The Class of 1971: The Allman Brothers Band ‘At Fillmore East’
In October of 1970, somebody had me listen to an album called Idlewild South. To that point, I had never heard of The Allman Brothers Band. Neither, apparently, had many people. Their eponymous debut album from November of 1969 barely nudged into the top 200 on the U.S. album charts. Idlewild South would fare much better, peaking at number 38 on the album charts.
I had insinuated myself onto the concert committee at Lehigh University, and our second concert of the year (first was The Band) at the beginning of March was The Allman Brothers Band and Cowboy, another group on the Capricorn label. That show does not appear on their 1971 tour schedule, but there is a hole between March 1 at Mississippi State University and a three-day run at Fillmore East in New York March 11, 12 & 13.
About that three-day Fillmore run: the band recorded all three nights and decided to release a double album simply titled At Fillmore East. The rest, as they say, is history. The double album went to number 15 (Eat a Peach, another double album, would make it to number 4, and Brothers and Sisters would go to number one).
The original album had seven tracks over four sides. Then the reissues began, culminating in The 1971 Fillmore East Recordings, a six-CD, 37-song document of the band’s shows at the venue that would shut down in June of that year.
That set contains six hours of music, and you might have thought there would be more, but ABB weren’t headlining those famous March run shows; they were opening for Johnny Winter And and Elvin Bishop. Each night of the run, both bands played two shows, early and late. This set also includes the band’s finale at the closing of Fillmore East in June. What this set does NOT include, however, are the shows from March 11. The group used a three-man horn section, and apparently these may never see the light of day.
We’re not tackling the behemoth; we’ll look at the original album that turns 50 today, July 6.
The original lineup, before the pair of tragedies that would befall the band beginning in October, was: Duane Allman, lead, slide guitars; Gregg Allman, organ, piano, vocals; Dicky Betts, guitar; Berry Oakley, bass; Jai Johanny Johanson, drums, congas, timbales; and Butch Trucks, drums, tympani. Tom Doucette guests on harmonica. As noted, the music comes from the four shows on March 12 & 13.
Remote recording was done by Location Recorders, with Aaron Baron and Larry Dahlstrom as engineers. The album was produced by Tom Dowd for No Exit Music, Inc., by special arrangement with Phil Walden and Associates. Photography and graphic concepts were by Jim Marshall, including the photo of the road crew on the back cover.
The album was issued on July 6, 1971, as Capricorn SD 2-802. For each song, [composer] and (time) are listed. And these are just a few notes; what can you say about an album often regarded as the greatest live album of all time?
The Allman Brothers Band At Fillmore East
“OK, the Allman Brothers Band.” And with that, history was about to unfold. “Statesboro Blues” [Will McTell] (4:08) was the first of three covers on Side One. It also made clear, as was equally evident with The Grateful Dead, that this was a band meant to be heard live. Would they go on to make great studio albums? Yes. Would they match the passion, emotion, and fire of the live recordings? You know the answer. We were hearing Gregg’s voice, Duane’s stinging slide, Oakley’s throbbing bass, and the power of dual drummers like we’d not heard before on record.
“Done Somebody Wrong” [Thomas-Lewis-James-Robinson] (4:05) again highlight’s Gregg’s Southern gospel voice, and Doucette offers harp. Betts shoots out with a fine solo. Then we hear glorious twin guitars before Duane slides again.
They were so careful to identify the heroes they were covering, mentioning “Stormy Monday” [T-Bone Walker] (8:31) as a Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland tune before saying, “actually, it’s a T-Bone Walker song.” This one is straight church, the organ simply magnificent. After Betts’ solo, they kick up the tempo for Gregg’s solo, followed by Duane.
ABB never embraced the jamband label, at least not early on, claiming to be just a “band that jams.” Potato, po-tah-to. “You Don’t Love Me” [Willie Cobbs] (19:06) is a romp through this jazzy shuffle blues, with Oakley a delight. Doucette is back. Seven minutes in, everybody lays out as Duane digs deep. The band slides back in at 9:00, and then they’re off to the races, paced by Trucks and Jaimoe, as he would come to be known. Duane plays for seven minutes, and then the jazz shuffle really takes off with those beautiful twin guitars.
That magnificent Hammond B3 and the brilliant percussion of Trucks and Jaimoe send “Hot ’Lanta” [ABB] (5:10) soaring. And once again the soul-stirring twin-guitar lead. Gregg’s solo is superb, and Oakley is a beast. Two guitar solos, then that famous drum section every band attempts to reproduce.
In the dictionary, there should be an audio file for “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” [Betts] (12:46), because that opening twin-guitar lead after Betts’ beautiful intro is sublime indeed. If you’ve ever cried hearing this (like, every time), then you understand. This particular version is a Frankenstein creation, the first portion from one show, the second part from another. The solos are stunning. This is jazz, Duane’s solo an homage to John Coltrane. I’m crying again. Damn.
The album closes with a 23-minute tour of “Whipping Post” [Gregg Allman] (22:40), a tune from the band’s debut. The pace is about fifth gear as they motor through guitar solo after guitar solo. Halfway in, they slow it to a beautiful jazz ballad. They crank it back up almost six minutes later to an enormous crescendo. And then for six more minutes. EPIC.
A BRIEF ASIDE
Two stories about “Whipping Post.” Darryl Rhodes, a brilliant satirist from Atlanta, had a great band in the late ’70s called The HaHaVishnu Orchestra. Among the band’s incisive parodies were “I Wish They’d All Leave Alabama” (“California Girls”) about racism in the South, “Purple Haze” with kazoos which they torched with lighter fluid, and “I Feel Like I’ve Been Chained to a Harley-Davidson” to the tune of “Whipping Post.”
In 1974, Frank Zappa had a long routine about playing Holiday Inn lounges featuring the character Ratchet the Mechanical Narc, where fans were asking to hear “Tied to the Whipping Post”; “We don’t know that one.” Fast-forward to the 1981 tour, where, at many shows, the band came out for their encore, and Zappa said, “Oh, I knew you’d be surprised,” at which point he did whip out “Whipping Post.”
Gregg Allman noted at some point during the Fillmore East run:
“I hope this comes out pretty good; we’re cutting our third album here tonight.”
Understatement of the century!