The sense of weariness that pervadesthe lyric, matched by the hypnotic languor of the music, evokes thesame feeling that lives in the novels of William Faulkner, the short stories of Flannery O'Connor, the plays of Tennessee Williams - even the epic film "Gone With the Wind."
The South Gregg was mythologizing wasn't the cliched ante-bellum vision of reactionaries intent on keeping alive slave consciousness through Jim Crows policies. It was the "New South" Gregg wrote for, the South that would eventually elect Jimmy Carter, that prided itself on progressive values imbued with an appreciation of its rich musical heritage and of the eternal rebirth embodied in nature's ability to renew itself.
The vision was anti-industrial, anti-mechanical. It was mystical, just out of reach: a private self-revelation. It was the myth of the South, recast for a new generation. The rolling, steady rhythmic pulse offers a stark setting to Gregg's anguished narrative as the story begins: "Just one more morning/I had to wakeup with the blues"
The mood is indeed dreamlike as Trucks, Johanson and Oakley turn a rhythm that sounds like the midnight visions on Miles Davis' classic Kind of Blue album: "Went up on the mountain/to see what I could see.
The whole world was fallin'/right down on me"
Then Duane plays an eerily beautiful solo that starts out as a stately single note lead and evolves into a magical slide statement, simple, composed, with a formal elegance that's more than breathtaking - it's nothing short of redeeming, and seems to save the protagonist, who's able to return to life after this musical spell is cast for him: "Pull myself together/put on a new face climb back off the hilltop/get back in the race"
"'Dreams' was one of the best performances on the record," said Betts. "He was really proud of that slide thing he did on the recorded version of that."
The album ends with the vicious attack of "Whipping Post," a song whose performance is well suited to its name, from the first pulls of Oakley's fierce bass runs to the piercing guitar harmonies and Gregg's screaming, frenzied vocal. The record leaves the listener exhausted, and nearly 20 years later its power remains intact.
The Allman Brothers knew they had made a great album. Phil Walden, who was sinking every penny he had into the project to keep the band going, knew it too. The record sold in the South, but elsewhere the band was a well kept secret.
Even the parent company , Atlantic Records, seemed less than enthusiastic. "Atlantic Records was not behind what we were doing at all," said Betts. "They came to see us and said all the songs sounded alike, and there was nobody standing out front enough. Then later they decided maybe all the songs don't sound alike. Then they said, maybe it'll work if you move the guys to New York, we'll break them out of New York. Or Los Angeles. We kind of stuck to what we thought we should do."
What they wanted to do was play, and Walden gave them more than they bargained for. In a two-year period from late '69 to the fall of '71 the Allman Brothers played 500 dates across the country.
The dates weren't all to receptive crowds, either. The band's first gig at the Fillmore East, for example, was third on a bill with headliners Blood, Sweat and Tears. The half-hour set the Brothers were given to open up the show was hardly enough time to get warmed up, and the crowd of pop fans who'd come to hear David Clayton Thomas sing "Spinning Wheel" actually booed the Allman Brothers.
"We really had trouble with that short set thing," Betts recalled. "Especially when it's only a half hour you don't have time to build any momentum, to piece one song with the next. It's very difficult."
Whenever the band got its chance to stretch out, though, the audience left the theater devoted fans. The groundswell continued until the Allman Brothers were generally acknowledged as the best live American rock band.
Ample proof of just how good the band was is fortunately available from various live tapes of 1970 performances. The best quality of these recordings was made at a Cincinnatti venue called Ludlow Garage in April, 1970. The Ludlow Garage tape shows how far the band had come in the few months since the Brothers recorded in New York. The playing was looser, and, being live, naturally a bit more exciting, but you can hear Duane's slide playing expanding conceptually as he goes along.
The other thing the Ludlow Garage tape demonstrated is Betts' increasingly larger role in the group. In any band without Duane Allman Betts would have been a major story onto himself. His masterpiece instrumental, "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed," was becoming was becoming a crucial element in the group's live performances, joining "Dreams" as an atmospheric set-piece.
Later in 1970 the Allman Brothers played the Second Annual Atlanta International Pop Festival, a triumphant appearance by hometown heroes in front of an ecstatic audience. The energy level of that gig is captured on two tracks, "Whipping Post" and "Statesboro Blues," which were included on the Isle of Wight/Atlanta Pop Festival live anthology album released by Columbia Records.
Work on a second studio album had already begun in February and continued into July. The band was doing so much travelling that they decided to name the album Idlewild South after their Macon farmhouse headquarters.
