I’m not much of a “jam band” fan. I’m not real big on instrumentals, especially overly protracted ones. I usually come first for the lyrics, though the melody certainly plays a huge part in the overall equation of a song. I don’t care much for long, drawn out “noodling.” I don’t mind an extended version of a song if the framework can support it. I like purpose. I like drive. I like structure. Keep me on my toes, keep me interested and I’m right there with you the entire way. But when a band starts to wonder off into lala land I get bored. That’s my biggest problem with the Grateful Dead. I have a something close to a on/off relationship with them. I’m absolutely crazy about their more “structured” material (which is usually the shorter stuff). But when they head for the hills and start meandering around in self-indulgent, seemingly endless circles I just can’t go along for the ride. I get bored. On the other hand, an album like Derek And The Dominos In Concert (later expanded as Live At The Fillmore) is an absolute treat for me. Sure, there are lots of long, extended jams but there’s structure (have I mentioned that word before?). It makes a world of difference to me. The groundbreaking At Fillmore East double album by The Allman Brothers Band (expanded not once but twice: The Fillmore Concerts in 1992 and a Deluxe Edition in 2007) is another example of a “jam” record that I can get behind. The Allmans may go on for extended periods of time but they always seem to be headed somewhere and that’s all I need.
Eat A Peach, released in 1972, was the band’s fourth album (and second double album). The Allman Brothers Band and Idlewild South didn’t sell all that well, but each was very well received by the critics, each contained classic songs that would become staples of their live sets over the years and they set the stage for At Fillmore East. By the time the band hit New York for a series of shows in March 1971 they had attracted a strong cult following, due in no small part, to the incredible live shows they had been performing for the last several years. A tight, cohesive band of “brothers” the group played with a rapport and harmony that only true brothers can.
The original double vinyl album version of Eat A Peach was divided into three sections. Side one contained three new studio tracks recorded after Duane’s death. Sides two and four contained the epic live “Mountain Jam” recorded at Fillmore East during the same run of shows that gave us At Fillmore East. Side three contained a mix: one song from the March 1971 run at Fillmore East, one song from a June 1971 show at the same location and three more new studio tracks (all recorded with Duane). Anyone young and not familiar with vinyl double albums from the sixties and seventies may wonder why “Mountain Jam” was split between sides two and four, not sides two and three as one might expect. In those days many record players (but mostly the less expensive ones) would include a mechanism that would allow you to “stack” several albums on a spindle above the turntable. When one album finished the arm would move back to the outside and the next album would automatically drop down onto the turntable and begin playing. By paring sides one and three of a double album on one disc and sides two and four on another disc you could allow for this type of process letting one listen straight through two sides consecutively. Otherwise the listener would have to flip each album over after each side finished playing.
The band was midway through the recording of Eat A Peach when Duane Allman was killed in a motorcycle accident, just two weeks after At Fillmore East was certified Gold. It became their first album to reach the Top Ten. It’s a powerful document, one that serves as a tribute to Duane as well as a remarkably bold and fearless statement by the remaining members that were carrying on with courage and determination in the face of almost unimaginable tragedy. Duane is present on all but three of the songs on the album. The fact that the three new studio tracks recorded after his death make up the entirety of side one is no accident. It’s an acknowledgement by the band that life must go on.
The album gets right to the point with one of Greg Allman’s finest songs, “Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More” a powerful blues/rock number reflecting on the death of his brother Duane, the fragile, fleeting nature of life and his determination to make every day count from now on. “Les Bres In A Minor” is a quintessential vehicle for Dickey Betts to lead the band through the kind of guitar based workout they were famous for. “Melissa” is another Gregg Allman classic, a beautiful, acoustic based love song, punctuated perfectly by Betts’ understated lead guitar. “Mountain Jam” is a nearly 34 minute workout that showcases everything audiences loved about seeing this band live: the dueling guitars of Duane and Dickey, the extraordinary rhythm section of Berry Oakley on bass and Butch Trucks and Jai Johanny Johanson on drums. Through it all Gregg’s organ weaves everything together and provides the foundation for everyone else to fly off from. I’ll admit, there are a few places in this extended piece that I think could have been tightened up, but it is what it is and overall it’s an incredible example of the band in their prime. “One Way Out” and “Trouble No More” are classic live blues romps done as only the Allman’s could. Betts’ “Blue Sky”, one of the biggest hits from the album is one of his best, most well-known songs, a country hymn to everything that’s right in life and love. The albums ends with just Duane and Dickey on acoustic guitar performing a Duane composition titled “Little Martha.” It’s the perfect end, in every way, to this transitional album. Their next album, Brothers And Sisters, would mark the beginning of a new era in the band’s long and tangled history. Chuck Leavell was added on piano and Lamar Williams took over on bass. There was no effort made to replace Duane with a second guitarist. No one could have stepped into those shoes.
The Deluxe Edition of Eat A Peach includes, as a second disc, the complete final Fillmore East concert the band ever performed on June 27, 1971. Only two of the nine tracks had been previously released, “One Way Out” (from the original Eat A Peach) and “Midnight Rider” (from Duane Allman: An Anthology, Volume 2). It’s a welcome addition to the increasingly large catalog of live Allman Brothers Band material from the classic years. The band is in top form as they blaze through some of their best known, best loved songs: “Statesboro Blues,” “One Way Out,” “In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed,” “Midnight Rider,” “Hot ‘Lanta,” “Whipping Post” and more.
Losing a key member like Duane Allman would have crippled many bands but the The Allman Brothers Band persevered. They went on to face more tragedy (the death only a year later of bassist Berry Oakley), upheavals galore, tabloid soap operas, bad business dealings, infighting and backstabbing and considerable personnel changes. Through it all they managed to make some of the best music of the last forty years, though their output in the late seventies and early eighties suffered by comparison to their prime work from years earlier. They took an extended break during most of the eighties, but since they regrouped in the nineties they’ve been back on track (mostly). However, the firing of Betts in 2000 (for “personal and professional” reasons) marked the real end of the band for many. Greg carries on with Butch and Jai (and a semi-rotating cast of others) but it’s just not The Allman Brothers Band anymore. At some point you have to let go and move on to other things.