eric Clapton became firm friends. Once the recording was completed, a reinvigorated Duane Allman returned to The Allman Brothers Band. All wasn’t well though.

For much of 1970, The Allman Brothers Band toured America. At first, they travelled in a Ford Econoline van but given how long the tour was this wasn’t practical. They would play over 300 concerts during 1970 and eventually they bought a Winnebago, which they nicknamed the Wind Bag. However, the first cracks were showing. 

Some members of The Allman Brothers Band were struggling with drug addiction, and money was so tight, that the band were struggling to make ends meet. Things got so bad, that one night, when a promoter failed to pay the band, tour manager Twiggs Lyndon stabbed and killed him. For The Allman Brothers Band things weren’t looking good. Then their fortunes improved during 1971.

Legendary promote Bill Graham had always been a fan of The Allman Brothers Band. They first played the Fillmore East in 1969, when they opened for Blood, Sweat and Tears. Then in 1970, The Allman Brothers Band opened for Buddy Guy and B.B. King at the Fillmore West in San Francisco. After this, they opened for the Grateful Dead at the Fillmore East. These concerts were crucial in establishing The Allman Brothers Band reputation as one of the best up-and-coming bands. By 1971, however, The Allman Brothers Band were the finished article and were ready to make the next step. 

Bill Graham would play a big part in the rise and rise of The Allman Brothers Band. This began when Butch Trucks mentioned to Bill Graham that The Allman Brothers Band were frustrated recording studio albums. Their next album, The Allman Brothers Band hoped, would be a live album. This would allow The Allman Brothers Band to stretch their legs, as they jammed and improvised. So, Bill Graham made this live album happen. It became At Fillmore East.

A contract between The Allman Brothers Band and Bill Graham was drawn up. Bill Graham proposed that on the nights of March 11th, 12th and 13th 1971. For each of the five concerts, The Allman Brothers Band would be paid just $1,250. However, there’s a reason for that. The Allman Brothers Band weren’t the headline act.

The bill also featured Johnny Winter and The Elvin Bishop Group. The headline act was Johnny Winter. However, on the final night, The Allman Brothers Band would close the show. With the contracts signed, The Allman Brothers Band brought Tom Dowd onboard to produce At Fillmore East.

Over three nights, The Allman Brothers Band combined their trademark brand of blues, country, jazz and rock. This was something that no other band were doing. The Allman Brothers Band were musical pioneers. That’s apparent from the moment they walked onstage At Fillmore East and work their way through an eclectic set.

Over three nights, The Allman Brothers Band took to the stage five times. Each night, they played a set the featured between six and ten songs.

Each night, the set-list At Fillmore East changed slightly. Some songs, however, were staples of The Allman Brothers Band’s sets including Blind Willie McTell’s Statesboro Blues, Muddy Waters’ Trouble No More, T-Bone Walker’s Stormy Monday, Wille Cobbs’ Don’t You Love Me and Elmore James’ Done Somebody Wrong. However, it wasn’t just cover versions The Allman Brothers Band’ played At Fillmore East.

The Allman Brothers Band featured some talented songwriters. Their songwriter-in-chief was Greg Allman who penned Don’t Keep Me Wonderin’ and Whipping Post. Dickey Betts contributed In Memory of Elizabeth Reed and Hot ‘Lanta was credited to The Allman Brothers Band. Each of these songs were showcased during the five concerts At Fillmore East, where The Allman Brothers Band’ fortunes were transformed.

Over three nights and five concerts, the founding fathers of Southern Rock, The Allman Brothers Band went from contenders to title-holders. They blew away Johnny Bishop and The Elvin Bishop Band. The Fillmore East’s audiences only had ears for The Allman Brothers Band, as seamlessly the fused musical genres. Elements of blues, country, jazz and rock melted into one, as The Allman Brothers Band won friends and influenced people. No wonder.

For the three nights At Fillmore East, The Allman Brothers Band were at the peak of their powers. Over the past two years, they had honed their sound and by March 1971, this group of experienced and talented musicians were playing as one. Although they had only been together since 1969, The Allman Brothers Band had played 300 concerts during 1970 and were much more experienced, practiced and talented than similar bands. What also helped is that Duane Allman was well on his way to becoming one of the greatest guitarists of his generation and one of the greatest guitarists in the history of rock music. Dickey Betts, The Allman Brothers other lead guitarist, was the perfect foil for Duane Allman and they brought out the best in each other, and played an important part in the Live At Fillmore’s success. Before that, Jerry Wexler of Atlantic Records had to be convinced to release At Fillmore East.

When Phil Walden of Capricorn Records first spoke to Jerry Wexler about releasing At Fillmore East as a double album, he dismissed the idea. He asked why The Allman Brothers Band wanted to release what was essentially an album of jams? Phil Walden, The Allman Brothers Band’s manager explained that the band didn’t see themselves as a studio band and were more of a live band. Eventually, Jerry Wexler agreed to release At Fillmore East as a live album. There was a but though. At Fillmore East should be sold at the price of a single album. For The Allman Brothers Band this would prove expensive.

When At Fillmore East was released on 6th July 1971, it was to overwhelming critical acclaim. Critics hailed Live At Fillmore East The Allman Brothers Band’s finest hour. It was much more representative of The Allman Brothers Band’s true sound. In some ways, their two previous studio albums didn’t do The Allman Brothers Band justice. At Fillmore East was Southern Rock at its finest and found them taking diversions via blues, country, jazz and rock. Record buyers agreed.

