The Allman Brothers
Reviewed on this page:
Power Of Love - The Allman Brothers Band - Idlewild South - The Fillmore Concerts - Eat A Peach - Brothers And Sisters - Win, Lose Or Draw -
Seven Turns -
Dose - Life Before Insanity
The Allman Brothers were the first and greatest Southern blues band to hit the big time. Their wailing twin lead guitar attack set them completely apart from any of their acid rock contemporaries, and they continued to produce fine records throughout the 70s. Although the band frequently got mired in self-indulgent, monotonous blues jams, they had piles of instrumental virtuosity, and occasionally were given fine ballads to work with by singer/organ player/main songwriter Gregg Allman. But the real story is Duane Allman: the man was truly gifted, and surely the best slide guitarist of his time. His work on Eric Clapton's Layla has entranced me ever since my childhood, and some of his playing with the Allman Brothers approaches that pinnacle.
The real-life Allman brothers - Duane and Gregg - had been cutting sessions and floating from band to band for years before forming the Allman Brothers Band in 1969. In fact, they'd already released two albums with a completely different act called the Hour Glass; I review the second one below. Within a couple of years the Allmans were a major chart success, and had established their reputation with fine concert performances that are captured on several live albums.
Tragically, however, Duane died in a motorcycle crash in late 1971; he wasn't replaced and the band continued without him, with guitarist Dicky Betts stepping up to take a more active role. The next year Berry Oakley died in a similar accident, and the band again pushed on before splitting temporarily in the late 70s. After a hiatus in the mid-80s, the surviving lineup recruited a top-notch lead guitarist named Warren Haynes and put out a long string of records that I haven't yet heard.
The Natural Fire Allman Brothers Band site
is thorough and reasonably packaged.
The Gov't Mule web site is also solidly informative.
I have received numerous abusive letters concerning this page. I think it's a disgrace to the band that its fans chose to portray themselves as foul-mouthed, close-minded bullies. Before writing me the ten millionth letter saying I don't know anything about the Allmans, please read our flame writer's FAQ. (JA)
Duane Allman (slide guitar); Gregg Allman (vocals, organ, some piano, some guitar); Dicky Betts (guitar, some vocals); Jai Johanny Johanson (drums, percussion); Berry Oakley (bass); Butch Trucks (drums, percussion). Chuck Leavell (piano) added, Oakley died, replaced by Lamar Williams, 1972. Band split, 1975 or 1976.
Reformed in 1979 with Gregg Allman, Betts, Johanson, Trucks, David Goldflies (bass) and Dan Toler (guitar), split again after 1981. Reformed again in 1989 with Allman, Betts, Johanson, Trucks, Warren Haynes (guitar), Johnny Neel (keyboards), and Allen Woody (bass).
Haynes and Woody left, 1997. Woody died, 26 August 2000. Betts left, mid-2000.
Hour Glass (Hour Glass: 1967)
I don't have this; the track selections include a Jackson Browne song, "Cast Off All My Fears." (JA)
Power Of Love (Hour Glass: 1968)
This is really an embryonic Allman Brothers band, with Duane and Gregg fronting the otherwise unfamiliar lineup. However, that's not to say that it's either good or particularly close to the Allmans' sound. Instead, it's dated L.A. acid rock, vaguely like the the Buffalo Springfield minus the harmonies (Neil Young's liner notes for this album were "witnessed" by Steve Stills).
The material is uneven and the production is disgraceful, obsessing on gimmicky pop song riffs; and with the band featuring two keyboard players, skating-rink organ parts get plastered on everything. The low point is a lame instrumental cover of "Norwegian Wood," with Duane plunking away on electric sitar. In the end, the band only seems comfortable on the slow Southern blues numbers ("To Things Before"; "I'm Hanging Up My Heart For You").
