ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, AUG. 8, 1991
By Steve Newton
Back in the halcyon days of the early ’70s, there was a choice collection of albums that one gang of air-guitar-playing Chilliwack Junior High rockheads used to foam over. There was Deep Purple’s Machine Head, J. Geils’ Full House, Alice Cooper’s Billion Dollar Babies, Foghat’s Energized, Nazareth’s Razamanaz, and the debuts by Queen, Kiss, Montrose, Aerosmith, and Blue Oyster Cult, to name a few.
But one record that will always hold a cherished place in my memories of vinyl is the Allman Brothers’ Eat a Peach. Not only was it one of the first double-discs we laid our paws on, but it included one track, “Mountain Jam”, that went on for over half an hour! That tune got you halfway to Vancouver (on the 8-track, of course) when it came time to cruise in and catch Kiss at the Commodore or Nazareth at the Forum (remember the Forum?).
Eat a Peach was also a sad album, though, since it signalled the last work of slide-guitar hero Duane Allman, who died in a Macon, Georgia motorcycle crash at the age of 24. But his brother Gregg—along with guitarist Dickey Betts and percussionists Jai Jaimoe and Butch Trucks (what a great name)—are carrying on the Allman Brothers legacy with a new album, Shades of Two Worlds, and a tour that brings them to the Pacific Coliseum August 19.
So what does it take to keep the nucleus of a shattered band together after 22-some-odd years? Could it come down to the fact that Betts and the surviving Allman have gotten along so well after all the years? ’Fraid not.
“I don’t know that Gregg and I have gotten along so good over all the years,” drawls Betts, “but we haven’t gotten along so bad, either. A lotta times when you’re in the public light a little bit, as we are, if you do have a disagreement it gets blown out of proportion. But just like any family, you can’t work this tight and live together like we do without having a few ups and downs.
“But I think the longevity of the band is more due to the fact that we’re an honest band, and we’ve got strong, genuine roots, from good country music—which is not the greatest influence in our band, but you can hear it in there with ‘Ramblin’ Man’ and some of that stuff—and then very strong jazz influences that run throughout all the instrumental things. And then of course you can hear the urban blues and the traditional blues influence.”
When all the Allman Brothers’ various influences were combined, the sound they ended up with became known as “southern rock”, and the group became the flagship band of that movement, followed in the ’70s by bands like Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Outlaws, Blackfoot, and Molly Hatchet.
“We were the first band that sounded like this,” says Betts, “but we weren’t the first band that could have sounded like this, I don’t think. The thing is, most bands from the south would either move to L.A. or move to New York to get started. In fact, Atlantic Records did everything they could to get us to move out of the South. They said we’d never break out of the South. They said, ‘Move these guys to Los Angeles, dress ’em up, get ’em out of those damn boots and blue jeans.’
“But the truth is, not one of us in the band really thought we would be that ultra-successful, because we were not commercial at all. We were purposely trying not to be commercial; we were just sayin’, ‘We’re gonna play music, and we’re gonna play for our people here, that we can look in the face and see, and we’re not gonna play for record executives and people that sell things.
“And that’s the way a lot of people aspired to think during that period of time, when it was really in vogue to be rebellious against the establishment and everything. And it still is. It’s just not practised as much as it should be now.”
While the Allman Brothers made it big—and the southern rock bands that formed in their wake enjoyed varying degrees of success—Betts allows that rough-edged, down-home type of music isn’t too well represented nowadays.
“But a lotta the things that were going on in the late ’60s and the early- to mid-’70s are starting to come back in vogue,” he says. “Even some of the metal bands now are startin’ to play more blues solos—that are lyrical, that you can follow, you know, instead of the real 90-miles-an-hour, five-million-notes-in-a-solo kinda thing. So the influence is spreading throughout the musical world.
“I mean, the Black Crowes love our band and will say that we’re one of their influences. And Raging Slab, they say, ‘Man, the Allman Brothers is our favourite band.’ So it’s nice to see the young guys comin’ up that appreciate the band.”
Before Betts signs off from his Florida home, it’s time to get a little sentimental and slide the 47-year-old rock vet a bit of a cosmic query, like: If Duane Allman were jamming up in heaven with the guys from Lynyrd Skynyrd, what tune would they be playing?
“Oooh, that’s a good one for you to ask,” says Betts. “I don’t know. But that’s a pleasant thought, and I’m sure that they are. Hendrix is right there with ’em, too. They’re probably playin’ ‘Dreams’—you know, that’s a nice drifty, heavenly kinda soundin’ song.”