Review Summary: Short but everlasting glory.
Ability, creativity and expression build respect and admiration, and define what anyone is ultimately remembered for. Death has a habit of cutting short creativity but enlarging legacy, especially so for the young. It is an infamous turn in popular music that brought greater renown to some than they might ever have achieved in a longer lifetime.
One of the most remarkable of musical tragedies struck The Allman Brothers Band in 1971 and 1972, first claiming guitarist and band leader Duane Allman, and then bassist Berry Oakley, a little over a year later. They both died in similar motorcycle accidents, in the same area, at the age of 24. The originally six-headed band, while still actively performing today, never quite recovered from their deaths, never again blending the way they did in ’71. It was approximately half a year before Duane’s death that they committed to tape what is perhaps the tightest live jam ever recorded by a rock collective. At Fillmore East, the Allman Brothers played with the kind of ability, creativity and expression that every passionate musician envies.
Duane Allman may have been their greatest player, and their creative drive, but it really took six to make magic. With brother Gregg singing behind the organ, second guitarist Dickey Betts putting out his own tune, and the unique two-drummer rhythm setup of Jaimoe Johanson and Butch Trucks with Oakley, The Allman Brothers created a sound unlike and beyond that of any other band. Taking the classic blues as their primary inspiration, they involved the flair of jazz (Duane was listening to Miles Davis and John Coltrane at the time) and a tinge of country, delivering it with a determined loud rock volume.
Dedicating the first four of seven tracks to classic blues covers, Fillmore East opens with an earth-shaking rendition of Willie McTell’s Statesboro Blues
, driven by Duane’s signature slide guitar sound and his brother’s greatly fitting voice; Gregg Allman was 23 at the time, which is hard to tell. As a trademark throughout their performances, Betts trades off his own solos with Duane, while the rhythm section’s continually incredible pace makes the kick-off the same powerful experience every time. Elmore James’ Done Somebody Wrong
follows in the same vein, but it is only after these that At Fillmore East confirms The Allman Brothers’ reputation as the finest jamming rock band on the planet.
The four main attractions run at an average of about 15 minutes: all simply a pleasure, and each one seemingly better than the next. Stormy Monday
, despite Duane and Betts’ superb solos, is Gregg Allman’s strongest moment individually. ‘They call it stormy Monday/but Tuesday’s just as bad’
, he croons passionately over his Hammond organ, which comes up front and fits the song perfectly. It’s a well-needed respite before the nearly-20-minute You Don’t Love Me
, a final stretch of reworked old-school blues with intense and heartfelt guitar solos all around; a mighty presence indeed. The band’s following own material neatly shows the progression from that which they were inspired by. The relatively short Hot ‘Lanta
serves as a showcase for each player’s individual qualities, before leading into what are arguably The Allman Brothers Band’s two greatest accomplishments. Betts’ jazzy composition In Memory of Elizabeth Reed
is a fine beauty, incredibly smooth and mellow compared to the core Allman numbers, but never losing a moment’s attention.
Yet as mesmerizing as all the previous can be, the final 23 minutes of Fillmore East stand on lonely heights. Whipping Post
isn’t just The Allmans’ signature tune. It is the be-all, end-all of their individual and collective talent. It especially defines Duane Allman as a guitarist, which is to say it defines him as one of the greatest. Every note ablaze with passion, every second a gift in this godly jam. A tour de force that is also a painful reminder of how brutally soon the flawless chemistry of this band was cut short. Duane Allman and Berry Oakley, who deserves special credit for possibly laying down the single most effective bass intro ever, made the behemoth that is Whipping Post
a fitting way to remember them by. The Allman Brothers Band has continued to survive for over 40 years, but they will always have to look back on what they played here. It was unbelievable.
- R.I.P. Duane Allman: November 20, 1946 – October 29, 1971
- R.I.P. Berry Oakley: April 4, 1948 – November 11, 1972