However, Gregg was already writing plenty of good tunes and singing up a storm, and Duane was a first-class guitarist despite not yet having mastered the slide and playing with the same dull disortion effects on track after track ("Going Nowhere"). Fortunately, the CD release includes six excellent bonus tracks that pumped up my rating a full star. Taken from an unreleased, early 1969 Gregg Allman solo project, they capture the gritty, professional Southern blues-rock style of the mature Allmans. For example, a version of "Down In Texas" blows away the official Power Of Love release, despite the fact that the latter is one of the best tracks on the album! (JA)
The Allman Brothers Band (1969)
The band's debut was cut in New York with producer Adrian Barber - they hadn't yet hooked up with Tom Dowd. It makes a difference. Track after track is extraordinarily competent but uncharacteristically perfunctory, with none of the languid jamming of later records. Gregg does pull out the stops with his blues-based singing - but if anything, he's trying too hard. Worse still, some of the material is duplicated on superior live recordings (see below); "Trouble No More" is on three of the records reviewed on this page, and this version is the shortest and most lackluster.
However, the band's studio recording of "Whipping Post" has an energetic, if slightly druggy groove that makes it really unique. It was one of Gregg's compositions - at this point he was the band's only songwriter - but what really makes it fly is the spectacular dueling guitars. There's plenty of other good stuff here as well, such as the wrenching "It's Not My Cross To Bear" and the guitar parts on "Every Hungry Woman," and the record is a good introduction to the Allman's hard-rocking Southern blues sound. (JA)
Live At The Fillmore, February 1970 (rec. 1970, rel. 1997?)
The title pretty much says it all: this is a new release compiled from several shows recorded at the Fillmore East. Not to be confused with the widely-available Fillmore Concerts, although there's little such danger because it hasn't been released widely in retail stores; I myself have never seen it, but it is reviewed at the main Allman Brothers web site. (JA)
Live At Ludlow Garage (rec. 1970, rel. 1990)
A double CD based on an April, 1970 performance by the original lineup, so it's something to look out for. Some of the tracks are standards (e.g., a full-length "Mountain Jam"; yet another "Trouble No More"), but many of titles don't appear on their contemporary studio albums, although I'm told they are representative of the band's early set list. (JA)
Idlewild South (1970)
The band's first really polished effort, and it's probably the first Allmans record you should get. The key track is Betts' "In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed," which also appears on Fillmore Concerts; it's their first really great instrumental epic, and a good one. The weakest link is a cover of Willie Dixon's "Hoochie Coochie Man" featuring some really hoarse vocals by Berry Oakley.
The record has also been packaged on CD together the debut album under the name Beginnings; that's the version I have and it's a great buy. (JA)
At Filmore East (1971)
This highly successful double LP, which was the Allman Brothers' first to go gold, has been completely redone for CD release by Tom Dowd - see Fillmore Concerts below. (JA)
The Fillmore Concerts (rec. 1971, rel. 1992)
This is a recent retread of the Allmans' 1971 LP At Fillmore East, their first really huge hit. With a two hour 14 minute running time, it's overkill, and a lot of it is superfluous - like "Trouble No More," "One Way Out," and especially "Mountain Jam," all of which are the same takes presented on Eat A Peach. The 19-minute "You Don't Love Me" and the 22-minute "Whipping Post" (a mainstay of the original record) are the other main offenders. But listened to in small doses, the performances are a blast: "In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed" is a classic (the version here is a hybrid of the original and another take), and there are plenty of little gems like T. Bone Walker's "Stormy Monday." Those who love the blues and love it live and long will appreciate the record, but others may be bored silly. Avoid the older double CD issue of At Fillmore East, which has half the running time. (JA)
Eat A Peach (1972)
The good news is that this is probably the Allmans' artistic high point, although some of it was recorded after Duane's death. The bad news is that half the running time is devoted to three live tracks from the Fillmore shows, all of which are available on the new Fillmore reissue: the half-hour "Mountain Jam," which is brilliant but an exhausting auditory marathon; the smoking blues "Trouble No More," which you can hear in a decent studio version on the debut record; and the fine "One Way Out." Since Peach was originally a double album, what you're really getting is one LP's worth of studio tracks - and they're good.
