The Class of 1970: ‘Idlewild South’ by The Allman Brothers Band
All of us have albums where we know precisely where and when we first heard them, albums that have become soulmates. Idlewild South, the second album from The Allman Brothers Band, is one of those. It was released on ATCO and Capricorn Records on September 23, 1970. I first encountered it on the campus of a women’s college north of New York City, and the experience was indelibly burned into my brain.
ABB were formed in 1969 and released their eponymous debut in November. Then they hit the road, hard. 300 dates in 1970. Somehow, with all that, they managed between February and July to record lots of tracks, seven of which would make it onto the band’s sophomore effort, Idlewild South.
Neither album made much of a splash, but word of mouth has always been the real communication vehicle for jambands, and word was certainly spreading. They had played the Atlanta Pop Festival in 1969 and 1970 and numerous other tests as well. Their Fillmore East run in March of 1971 and the subsequent live double album put the Brothers on the map for good.
But back to Idlewild South. This, the first album, and Eat a Peach featured the original band. Duane Allman would die in a motorcycle crash in , and Berry Oakley died one year later. The band from 1969-1971:
Duane Allman, electric guitar, slide guitar, acoustic guitar; Gregg Allman, piano, organ, vocals; Dickey Betts, guitar, vocals; Berry Oakley, bass, vocals; Butch Trucks, drums, timpani; and Jai Johanny “Jaimoe” Johanson, drums, congas, timbales, percussion. Composers’ names are in parentheses.
The Brothers were quickly expanding their horizons from the first album. On Idlewild South, they took the blues, rock, and Southern rock from the first album and added country, funk, and jazz to their repertoire.
The joyous sounds pouring out of “Revival” (Betts) are at once country, rock, and gospel, all beautifully blended. Gregg Allman handled lead vocals with one exception (“Hoochie Coochie Man”). The drums and percussion give the song yet another dimension. Gregg is on organ, and we get that first taste of intertwining guitar leads.
“Don’t Keep Me Wonderin’” (G. Allman) is one of the songs that would be a regular concert staple. Thom Doucette plays harmonica, Duane on slide guitar. This marries blues and rock perfectly. And Gregg is establishing himself as one of the Southern preachers of rock.
Fans are divided on “Midnight Rider” (G. Allman, Robert Kim Payne). Some prefer Gregg’s later slowed-down solo version; others point to this one. The uptempo groves infectious, and Oakley’s harmony vocals really add depth. Acoustic and electric guitars and organ are featured.
“In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” (Betts) is one of the true masterpieces of rock music, and it was Betts’ first contribution to the band. There are countless stunning live versions of all varieties, but they all lead back to this original gem. Duane, Gregg, and Betts all solo, followed by the brief drum and percussion explosion from Trucks and Jaimoe. They were following in the footsteps of The Grateful Dead and Frank Zappa in using two drummers, to great effect. Oakley’s bass line is so good. Many fans would agree that this song — and especially the twin guitar lead — continues to bring tears of joy.
If you were to conduct a blindfold test for “Hoochie Coochie Man” (Willie Dixon) for those unfamiliar with the album, likely 99% of respondents would swear that is Johnny Winter singing. Except that it is Berry Oakley. In addition to the regret that his life ended at such a young age, it would have been great hearing him sing more. The drums burst out of the speakers, as does Oakley’s fabulous voice. As good a version of Dixon’s hit as you’ll find.
Gregg moves to piano for a somber ballad titled “Please Call Home” (G. Allman). His plaintive voice conveys the message in any language. Duane’s slide is spot on for this song.
The album closes with another bluesy Gregg composition, “Leave My Blues At Home” (G. Allman), another song that was in regular rotation. The guitars are downright funky, clearly an indication of another direction the band would explore. And more magical twin guitar.
After the success of Live at the Fillmore, the first album and Idlewild South were repackaged as a double album called Beginnings. More recently, expanded versions have included other takes and more live material.
So how did the album get its name? There was a location near Macon the band used for recording. Lots of activity and people in and out led to it being like Idlewild Airport in New York: hence, Idlewild South.
In Skydog: The Duane Allman Story by Randy Poe in an interview with Scott Boyer, he noted:
It was like a hunting cabin. The back of the house had a porch that was built out over a manmade lake that was maybe five or six acres. It was a cabin made out of old pinewood, and it had been there for a long time. … The Allman Brothers used it as a rehearsal facility — that and a place to go maybe to consume a little something that wasn’t quite legal. There were parties out there.”