I've just finished reading Gregg Allmans' autobiography Not A Cross To Bear and it's an interesting and at times harrowing look at his life as a member of the Allman Brothers and as a solo performer. Allman had a lengthy battle with drug and alcohol addiction and has suffered health problems over the past few years including a liver transplant. Reading the book made me dig out my one and only Allman Brothers cd At The Fillmore which was released in July 1971 from a run of concerts at the venerated New York venue in March of that year. It's an album that shows the band at the peak of their creative powers, the Fillmore was their favourite place to perform and it shows, the band are relaxed and focused.
The Allman Brothers are categorised as a southern rock act but they were much more than that, certainly whilst Duane Allman and bassist Berry Oakley were alive. Duane had a passion and growing involvement in jazz music, he was especially captivated by Miles Davis and John Coltrane and their ability to improvise but never lose that emotional intensity in their music. This attitude is firmly on display on At The Fillmore, on Stormy Monday Blues the T Bone Walker/Bobby bland chestnut the band retain the overall blues feel but during the solos the band stretch out with Gregg Allman sounding like Jimmy Smith on the Hammond B3. Allman was very underrated and it was his brother who usually pushed him to develop his sound. There is a strong blues focus the album opens with the Blind Willie McTell classic Statesboro Blues, immediately the slide work of Duane is a standout, the frantic drumming of Jaimoe and Butch Trucks and the equally frenetic picking of Dickey Betts are also a feature. Berry Oakley never really gets his due as a bass player, he plays in a similar vein to Rick Danko, almost like a rhythm guitarist with a deep underpinning style. Oakley could really pound that sound and also float along the melody line or employ jazz lines on songs like In Memory of Elizabeth Reed. For me Elizabeth Reed is the standout track it shows how The Allman Brothers could go way beyond the confines of southern rock, it's almost jazz rock but with a strong blues preface. Duane Allman and Dickey Betts trade off early plaintive solos before building each solo to an epic conclusion, Duane in particular plays these swirling chords very much in a jazz mould. In the middle Gregg Allman slows things down with some more Jimmy Smith inspired hammond work. Jaimoe and Trucks add a wall of sound of accents and fills and Berry floats in and out anchoring and then bouncing off Duane.
Duane opens up Elmore James' Done somebody wrong with some blistering slide guitar as Gregg growls in despair, there is some nice harp work form Thom Doucette, the band show their ability to get lowdown and funky on the Muddy Waters tune Trouble No More with Duane providing some nice slide guitar call and response with Gregg. The original album was a double and I've got a two cd deluxe remix addition, on disc two the band open up on a jam version of Donovan's There Is A Mountain which lasts for over 30 minutes but it's an amazing exercise in powerful blues improvisation. Berry Oakley opens with a thundering bass on Whipping Post, it's also Gregg Allmans' strongest vocal performance on the album. At The Fillmore ranks as one of the great live albums from that era alongside Humble Pie Rockin At The Fillmore, The Rolling Stones' Get Yer Ya's Ya's Out, The Who's Live At Leeds and Joe Cocker's Mad Dogs and Englishmen.