Allman Brothers Band’s Legendary 1971 Fillmore East Run: An Oral History
Forty-five years ago, on March 11th, 1971, the Allman Brothers Band took the stage at Bill Graham’s vaunted Fillmore East Theater in New York for the first of a series of shows that are among the most celebrated in rock history. The Allmans weren’t even supposed to be the headliners. The posters Graham had printed up read: “Johnny Winter and Elvin Bishop Group. Extra Added Attraction: Allman Brothers.” By the end of the first night, the order had been forcibly flipped on its head.
During six sets of music spread across three evenings, the Allman Brothers Band — undeterred by bomb threats and a disastrous experiment with a patchwork horn section — pushed their songs to their very limits and redefined what it meant to jam onstage. The nearly 23-minute version of “Whipping Post” that closed the final night on March 13th set a high water mark in the then-fledgling tradition of Southern rock.
Three months later, on June 27th, the Brothers were back at the Fillmore East once again but under completely different circumstances. The venue was closing its doors forever and perhaps remembering the magic of their last run on his stage, Graham had handpicked the Allman Brothers Band to give his beloved concert hall a final, proper sendoff. They played until dawn, and when the show was over, a great church of rock, soul, jazz and blues music went along with it. Three months after that, Duane Allman — half of the ’71 group’s iconic guitar tandem — died in a Georgia motorcycle accident.
Rolling Stone recently caught up with some of the people onstage at that legendary run to discuss how those shows came together, and why they’ve endured in the minds and hearts of so many rock fans for nearly five decades.
Gregg Allman, Allman Brothers Band singer/keyboardist: Bill Graham was the most assertive person I’ve ever met. He was a straight shooter, a no-bullshit kind of guy. You always knew where you stood with Bill, man. He pulled no punches, but as tough as he was, he was always very fair.
Butch Trucks, Allman Brothers Band drummer: You just didn’t want to get in his way. Bill Graham did not tolerate people doing a half-assed job, and it’s the reason that playing the Fillmore and being in the audience at the Fillmore was so great. He ran it like clockwork, and he made sure that everybody in every seat could see and hear correctly.
Dickey Betts, Allman Brothers Band guitarist: He was a great guy. You know, either you hated Bill or you loved him, and I was one of the latter. He was one of the cornerstones of getting our band going.
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