“Okay, the Allman Brothers Band”: The Allman Brothers, Song Arrangement and the Blues

Those words start one of the records that changed my life. I’m referring to The Allman Brothers/At Fillmore East. I remember hearing it during the summer of 1971. I was 13 years old and was with my family at a bungalow colony in the Catskill Mountains in upstate New York. One of the cool older kids had it and would play it on a little record player and we would listen to it on his porch. That record (and it’s followup, Eat A Peach) would be one of the records that taught me how to play both guitar and bass. It was also where my fascination with slide guitar started (more on that in a later post).
I always felt that one of the things that made the Allman Brothers such a great Blues band was the obvious importance that the band placed on a song’s arrangement. If you listen to the Blues songs on Fillmore East (as well as One Way Out and Trouble No More, both released on Eat A Peach), you will hear that each song has it’s own identity even though they all follow basic blues chord changes or variations on these changes. Statesboro Blues (based on Taj Mahal’s version of the tune) has that classic opening where the band plays a short riff that is answered by Duane Allman’s amazing slide guitar. The majority of that opening is just the slide guitar and the drums so when the full band enters, it just kicks the entire song into a higher gear. Also note how the band goes back to the opening riff for the vocal verse after Duane’s solo (“My mama died and left me..”). This breaks up the shuffle groove that the band built up to that point and also makes the band’s re-entry all the more effective. Stormy Monday features a more involved chord progression than your standard blues and cool sliding sixths guitar parts taken from the Bobby Blue Bland version but I particularly love how the band goes into and out of double time for Greg Allman’s organ solo. One Way Out is distinguished by a it’s slide guitar riff and the great way it transitions from Dickey Bett’s solo to Dickey and Duane trading off to Duane’s slide solo. Trouble No More also uses a recurring riff played by the band to give the song a unique shape and a cool segue way from the slide guitar solo to 2 bar solo breaks from the bass, lead and slide guitars and drums  and then back to the vocal verse.
Prior to the March 1971 performances that make up At Fillmore East, in September of 1970, The Allman Brothers were part of a TV taping for a program that would eventually air on WNET entitled Welcome To The Fillmore East. It featured Van Morrison, The Byrds, Elvin Bishop, Albert King and Sha-Na-Na. The Allman Brother, who were relative unknowns at the time didn’t make it to the final version of the broadcast. Yes, that’s right. The Allman Brothers were bumped by Sha-Na-Na. Luckily, the Allman Brothers set was preserved and has been circulating for years and now through the wonders of technology (or YouTube) is presented below.

This July, Mercury Records will release a six CD box entitled the The 1971 Fillmore East Recordings which will feature unreleased tracks from the March 1971 run as well as their final Fillmore East performance from June 1971. For more info, go to http://www.jambase.com/articles/121467/allman-brothers-band-the-1971-fillmore-east-recordings.
The Allman Brothers have announced that after 45 years, this will be their last. I, for one will miss them but will be eternally grateful for the music they left behind.

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Posted in Blues, Music Appreciation and Analysis

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