by Dave Keneston
The Allman Brothers Band has undergone many incarnations throughout its 45 year history, but the most famous and influential era has to be the original lineup of Duane Allman, Gregg Allman, Dickey Betts, Berry Oakley, Jai Johanny Johanson (Jaimoe) and Butch Trucks. From early 1969 to Duane’s tragic death on October 29, 1971, the initial incarnation of the Brothers unleashed their blend of blues, jazz, country and rock on the world, creating a new sound that many would try to emulate. With Duane Allman leading the way, no one could match the vigor and shear ferocity of the Allman Brothers Band. In a short two plus year span, they created some of the most brilliant pieces of southern symphonic stew in the pantheon of rock music. In part one of this list, I will countdown my favorite Duane era Allman Brothers songs from ten to six.
10. “Please Call Home”– From the opening notes of Gregg’s piano and Duane’s subtly weeping guitar, this bluesy ballad off Idlewild South is a heartrending tale of a man struggling to accept his lover leaving him. Gregg’s doleful vocals belie his youth; he was only 22 when the song was recorded. His uncanny emotional maturity is on full display as he effortlessly commands each aching interval. Duane’s time as a session musician surely aided him in his lead work as he expertly supports his brother’s melodies with thoughtful fills and desperate licks of lonesomeness.
9. “Mountain Jam”– This heroic giant, based on Donovan’s “There is a Mountain,” is one of the band’s most ambitious, larger than life undertakings. First released on Eat a Peach in 1972, “Mountain Jam” features all six members trading solos through a 33 minute and 41 second marathon of instrumental ecstasy.
The dual harmonies and interplay of Duane Allman and Dickey Betts resemble two orbiting neutron stars hell bent on fulfilling their destiny to collide in a staggering astronomical event, creating a black hole of harmonic overtones so dense the magnetic field of a trillion Earths couldn’t compare.
The drum duet, pairing the freight train and the technician, builds to thunderous heights until bassist Berry Oakley and his “big guitar” take over, leading the way to another movement where Duane Allman demonstrates how to meld stinging slide slashes with sweetly soaring serin musicality. The crescendo collapses into a delicious denouement, warmly wrapping up one of the greatest jams ever.
8. “Don’t Want You No More/It’s Not My Cross to Bear”– This was the first thing listeners heard when they put on the Allman Brothers debut album. If they weren’t hooked by the time Gregg bellowed out “yeah, yeah, yeah” to start off “It’s Not My Cross to Bear,” it’s safe to say they weren’t ever going to get down with the Brothers. The harmonized lead lines and jazz infused groove of Spencer Davis and Edward Hardin’s “Don’t Want You No More,” coupled with the melancholy slow blues of “It’s Not My Cross to Bear,” epitomize what the early ABB were trying to accomplish by amalgamating blues, jazz and rock together into a soulful gumbo of intricate and exhilarating delectability.
7. “Revival”– Dickey Betts got his first shot at writing songs for the Allman Brothers on Idlewild South and “Revival” is the first infusion of the country influence Dickey would exhibit throughout his tenure with the ABB. The twin guitar lines in the extended instrumental introduction mimic the twin fiddles of western swing music on which Dickey cut his teeth. The harmonized major pentatonic runs leading into the vocal section of the song would become staples of many Dickey Betts-penned tunes.
Allman Brothers fans are well aware of how prevalent the concept of family is within the culture of the band and this song is one of the progenitors of that philosophy. The lyrics alone are bastions of communal bliss.
People can you feel it? Love is everywhere.
People can you hear it? Love is in the air.
We’re in a revolution. Don’t you know we’re right?
Everyone is singing. There’ll be no one to fight.
How can you go wrong with a song that has great guitar work, a bouncy boogie beat and anthemic hippie lyrics? Now, if I could only find that bag of mushrooms I left lying around somewhere.
6. “Dreams”– One of the few songs where Duane did not play slide in open E tuning, “Dreams” is a highlight of the first album. Duane’s sweeping melodic slide playing, matched with his brother’s gravelly contemplations of unrealized visions and Jaimoe’s jazz laden drum work propel this number into the psychedelic jazz/blues stratosphere.
The album version, although excellent in its own right, could not compare with the heights that the Brothers would reach performing the song live. When Duane was unchained from the constriction of the studio, Skydog was able to penetrate the invisible ceiling of creativity. He followed his muse and took listeners on a harmonious odyssey, often culminating with a climax of repeated triplets high up the neck of the guitar before relenting and handing the song over to his brother to wax on the pangs of fantasies that failed to come to fruition.
Check back tomorrow for part two of the countdown.