Master producer Tom Dowd, who'd engineered sessions for John Coltrane, Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, the Rascals and Cream among others, was in charge of the recording, which took place in Atlantic's New York studios, Capricorn's Macon recording facilities and Criteria studios in Miami, Florida, which was nicknamed "Atlantic South."
Dowd had already worked with Duane and was looking forward to producing the Allman Brothers.
"A friend of mine played me their first album, and I liked what I heard," said Dowd. "Duane was always well prepared. If something wasn't right he'd say 'we're not ready to record.' They didn't sit in the studio for a month or two months at a time trying to get it right. If they recorded something in the studio that wasn't ready the way they wanted it then they'd go back out on the road and play it for the next 15 gigs until they had it right."
Dowd liked to cut live in the studio, with the band set up as if they were on stage. The Allman Brothers were right at home in this format and responded with a remarkable performance.
"He's a great guy to work with," said Gregg of Dowd. "He's like a mother, like a father, like a brother, like a grandfather, like a teacher, like a student. He's after the ring. I learned more stuff from Tommy Dowd probably than I learned from my brother. He taught me about arranging and recording, not getting in there too hard, easing in there, calming down, how not to blow a take."
Gregg contributed four songs to the Idlewild sessions - "Don't Keep Me Wonderin'," which featured some meaty bottleneck from Duane, the classic "Midnight Rider," with its soaring chorus and Betts-inspired steel guitar effects, the plaintive "Please Call Home" and the exultant album-closer "Leave My Blues at Home."
Oakley sang lead on Willie Dixon's "Hoochie Coochie Man," which turned into an explosive guitar battle between Duane and Dickey Betts.
Betts' growing influence on the band was the real story on Idlewild. The album opens with his brilliant conception, "Revival," a song summing up the positive attitude of the late '60s "peace and love" cultural revolution set in a musical framework that combined the ecstatic call-and-response vocal chants of gospel music with the light, airy feel of country music.
Betts' attitude toward the dual guitar harmonies he developed with Duane was inspired by a combination of big band jazz and western swing.
"In a blues context or rock 'n' roll, I think the Allman Brothers Band pretty much pursued the two-guitar sound and brought it to a certain level," said Betts, "but as far as instruments of one kind playing melodies that have counterpoint and work together at the same time, Benny Goodman was doing that back in the '40s."
Two songs on Dreams were recorded during Idlewild South but have never been released-the though-edged studio version of "Statesboro Blues" and "One More Ride." "Ride" is a sprightly instrumental that turn on a simple, harp-like slide guitar riff from Duane.
The Allman Brothers finished recording parts of Idlewild South at Criteria in July of '70, just before their historic meeting with Eric Clapton.
Dowd was scheduled to work with Clapton on a new album and told Duane about it. Duane asked Dowd if he could watch Clapton record, so when Eric arrived for the session Dowd mentioned Allman's request.
Clapton knew Duane's work from various records and told Dowd that he wanted to see Allman's band as well. A few days later the Allman Brothers were playing in Miami and Dowd brought Clapton down to the gig.
Clapton was floored by Allman's playing and invited him to play on what turned out to be the Layla sessions. "I was just going to play on one or two," said Duane, "and then as we kept on going it kept developing."
Allman's slide guitar playing on Layla was another creative high water mark for him, and it seemed to spur his ever-evolving band on to greater heights. The Allman Brothers were hanging out in the studio during the Layla sessions and both bands engaged in a marathon cutting contest afterwards.
"I watched them, Clapton and my brother, make the Layla album with Dowd," said Gregg. "I was there the whole time. i didn't play on it but I watched. It was hard and fast, it just came together. Sometimes somebody would come into the studio not in the mood to do it, because you're not in the mood every day, but at 400 bucks an hour you gotta get in the mood to record. Dowd just had this way of getting you in the mood. He's a wizard. At the end we jammed, all of us together. Man, that was fine."
1971 was the year of the Allman Brothers. Duane's stature at the very peak of musical creativity was established beyond question by Layla and the Allman brothers headlined to fanatical audiences wherever they went.
On March 12 and 13, 1971, Dowd set up a remote facility to record the Brothers live for their next album, a relatively bold move by standard recording industry practices but certainly not an unprecedented one, as Cream's 1968 Wheels of Fire album had proved.
Duane had talked of making a live record as the band's next project the year before. "The stage is really our natural element," he said. "We kind of get frustrated doing the records, so consequently our next album will be for the most part a live recording to get some of that natural fire on it. We have rough arrangements, layouts of the songs, and then the solos are entirely up to each member of the band."
