For the Allman Brothers Band, the road goes on forever. But when spring comes around, the veteran touring group pulls into the venerable Beacon Theatre in New York City for its annual “March Madness” run of SRO performances.
On March 24, 2002, the Brothers played the ninth and final show of their 2002 Beacon Theatre series. With this performance, the band extended its record to a total of 112 sold-out Beacon shows since the inception of “March Madness” with four shows in 1989.
The month of March is a significant one in the Brothers’ history. On March 26, 1969 in Jacksonville, Florida, guitarist Duane Allman convened a jam session with bassist Berry Oakley, guitarist Dickey Betts, and drummers Jaimoe and Butch Trucks. It was the first musical meeting of the group, which—with the addition of Duane’s younger brother Gregory Allman on vocals and Hammond organ—would become The Allman Brothers Band—one of the most acclaimed and influential groups in the history of rock and roll. In addition, “March Madness” coincides with the anniversary of the March 12-13, 1971 re¬cording of the band’s landmark double live album, At Fillmore East.
Thus, the annual Beacon Theatre run serves as both a commemoration of the Brothers’ incredible history and a testament to their creative vitality. Now, the sounds of “March Madness” are captured on Peakin’ At The Beacon, the new live album from the Allman Brothers Band (Epic Records/Sony Music) , recorded over 13 nights (March 9-25, 2000) at the Beacon Theatre. These performances were dedicated to the memory of the late Joe Dan Petty, the Brothers’ long-serving guitar tech, who died in January 2000 in the crash of his private plane near Macon, Georgia.
In compiling this 74-minute collection, the band members made a conscious effort to select songs not previously performed on the live albums At Fillmore East (1971), An Evening With the Allman Brothers Band (1992), and Second Set (1995). Indeed, the ten songs on Peakin’ At The Beacon bring the Brothers “back where it all began” with no less than four tunes from their self-titled 1969 debut album. These include the opening medley of instrumental rave-up “Don’t Want You No More” and Gregg Allman’s slow blues “It’s Not My Cross To Bear,” and the blues-rock classic “Every Hungry Woman” and “Black Hearted Woman.”
Other highlights include Gregg’s moving and mournful soul ballad “Please Call Home,” from the 1970 album Idlewild South; and Dickey Betts’ vocal feature “Seven Turns,” the title track from the Brothers’ 1990 comeback album and Epic label debut. Peakin’ At The Beacon closes with the incredible instrumental journey known as “High Falls.” The song first appeared on Win, Lose Or Draw (1975), but this version—nearly 30 minutes in length—explores the full range of its melodic and rhythmic potential, including an extended break featuring ABB drummers Jaimoe and Butch Trucks and percussionist Marc Quiñones. “High Falls” garnered a nomination for Best Rock Instrumental in the 43rd annual Grammy Awards.
The Brothers’ 2000 shows marked the Beacon Theatre debut of Derek Trucks, who replaced Jack Pearson in the lineup in the summer of ‘99. The 21 year-old slide guitar prodigy is the nephew of drummer and founding band member Butch Trucks. When not on the road with the ABB, Derek tours tirelessly with his own Derek Trucks Band, which has released two albums (The Derek Trucks Band and Out Of The Madness). Derek has toured as a member of Phil Lesh & Friends, and has recorded with Gregg Allman, Gatemouth Brown, Johnny Copeland, and Junior Wells. On stage, he’s sat in with Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, John Lee Hooker, Buddy Guy, and Susan Tedeschi, to name a few.
In May 2000, the Brothers announced that guitarist Dickey Betts had been replaced by Jimmy Herring for the remainder of their 2000 touring season. The following spring, Warren Haynes had rejoined the group as its lead guitarist. The Brothers toured relentlessly in 2001 as Warren juggled his own band Gov’t Mule and a prior commitment to gigs with Phil Lesh & Friends. March 2002 finds the Brothers’ lineup solidified, with Haynes entrenched in the guitar slot along with slide guitar sensation Derek Trucks. The band debuted new songs at the Beacon this spring from an album that is already partially recorded for release in the near future. The “Peach Corps” of ABB fans have made this year’s nine shows an instant sell¬out, running the band’s career total to 112 sold-out nights at the Beacon Theater
The Story So Far
The Allman Brothers Band defined Southern Rock. The originators of a sound that continues to be hugely influential on contemporary rock, they spawned a host of bands that drew on their model—proving only that the genius of the ABB could be imitated, but never duplicated.
