That rarity on the contemporary rock scene — an integrated group from the Deep South — the Allman Brothers Band has for a couple of years rivaled the Braves for Atlanta's affections the way the J. Geils Band stole the Red Sox' following (a good part of it, anyway) in Boston. Wherever they play throughout the South, in fact, audiences seem to regard the Allmans as their own.
On the strength of their two previous albums and, more recently, a string of knockout live performances from coast to coast, the Allmans have come likewise to be known as "musicians' musicians," a band's band. In fact, the only criticism I've heard from other musicians seemed quite frankly to have its roots very firmly in the time-honored practice of hollering sour grapes — over the last year the Allman Band played the Fillmores so frequently that some people were calling them Bill Graham's House Band.
Whatever else one may have to say about Graham, though, his taste in music has been largely unassailable, and hence it came as no surprise at all to anyone in the music business when Graham selected the Allman Brothers (and the Geils Band) to close out the Fillmore East.
The Allman Brothers had many fine moments at the Fillmores, and this live double album (recorded March 12th and 13th of this year) must surely epitomize all of them. The range of their material and the more tenuous fact that they also use two drummers have led to what I suppose are inevitable comparisons to the Dead in its better days. Any comparison to anybody is fatuous. In my opinion, the fact of the matter is that guitarists Duane Allman and Dicky Betts, organist-vocalist Gregg Allman, Berry Oakley on bass, and drummers J.J. Johanson and Butch Trucks comprise the best damn rock and roll band this country has produced in the past five years. And if you think I'm dog-shittin' you, listen to this album.
The first two sides consist of an all-blues set, with Duane setting the pace on slide guitar. Leading off with Blind Willie McTell's "Statesboro Blues," the first side moves on into "Done Somebody Wrong" and ends with eight and a half minutes of one of the finest-ever versions of T-Bone Walker's "Stormy Monday"; the second side is entirely devoted to Willie Cobbs' "You Don't Love Me," a cut on which everybody gets in his licks.
Side three is devoted to the group's tune "Hot 'Lanta" and nearly 13 minutes of "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed," written by Betts, who plays lead. The version here is even better than the cut on the Allmans' second album. Side four is the encore; 22 minutes-plus of Gregg Allman's "Whipping Post," with Duane and Betts trading off leads around Gregg's organ, and both drummers taking off as well — Trucks sometimes on tympani.
If you've been so unfortunate as to never have caught the Allman Brothers Band live, this recording is certainly the next best thing. Turn the volume up all the way and sit through the concert; by the time it's over you can almost imagine the Allman Band getting high and heading back to Macon (where, characteristically, they continue to live in unparanoid bliss) on their motorcycles. (Collectively, the group owns nine of them.) They're one of the nicest things that ever happened to any of us.