Elvin Bishop and Johnny Winter were on the bill with the Allman Brothers that weekend and the three bands blew the roof off the joint.
The parts of the show released on At Fillmore East added up to be a tour de force of American blues rock - it was a faithful reproduction of what audiences came to Allman Brothers shows expecting to hear.
The set-opening "Statesboro Blues" and its followup, Elmore James' "Done Somebody Wrong," were both vehicles for Duane's knock-em-dead slide work. T. Bone Walker's "Stormy Monday" followed, a slow blues that changed the pace for dynamics and showed off another side of the band's strengths.
Then came the showcases, beginning with the 20 minute long boogie on "You Don't Love Me," with everybody getting plenty of solo room and two drummers pushing relentlessly. At the end of the jam Duane plays the melody line of "Joy to the World."
On the album, side three is all instrumentalm a radical departure in itself for rock 'n' rollers. A searing version of the foot-stomping "Hot 'Lanta" is followed by a performance of "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed" in which Betts works sheer magic. This is another of those moments where you have to wonder how Betts' reputation would have fared if Duane Allman hadn't been in the same band with him.
The album closes with the Brothers' apocalyptic live rendition of "Whipping Post," 22 minutes of anguished trashing and sublime solo improvisations, peaking repeatedly until the coda finally turns into one last, song-lenght finale of its own.
Duane takes the first solo; Betts the second. During his solo Betts plays the theme to what would later become "Les Brers in A Minor." At the end Betts starts, and Duane picks up, the melody to "Frere Jacques," which they play in unison.
"Any comparison to anybody is fatuous," declared Rolling Stone's glowing review of the album. The review went on to call the Allman Brothers "the best damn rock 'n' roll band this country has produced in the past five years."
There was enough great material left over from the Fillmore to comprise the bulk of Eat a Peach - fierce, exultant versions of Sonny Boy Williamson's "One Way Out" and Muddy's "Trouble No More" with Duane flashing extraordinary slide work and the apotheosis of the Allman Brothers approach to improvisation on a theme, "Mountain Jam," the first notes of which you can hear at the end of "Whipping Post" on At Fillmore East.
The simple melodic phrasetaken from the whimsical Donovan tune "First There Is a Mountain" becomes an epic journey through the Brothers' musical imagination, starting with a fiery, exploratory lead from Duane, through Gregg's organ solo, a lyrical interlude from Betts, Oakley's thunderous bass solo, then Duane soloing with the bottleneck and the two guitarists playing out with Duane adding a softly stated adaption of "Will the Circle Be Unbroken."
Except, like all great Allman Brothers jams, it doesn't stop at what seems like the obvious ending. The "Mountain Jam" theme peeks in again and off go the two guitars in a graceful counterpoint that finally ends on a lush, romantic flourish.
"My favorite album of theirs," said Dowd, "is when I did them at the Fillmore. They were at their absolute peak, the playing just flowed. It's the greatest fusion album I've ever heard."
Though Dowd recorded both nights, most of the tracks that were used came from the second night, "because the first night there was a horn player, he's really out of tune and he doesn't belong in the band."
One never-before-heard track from the Fillmore, that appears on Dreams, is "Drunken Hearted Boy," the last encore of the last show, with Elvin Bishop sitting in on vocals and a beautiful slow blues bottleneck solo from Duane.
As the crowd screams for more, Duane says "That's all for tonight, thank you. Hey listen, it's six o'clock. Y'all look here. We recorded all this, this is gonna be our third album. You're all on it. We ain't gonna send you no check, but thanks."
Bishop who'd been a guitarist in the Paul Butterfield Band that had influenced the members of the Allman Brothers as kids and later became a stablemate of the Brothers on Capricorn, remembers the night, or at least some of it.
"It was six in the morning," said Bishop, who had met the Brothers on the road in 1970, "so it seemed like the right song to do. I remember being there but whether I got paid or not I can't remember. And if I did get paid the money is long since spent.
"Duane originally wanted to put that on the Live at Fillmore thing," Bishop continued. "That was the night of the bomb threat. They had to clear the place out and bring the people back in again. Things were running pretty late."
At this point the band was a collection of road-hardened desperados whose musical accomplishments were matched by the fabled excesses of drugtaking and debauchery that marked this era of rock history. The wild behavior was part and parcel of the insane demands created by life on the road.
Dowd acknowledged Allman's - and Derek of the Dominos' - drug use during the Layla sessions. "Same day's you'd come into the studio," he recalled, "they'd be strung out on heroin and before you could get anything down they'd be passed out right there in the studio."