In 1969, Florida-born guitarist Duane Allman left Muscle Shoals, Alabama, where he’d established himself as an in-demand session player on recordings by Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, King Curtis, and Boz Scaggs, among others. Seeking to form his own dream band, Allman recruited bassist Berry Oakley and guitarist Dickey Betts from a Jacksonville, Florida band called The Second Coming.
He also tapped not one but two drummers: the r&b veteran Jaimoe (then known as Jai Johanny Johanson), who had worked with Otis Redding, Joe Tex and Percy Sledge; and Butch Trucks, late of a Jacksonville folk-rock group, The 31st Of February. Hammond B-3 organist and lead vocalist Gregg Allman had recorded two albums with brother Duane as part of the LA-based band Hourglass, and was developing into one of the finest white blues singers of all time.
The Allman Brothers Band’s sonic trademarks were all in place by the time their self-titled debut album was released in 1969 (see discography below). Driven by the relentless propulsion of Jaimoe and Butch, Gregg’s colorful keyboard comping and Berry’s deep, melodic bass lines, Dickey Betts and Duane Allman crafted a unique twin lead guitar approach which took its cues from both jazz horn players (particularly Miles Davis and John Coltrane) and the twin-fiddle lines of western swing and bluegrass. Together, they rewrote the rulebook on how rock guitarists could play together, and paved the way for every two- and even three-guitar band that followed in the ABB’s wake.
“Most fans had never heard anything quite like the mercurial solos and meticulous counterpoint effortlessly unreeled by Duane Allman and Betts,” wrote author Joe Nick Patoski in The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll (1992, Random House). “In many respects, indeed, the Allman Brothers Band had become one of the most impressive bands in the country.”
On their first four classic recordings—The Allman Brothers Band, Idlewild South, At The Fillmore East, and Eat A Peach—the ABB perfected a sound that effortlessly combined rock, blues, country and jazz on such unforgettable original tunes as “Dreams,” “Revival,” “Midnight Rider,” “Melissa,” and “In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed.” By 1971, they were poised for superstardom. Even the tragic deaths of both Duane Allman (on October 29, 1971) and bassist Berry Oakley (on November 11, 1972) in eerily similar motorcycle accidents couldn’t stop the band’s upward trajectory.
The success of the No. 2 Pop single “Ramblin’ Man” was the start of a mid-Seventies run (with the four surviving original members joined by bassist Lamar Williams and keyboardist Chuck Leavell) that ended only when internal conflicts sundered the group in 1975. A third incarnation of the ABB was formed in 1978 for the album Enlightened Rogues but after two further albums, the group disbanded once again.
Yet the pull of their roots proved too strong for the Brothers to remain apart forever. In the summer of 1989, the Allman Brothers Band launched a 20th Anniversary Tour with Gregg Allman, Dickey Betts, Butch Trucks and Jaimoe complemented by slide guitarist Warren Haynes and bassist Allen Woody (percussionist Marc Quiñones joined in 1991). Signed to Epic Records, the new lineup returned to the recording studio with Tom Dowd for three studio albums and two live sets. (Dowd is the legendary producer and engineer who manned the controls for Idlewild South, Eat A Peach, and Enlightened Rogues.) Of the ABB’s Epic label debut Seven Turns, The New Yorker wrote: “The Brothers play with the energy of teenagers and the ornery wildness of veteran blues men.”