The first half is all post-Duane, with Betts filling in quite well on slide guitar: the big-time radio hit "Ain't Wasting Time No More"; Betts' sprawling, riffy "Les Brers In A Minor," with a nearly four minute long intro; and Gregg's great ballad "Melissa." The last side has the funky "Stand Back," Betts' mellow "Blue Sky" (another hit), and last but not least, the wonderful little Duane/Dicky Betts acoustic guitar duo "Little Martha." These six songs would have made a great single album, so think of the Fillmore stuff as bonus tracks. Impressively for a double album, Peach reached #4 on the charts. (JA)
An Anthology (Duane Allman: 1972)
Duane had been cutting sessions all through the late 60s, appearing on soul, R & B, blues, and rock records. With Duane dead and quickly becoming a legend, the Allmans' record company issued this double album focusing on his session work, augmented by a few Hour Glass and Allman Brothers tracks. Amazingly, it went gold and even cracked the Top 40. (JA)
Brothers And Sisters (1973)
Ironically, the band's first post-Duane record was also its most commercially successful: it topped the album charts, went gold, and featured a major hit - Betts' feel-good, up-tempo "Ramblin' Man," which not only finally put the Allman Brothers in the Top 40, but soared all the way to #2. It's no surprise; the band was a well-oiled machine by now, crafting energetic, tuneful, and economical material.
Gregg was still doing his fair share of the songwriting, but Betts was peaking here. He took the lead vocals on "Ramblin' Man" and his joyful hillbilly blues "Pony Boy," and he also wrote the record's true high point - the dramatic, riff-ridden seven-minute instrumental "Jessica" - and the up-tempo "Southbound" (not the same as Gregg's more gut-wrenching tune of the same title from his aborted pre-Allman Brothers solo record).
Chuck Leavell's appearance helps; since he plays piano, he beefs up the sound without having to "replace" Duane. The end result is probably the band's most accessible, but not most inspired record - it's weighed down by several by-the-book Southern/Chicago blues numbers ("Jelly Jelly"). Berry Oakley died in the middle of the recording sessions, and the album is dedicated to him; Oakley appears on two tracks, and Lamar Williams on the others. The band had dumped Dowd, and instead worked with co-producer Johnny Sandlin. (JA)
Laid Back (Gregg Allman: 1973)
Gregg carried on a solo career throughout the 70s. He had his only major hit here with a recording of his composition "Midnight Rider" (done earlier by Joe Cocker), which charted in early 1974; the album, which went gold, was released in late 1973. (JA)
Highway Call (Betts: 1974)
Win, Lose Or Draw (1975)
Although the band isn't trying very hard here, Draw is arguably the last of the "classic" Allman records - afterwards, there was a a nasty falling out between Gregg and the others that lasted several years. Dicky and Gregg again wrote most of the tunes, but there are also a couple of standard blues covers: the crisp and energetic "Sweet Mama," and Muddy Waters' "Can't Lose What You Never Had." Everything's solidly performed and amusing - Gregg's title track is particularly sweet. But it's also all tepid and unimaginative; the band stuck with it's good-timey, laid-back Southern rock formula throughout the record and ended up sounding wimpy.
Worse, Betts ruined two of his tracks with second-rate lead vocals - this time he can't hide the fact that he's a routine Southern blues singer with no projection or range. The record's centerpiece is his 15 minute, up-tempo instrumental "High Falls," with a shimmering slide guitar intro, light funk bass line, and prominent Leavell solos on both electric piano and Moog synth (!). It's pretty, but way too light like the rest of the album, and in many ways just a reprise of earlier slide-driven classics like "Les Brers." Despite the lack of a hit single, Draw hit #5 on the album charts and quickly went gold. Co-producer Johnny Sandlin joins in with some guitar and percussion. (JA)
Wipe The Windows, Check The Oil, Dollar Gas (1976)
With the band split and no other product in the pipeline, the record company issued this live double album (now on one CD). It features a predictable set of tunes like "South Bound," "Ramblin' Man," "Elizabeth Reed," "Not My Cross To Bear," etc. Not surprisingly, it sold much less strongly than the earlier records. (JA)
Playin' Up A Storm (Gregg Allman: 1977)
Have this one.
Allman does managed to write a few tunes, but mostly he goes with covers.
Produced by industry insiders Lenny Waronker and Russ Titelman.
There's a mostly obscure backing band that does include Willie Weeks on bass, plus a lot of middle-power guests like Dr. John, Milt Holland, Victor Feldman, Steve Madaio, Marty Paich, Bill Payne, and the omnipresent King/Fields/Matthews vocal trio. (JA)
Two The Hard Way (Allman and Woman: 1977)
Gregg Allman had (briefly) married Cher, so this is a duet album co-produced by Allman and Sandlin and featuring Willie Weeks (bass), Bill Stewart (drums), Jim Horn (horns), Bobbye Hall (percussion), Clydie King, Vanetta Fields, and Tim Schmit (vocals), and many others. (JA)
Enlightened Rogues (1979)
The Allmans patched things up for this record, and were rewarded with their second Top 40 hit - "Crazy Love," which admittedly wasn't nearly as big a deal as "Ramblin' Man." The album itself sold very strongly and went gold.
