Friday, June 19, 2009

Duane Allman - AND band

I'm only a recent convert to the Allman Brothers Band, despite having had several of their albums for some time.

By that I mean, I have appreciated them like I appreciated a lot of music, and the sheer genius of Duane Allman is inescapable. But I have only just come to appreciate the full mastery of the band. At its peak, music rarely gets better.

To convert to Duane Allman, it's enough to listen to him on Boz Scaggs' 1969 Loan Me A Dime.  After that, a wealth of Allmans music awaits. Yet it's easy to overlook the achievements of the band under the shadow of Duane. It takes a close reading of a few tracks from their live At Fillmore East recordings (original album and subsequent releases from those concerts) to properly appreciate what they can do together that nobody else could.

When I first sought out Miles Davis, I stumbled across A Kind Of Blue; without knowing it, I'd come upon what is often acclaimed as one of the best jazz albums ever.

Duane, at the time of the Fillmore East recordings, said: "I've listened to that album [A Kind Of Blue] so many times that for the past couple of years, I haven't hardly listened to anything else."

Now I've been a harsh critic of Miles Davis for the instigation of jazz rock. However, the Allmans introduced the complexities of jazz-like improvisation and timing to rock music in a way that preserved the best of both worlds, rather than the worst. To begin to understand the intricacy of their jamming, it's enough to read appreciations of a couple of the Fillmore tracks: In Memory of Elizabeth Reed and Whipping Post - preferably while listening to the music. Whereas I once thought the Allman Brothers were simply steeped in blues with the number of standards they covered, I now appreciate that they were capable of using practically any song as a starting point for their music: the song itself didn't matter (Mountain Jam derived from a song of Donovan's, of all people) - and indeed, Greg Allman's vocals, although very apt, were really only background to the music as a whole.

Two drummers, two lead guitarists, and it worked. As the other lead guitar, Dicky Betts was doomed to remain in Duane's shadow, but he is so good in his own right that people often mistake his parts for Duane's (seek out 'Duane Allman's best guitar lick ever' on YouTube - comments indicate that it was actually Dicky Betts'). The whole of the band, together, jamming, were simply better than the parts.

An essential part of my kids' musical education.

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