In an increasingly predictable world of prefabricated pop, the ABB’s peerless musicianship and extravagant flights of improvisation earned the group a new audience—one that transcended generational and regional boundaries. Their lengthy annual tours grew to include multi-night stands: six shows at New York’s Radio City Music Hall, five nights at the Tower Theater in Philadelphia. In October 1989, the Allman Brothers Band headlined the Beacon Theatre in New York City for four nights, inaugurating a live performance tradition.
Nineteen ninety-four was a banner year, though not an untypical one, in the recent history of the Allman Brothers Band. The group made five live network television appearances; played 90 live dates including the H.O.R.D.E. tour, which the Brothers headlined; turned in one of the best, most exciting sets of Woodstock ‘94; and was voted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in its first year of eligibility. “In terms of sheer creativity, they’re experiencing the strongest second wind of any act,” noted The New York Daily News. “For sheer soloing ability, not only do the Allman Brothers run circles around any¬one of the present generation, they outperform anyone of their own…Their road deserves to go on forever.”
In the 38th Annual Grammy Awards held in February 1996, the Allman Brothers Band won the first Grammy in its 27-year history: Best Rock Instrumental Performance for “Jessica,” a track from the acclaimed live album 2nd Set. This 16-minute improvisation may be the longest single non-classical performance ever to win a Grammy. (Another track from 2nd Set, “In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed,” was also nominated in the Pop Instrumental category.)
In the spring of 1997, Warren Haynes and Allen Woody left the Allman Brothers Band. Their successors were Oteil Burbridge on bass and Jack Pearson on guitar. Acclaimed by critics and fans alike as the rising star of electric bass, Oteil also performs with his own band, the Peacemakers, and on occasional reunion shows by his former group, Aquarium Rescue Unit.
[Warren and Allen, along with drummer Matt Abts, found an eager audience for their new band Gov’t. Mule. Sadly, Allen Woody died at the age of 44 on August 26, 2000. In September, the Brothers organized and performed at “One For Woody,” an all-star benefit concert at Roseland Ballroom in New York. The evening featured over five hours of music by the Allman Brothers Band, Phil Lesh & Friends, The Black Crowes, and special guests Little Milton, Leslie West, and Edwin McCain.]
In June 1998, Epic Records released Mycology: An Anthology. This collection features eight tracks culled from the Brothers’ Epic catalog: “Good Clean Fun” and “Seven Turns” from Seven Turns; “End of The Line” and “Get On With Your Life” from Shades Of Two Worlds (1991); “Nobody Knows” from An Evening With The Allman Brothers Band (1992); “Sailin’ Cross The Devil’s Sea” from 2nd Set (1995); and “No One To Run With” and “Back Where It All Begins,” from Where It All Begins (released 1994, certified gold in November 1997). In addition, Mycology includes two bonus tracks: a live acoustic version of “Midnight Rider” from the limited-edition benefit CD for the Rhett’s Syndrome Foundation; and a previously unreleased version of “Every Hungry Woman,” recorded live at the 1970 Atlanta Pop Festival by the original lineup of the Allman Brothers Band.
The Brothers have toured nationally every year since 1989, averaging over 60 live shows per year. The tradition continues in 2002 when the Allman Brothers Band returns to the Beacon Theatre for the next installment of “March Madness.”
Perhaps no one has said it better than Willie Nelson in his induction of the Brothers into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame:
“The Allman Brothers Band took what moved them and merged it into something unique that audiences love: a sound that redefined the direction of rock and roll, and opened the doors to a spirit of experinentation that continues in today’s music.
“The Allman Brothers Band were and still are one of the most exciting live bands ever to hit the stage. They became road warriors with a vengeance and left devoted fans wherever they went…[The ABB is] a band that reflects so many of my sentiments about music: originality, a determination not be confined musically or stylistically but instead to forge your own way and make music that moves you, a devotion to the road, and understanding that beyond pleasing yourself as an artist, the only other consideration should be the people, the fans who come to hear you.
“And so with pleasure, I give you rock and roll’s greatest jammin’ blues band, the Allman Brothers Band!”