Betts wrote most of the material; there's one cover ("Need Your Love So Bad") and one Gregg Allman tune ("Just Ain't Easy").
Produced by Dowd; guests include Joe Lala and Bonnie Bramlett. I have a copy but I haven't had a chance to review it.
With a pause in the mid-80s, the Allmans have continued to put out new records ever since, including a steady stream during the 90s; none of them have been quite as successful. I know little about this late period other than the album titles. All I can advise is to make sure before you buy anything that you know whether you're getting the original Allmans - with Duane - or the revitalized, late-period Allmans. (JA)
Reach For The Sky (1980)
The Allman Brothers switched from Polydor to Arista at this point, but both of their efforts on that label were flops. I've heard several complaints about these albums from fans. (JA)
Brothers Of The Road (1981)
Their second Arista record yielded a third and last hit: "Straight From The Heart," which just barely cracked the Top 40 for a couple weeks. (JA)
I'm No Angel (Gregg Allman: 1987)
Pattern Disruptive (Betts: 1988)
Betts discovered guitar phenom Warren Haynes and featured him prominently on this solo record, which also features Johnny Neel (keyboards) and future Gov't Mule drummer Matt Abts.
The tunes are mostly written by various combinations of Betts, Neel, and Haynes. It's loaded down with 80s corporate rock stylings and Haynes hadn't really matured at this point, but the record does have some high points and is definitely listenable. (JA)
Just Before The Bullets Fly (Gregg Allman: 1988)
Seven Turns (1990)
After a decade-long hiatus, the Allmans reformed yet again and signed with Epic.
The resulting album - basically just a Dicky Betts Band disc with Gregg Allman as a hired-hand singer - is a classic rock nostalgia piece, slickly produced by Tom Dowd.
Allman is granted just one cowrite ("Good Clean Fun"), and credits on every tune are shared by Betts, Haynes, and Neel (bassist Allen Woody also came from the Betts band).
They do succeed in reviving the Allmans' two-decade old recipes (the boogie woogie-girded "Good Clean Fun"; the instrumental epic "True Gravity," with some fusion and prog rock-style riffery).
But the relentless emphasis on old-timey blues conventions is tedious (Betts' honky-tonk showcase "Let Me Ride"; "Low Down Dirty Mean," with some impressive Delta slide guitar), and the tough-guy lyrics are clichéd ("Loaded Dice").
When Betts attempts a sing-along acoustic ballad, it comes off like a soft drink commercial (title track).
Meanwhile, new guitarist Warren Haynes barely hints at his deep talent and broad influences, ripping off the "Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)" lick and soloing melodiously (the otherwise conventional AOR anthem "Shine It On").
On the other hand, it's never truly bad, and they mostly get the job done (the dramatic, Hendrix-influenced Chicago blues "Gambler's Roll"; "It Ain't Over," a slowly crawling funk-blues). (JA)
Shades Of Two Worlds (1991)
An Evening With The Allman Brothers (1992)
A live album. (JA)
Tales Of Ordinary Madness (Haynes: 1993)
A reasonably well produced solo album that sounds much like his later Gov't Mule records, although there are enough extra trimmings like backing vocalists and keyboards to drown out Haynes's usual toughy-guy sincerity.
Co-produced by Leavell and Haynes, with Bernie Worrell appearing on many tracks. (JA)
Where It All Begins (1994)
This has got to be the world's most deceptive album title. Instead of having anything to do with the original Allmans lineup, this is another brand-new Epic album. (JA)
Intermission Is Over: The Second Set (1995)
Another new live recording, this one compiled from several 1994 shows. Reviews are available at the main Allmans web site. (JA)
Gov't Mule (Gov't Mule: 1995)
Haynes and Woody now formed a splinter group with drummer Matt Abts.
Both of them stuck with the Allman Brothers until 1997, at which point they quit and Gov't Mule started putting records out on a steady basis.
