Ain’t wastin’ time no more
Allman Brothers Band, without distractions of the past, is ‘all about playing superior music’
Allman Brothers Band drummer Butch Trucks speculates that the group he helped found in 1969 has precious few years left. Yet he feels certain that today’s Allman Brothers Band is making music unsurpassed by any of its earlier incarnations and will continue to until its last song is played.
Yes, in Trucks’s estimation, guitarist Duane Allman would be pleased.
“When we started, it was so intense, it was like a religion,’’ Trucks, 64, recalls. “And when you played with Duane Allman, you either gave it your all or you got out. Duane did not brook any screwing around. We did 300 shows in our first two years.’’
The latest version of Allman Brothers Band reconvenes for six fall shows, including four nights at the Orpheum, starting next Tuesday, when it will perform its “At Fillmore East’’ album in its entirety. The Allmans will re-create “Eat a Peach’’ on Wednesday.
After Duane Allman’s death in 1971, the band continued its climb then endured a precipitous fall that waylaid the group for most of the ’80s. A reunion in 1989 brought guitarist Warren Haynes and bassist Allen Woody into the lineup alongside original members keyboard player and singer Gregg Allman, guitarist and singer Dickey Betts, and drummers Jaimoe and Trucks (founding bassist Berry Oakley died in 1972 in a motorcycle accident, the same way that Duane Allman was killed).
“What we lost, we’re back to that,’’ Trucks says. “The star-timing is gone and everybody has quit acting like a fool. It’s all about playing superior music.’’
The ascent to a level of playing that has attracted jazz legend Roy Haynes, Eric Clapton, and funk maestro Dr. John (just a few of the numerous musicians who have popped up as guests during the Allmans’ annual run of shows at the Beacon Theater in New York City) is a story of evolution.
In 1991, the band picked up third drummer Marc Quiñones. After Haynes and Woody left in 1997 to concentrate on their band Gov’t Mule, the Allmans brought in bassist Oteil Burbridge and eventually guitar phenom Derek Trucks (Butch’s nephew). In 2000 the band fired Betts, but welcomed back Haynes. This year, the Allmans played very few concerts and allowed Allman, Haynes, and Derek Trucks to pursue tours with their solo bands.
Haynes, 51, says he figured he’d be with the Allmans for a single reunion tour.
“But even at those first rehearsals it exceeded expectations for chemistry,’’ Haynes recalls.
The Allmans surged through the ’90s with acclaimed concerts and solid new material. The unexpected firing of Betts and death of Woody (in 2000) put Gregg Allman in the position of calling Haynes to see if he’d be interested in rejoining the group.
“I was pleasantly surprised. They sounded great and everybody was getting along. That’s all I needed to see,’’ Haynes says.
It also teamed Haynes and Derek Trucks, who now reign supreme as a guitar tandem. Haynes says that even with its blues and improvisational-rock leanings, the band operates with a jazz philosophy. “What’s going on on stage is mostly music-making in the moment. It’s more unrehearsed than people realize,’’ Haynes says. “When you have a chemistry built from strong personalities that are different from each other, all music benefits from that.’’
That jazz approach is what hooked Burbridge, a self-described “funk head’’ who did not even have Allman Brothers on his radar when he came up as a name to join the band. “Jaimoe helped me figure it all out,’’ Burbridge, 47, says. “He pointed out the similarities between ‘Dreams’ and ‘All Blues’ by Miles Davis, and it was like clouds parted.’’
The late Joe Dan Petty, the Allmans’ longtime guitar tech, also helped Burbridge untangle bass parts that were originally conceived by Oakley.
“He handed me a four-string bass and a pick and asked me, ‘Are you open to trying this?’ I hadn’t even played a four-string bass at that point,’’ Burbridge says. But it was that willingness of the old guard to not only show the newer players a thing or two, but to also share the Allman Brothers Band’s stories that has, in Burbridge’s words, let the younger players take an informed approach to the music.
Burbridge says he needs to respect the past while still making vibrant music. A lively part of every Allmans show is the bass and drums jam. “Oh the jams can go off the track, but if there is no risk involved, the rewards are not great either,’’ Burbridge says.
A crop of young fans has likewise helped the Allmans keep going.
“There will always be kids in every generation that understand that Lady Gaga is not music, it’s theater,’’ Butch Trucks says. “We’ve been lucky because quite a few young people keep coming to see us play. We couldn’t tour as much as we do if we could only count on the baby boomers.’’
Trucks says that as long as he and the other members feel healthy and are playing well, the Allman Brothers Band will continue. “Once I feel it slipping, then we’ll call it quits,’’ he says. “The band has worked very hard to restore its legacy, and I’m not allowing it to be diminished again.’’
Scott McLennan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.