On its release At Fillmore East reached number thirteen in the US Billboard 200 and was certified platinum. This transformed The Allman Brothers Band’s  career. Sadly, there was a twist in the tale.

Riding high on the commercial success of At Fillmore East, The Allman Brothers Band were no longer struggling to make ends meet. They had money to burn and this wasn’t good for a band with a drug problem. By October 1971, having completed their third studio album, Eat The Peach, Duane Allman, Berry Oakley, and roadies Robert Payne and Joseph “Red Dog” Campbell realised they had to do something about their drug problem. So they checked into the Linwood-Bryant Hospital to undergo rehab. That should’ve helped the situation. Sadly, for Duane Allman it didn’t.

On 29th October 1971, Duane Allman was returning to the Linwood-Bryant Hospital from a trip to Macon. He was driving his motorbike at high speed when, he swerved to avoid hitting a flatbed lorry. This resulted in Duane hitting the back of crane. He was thrown off his bike. It then landed on top of him. With the motorbike on top of him, Duane Allman skidded ninety feet along the road, all the time, the motorbike was crushing his internal organs. Despite being rushed to hospital, Duane Allman was pronounced dead a couple of hours later. The Allman Brothers Band founder and guitarist was just twenty-four. 

After the death of Duane Allman, The Allman Brothers Band decided to continue as a quintet. The first thing the five members of The Allman Brothers Band had to do, was finish Eat A Peach, which would become The Allman Brothers Band’s third studio album. 

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Eat A Peach.

When Duane died, The Allman Brothers Band had just finished recording Eat A Peach. It was unlike any of their three previous albums. 

On Eat The Peach, songs recorded in Criteria Studio, with producer Tom, between September and December 1971 sat side-by-side with live recordings, including Mountain Jam, a thirty-four minute jam that took up sides two and four of Eat The Peach. This ten track album became The Allman Brothers Band’s most successful album.

On its release on February 12th 1972, commercial success and critical acclaim accompanied Eat The Peach. Critics hailed the album a Southern Rock classic. Record buyers turned Eat The Peach into a million selling album, when it reached number four in the US Billboard 200. This resulted in another platinum disc for The Allman Brothers Band. For a band in the throes of drug addiction this was quite an achievement.

After the release of Eat The Peach, The Allman Brothers Band bought 423 acres of land in Juliette, Georgia. Nicknaming it The Farm, this was a dream come true for bassist Berry Oakley. He had long talked of the band living communally. Sadly, the dream didn’t last long. 

Berry Oakley missing his fallen comrade, started drink heavily and take excessive quantities of drugs. He lost weight, direction and ambition. Then on 11th November 1972, Berry Oakley was looking forward to leading a jam session the next day. However, he got high and drunk and  decided to go for a ride on his motorbike. Three blocks from where Duane Allman lost his life, Berry Oakley’s motorbike hit the side of a bus. Declining hospital treatment Berry Oakley returned home, became delirious and died from a traumatic brain injury. Berry Oakley was buried next to his fallen comrade Duane Allman. His dream was over.

For The Allman Brothers Band, Eat The Peach marked the end of an era. It was the last time the original and classic lineup of The Allman Brothers Band can be heard. Although they continued to release albums the commercial success soon dried up.

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1973s Brothers and Sisters reached number one on the US Billboard 200, and was certified platinum. The followup Win, Lose Or Draw reached number five on the US Billboard 200, and was certified gold. After that, only 1979s Enlightened Rogues was certified gold. By then, The Allman Brothers Band were in what seemed like a perpetual state of chaos. 

Just like the early days, drug abuse was at the heart of the problem. That was nearly the end of the commercial success. Most of The Allman Brothers Band’s albums failed to scale the heady heights of At Fillmore East, Eat The Peach and Brothers and Sisters. However, when The Allman Brothers Band made a comeback as the nineties dawned, 1994s Where It All Begins was certified gold. That was the end of The Allman Brothers Band’s commercial success. Where it all began was with their landmark live album At Fillmore East.

Since its release in July 1971, At Fillmore East is regarded as one of the greatest live albums ever. Rolling Stone magazine included At Fillmore East in its 500 greatest albums of all time. That is quite an accolade.

Not as much as the US Congress choosing At Fillmore East as one of city albums to be added to the National Recording Registry in 2004. By then, At Fillmore East had attained classic status, and is perceived as part of any self-respecting record collection.

At Fillmore East is an introduction to the founding fathers of Southern Rock, The Allman Brothers Band at the peak of their powers. Over the three night in March 1971, The Allman Brothers Band played five concerts At Fillmore East and these groundbreaking concerts transformed The Allman Brothers Band’s career and turned them into the Kings of Southern Rock.

Classic Album: The Allman Brothers Band At Fillmore East.

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1 Comment

  1. I find it fascinating to read of the eclectic concert pairing of that era. The early concert of the ABB with the Velvet Underground headlining would be one. Must have been an interesting night of music! Interesting too to be reminded that the “Live at the Fillmore East” stand included the Elvin Bishop group as part of the bill, as Bishop’s old group the Paul Butterfield Blues Band had forged the template for the jazzy long-from blues jam several years before that with their ground-breaking “East/West” LP and concerts.

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