This and the next two records were produced by Michael Barbiero. (JA)
Dose (Gov't Mule: 1998)
By now Warren Haynes had matured into a truly phenomenal classic rock guitarist, mastering the same blues influences and guitar techniques of Hendrix, Beck, Clapton, and Page.
He'd also picked up a lot of Gregg Allman's gruff, heartfelt vocal phrasing.
He is short on production ideas.
Most tracks are strictly guitar, bass and drums, his sludgy hard rock arrangement of "She Said, She Said" is flat-out dull, and one six-minute track after another sports extended, not-always-enlightening solos.
He's also not always on the mark; "Thorazine Shuffle" aims for Hendrix cool, but ends up like a mid-70s Robin Trower workout.
But when Haynes is on, he's really, really on: he splices late-period Hendrix lead guitar stylings and a thudding, demonic heavy metal riff on "Game Face"; self-consciously and impressively imitates Beck's best mid-70s instrumental work ("Thelonius Beck"); arranges a groovy Electric Ladyland-like blues-rocker ("Blind Man In The Dark"); and recreates Zeppelin's sound on a gorgeous, Eastern-flavored acoustic ballad ("Raven Black Night") and a pounding, creepy rocker ("Larger Than Life").
Only a few tracks recycle old Allman Brothers blues-rock formulas, and Haynes' awesome musicianship lifts them anyway ("Towering Fool"; "I Shall Return"; the smoking Delta/New Orleans blues "John The Revelator").
Abts is a creative, almost lyrical drummer, and Woody isn't much of a presence but does (for example) work a walking jazz line into "Birth Of The Mule."
Talent to burn, but the disc is so derivative it's merely tantalizing. (JA)
Live... With A Little Help From Our Friends (Gov't Mule: 1998)
A couple of interesting ideas for cover tunes on this live double album: Humble Pie's "30 Days In The Hole," Neil Young's "Cortez The Killer," and Dave Mason's "Sad And Deep As You."
Several cuts are from their debut record, but only "Thorazine Shuffle" is taken from the last studio album. (JA)
Life Before Insanity (Gov't Mule: 2000)
A sharp, carefully crafted record, although it's not an advance over Dose.
There are plenty of mesmerizing, hard-rocking riffs ("Wandering Child"; the shuddering, Jimmy Page-ish blues-funk rave-up "Bad Little Doggie"); Ben Harper adds a passionate lead vocal to the boogie-soul anthem "Lay Your Burden Down," another tune with an ecstatic Electric Ladyland vibe; there's a respectable acoustic ballad ("In My Life," not the Lennon song); the hidden bonus track is a rollicking, good-timey, electrified Delta blues arrangement of "Rollin' And Tumblin'" - shades of Little Feat; and Haynes' Paul Rodgers-like vocals and thick-as-molasses slide guitar technique are commanding throughout (the majestic power ballads "Fallen Down," "Tastes Like Wine," and "Far Away," featuring more Robert Plant-like pseudo-Eastern moodiness).
But Haynes gets too caught up with his intense, exactingly authentic blues-soul workouts, doesn't make enough use of his 70s guitar hero schtick, and again recycles the Allmans' sound on the louder numbers (the smouldering "World Gone Wild"; "I Think You Know What I Mean").
And producer Michael Barbiero can't reign in Haynes' gratuitous six minute running times, so several tunes are exhausting ("No Need To Suffer" is a positively Zeppelin-esque indulgence; the title track - a Hendrix-style soul ballad - is one of Haynes' very best tunes, but it's just too long).
Can't go wrong here, but it's truly the same old same old.
Johnny Neel's soothing electric organ and piano are featured on several tracks, and there are a couple of distracting harmonica parts by Hook Herrera. (JA)
The Deep End (Gov't Mule: 2001)
Woody died unexpectedly in late 2000, so Haynes and Abts recruited an absolutely staggering parade of famous bass players to fill in.
Most of the 60s and 70s veterans perform splendidly: Jack Bruce, Bootsy Collins, John Entwistle, Larry Graham.
There's even Mike Watt and Flea, plus extra players like guitarist John Scofield and Bernie Worrell.
Haynes is dominant enough to give the record a coherent tone, and the material is fairly strong. There's also a bonus disc with some respectable live cuts.
All in all, a pretty good value. (JA)
Someday, you ain't gonna trouble me no more...