The Allman Brothers Band’s Last Stand
In a low, shy voice, he recalled the date – March 26th, 1969, in Jacksonville, Florida – when he first sang with the original lineup, started by his older brother, guitarist Duane Allman. “Never did I have any idea it would come to this,” Gregg added. Then the band plugged in once more for Muddy Waters’ “Trouble No More,” the opening number at that ’69 jam session.
“It felt like church,” guitarist Derek Trucks recalls, still awe-struck, two days later. “When Gregg stepped up, it went from this roar to total silence. From the first rehearsal, I was thinking, ‘How are we going to end this?’ ”
Derek’s uncle, founding drummer Butch Trucks, had suggested the Waters song. “But nothing else was scripted,” Derek adds. “The idea was one of us would say something. Then onstage, no one’s jumping. So it was like, ‘OK, Gregg, hit it.’ ”
By playing into the early hours of October 29th, the Allmans concluded their life on the road on the anniversary of Duane’s death in a 1971 motorcycle crash, the first loss in a famous cycle of creative triumphs, shocking tragedies (bassist Berry Oakley died in 1972), breakups and reunions. In recent years, Gregg’s health problems, including hepatitis, forced the group to cancel shows during its legendary March residencies at the Beacon. Four of the October shows the Allmans played at the Beacon, leading up to the 28th, were makeup dates from last spring.
Earlier this year, Derek, who joined the Allmans in 1999, and his 14-year guitar partner, Warren Haynes, announced they were leaving the group to concentrate on their own careers. Gregg followed with a statement that the group was retiring from touring at the end of this year. But Derek says the Allmans first discussed closing shop “three or four years ago. We had a meeting that was like, ‘We gotta whip this thing into shape or lay it down.’ Everybody came to the understanding: ‘Let’s make it to 45 years, and get everything to full speed when we get there.’ ”
The Allmans also decided, as they approached their final Beacon shows, to keep it simple – no special guests – and, on the last night, to stick to the classics. As Derek puts it, “Let’s play the tunes that made this band, that need to be played again.” The result on the 28th was three sets drawn almost entirely from the five albums the group made and released between 1969 and 1973. The opening memorial to Duane – a medley of his instrumental “Little Martha” and “Mountain Jam,” both from his last album with the Allmans, Eat a Peach – was Haynes’ idea. “He called up early on the last-show day: ‘What about this?’ ” Derek remembers. “I’m like, ‘That’s fucking great!’ ”
The guitarist notes another “nice touch”: the instrumental reference to the hymn “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?” which turned up at different points in the Beacon run. “After it happened on the first night, Butch told me, ‘We used to do that all time – that thing used to pop up everywhere,’ ” Derek says. “Then Gregg was like, ‘Why don’t we sing it one night?’ ” Gregg’s plaintive-vocal reading became the emotional third-set climax on the 28th, nestled in an ecstatic reprise of “Mountain Jam.”
One circle left incomplete was the Allmans’ relationship with original guitarist Dickey Betts, who was fired in 2000 after years of mounting tensions. Derek reveals that there was “a lot of communication between his camp and our camp” about Betts joining the group onstage at the Beacon – “right up to rehearsal, even during the show week” – but to no avail. Each side, Derek claims, let the notion die.
“It’s too much history,” he says, a glancing reference to Betts’ dismissal, “to wrap up in showing up and playing a set. I know he should have been there. But it was like, ‘If no one’s jumping on it, it wasn’t meant to happen.’ ” Ultimately, Betts was represented on the 28th by the Allmans’ performance of his compositions “Revival” and “Blue Sky” and Derek and Haynes’ elegant, sighing guitar harmonies in Betts’ signature instrumental, “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed.”
Ultimately, Derek, 35, believes the Allmans played their last show the way they played all of their best gigs: “No frills, man, just the band having to step up and face it all down.” He cites his uncle, 67, as an inspiring example. “I had this thought while we were playing ‘Whipping Post.’ Butch had been giving it all night. And I worry about his health. There were times early in the run where the band would try to go to that last gear, and it would just kind of sputter.
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“I was in the middle of my solo, thinking, ‘Let’s put the pedal down.’ But I didn’t know if Butch had it in him or not. I thought, ‘This might kill him,'” Derek admits, laughing. “And he did not back down at all. He went hard to the very end.”
Derek insists he has no regrets about the end of the Allman Brothers Band. “If we’d gone on much longer, we wouldn’t have been able to summon that [last] show,” he contends, speaking over the phone from Los Angeles, where he is already back on tour with his other job, the Tedeschi Trucks Band. “Almost any other time there’s a huge send-off, it’s a star-studded thing. This was just the band showing up and playing, the way they always did. There’s something honest and proud, dignified and beautiful about the way it ended.”
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