The Allman Brothers Band will be at AmSouth Amphitheater Thursday to help Nashville celebrate the Fourth of July. It’s an appropriate casting of talent for the holiday as the band’s music has always had a reputation for being liberating. In terms of freedom from the constraints of formula the group is fairly peerless; one of the Allman Brothers’ trademarks, along with a hefty foundation of double drummers, is long, improvisational jams that include fluid, counterpoint guitar work: wind-in-your-hair rock-n-roll.
In inducting the group into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Willie Nelson called the group “the greatest jammin’ blues band.” After the group’s initial glory days of Idlewild South, At Fillmore East, and Eat a Peach, the band’s seemingly permanent trajectory upward was hit with an eerie series of tragedies fans remembers too well. In 1971, guitarist Duane Allman, Gregg’s brother, died in a motorcycle accident. One year later, bassist Berry Oakley met the same fate.
Old members and new members have come and gone and some have come back again. The band’s current configuration includes founding members Gregg on keyboard and vocals and drummers Jaimoe and Butch Trucks. On bass is Oteil Burbridge. On guitar are Warren Haynes and slide guitar prodigy Derek Trucks, nephew of Butch Trucks. Marc Quinones adds conga and percussion.
Haynes is collaborating with Allman on the first Allman Brothers Band record since Where it All Begins was released in 1994. The new record, still in production, includes, Allman said, some of the group’s best attempts to date.
“It’ll be released the first of the year,” he said. “We put the vibes back where they were supposed to be and it sounded better than when my brother was in the band.”
Allman’s primary influences, he said, are still blues and jazz. “I still listen to all the old guys mostly, like Jimmy Smith, Bobby Bland, BB King and Little Milton Campbell,” he said. “He’s [Little Milton Campbell] probably somebody you’ve never heard of, but he would knock you out.”
Of the newer music out there, Allman says he had little use. “Every now and then I’ll listen to something new but, I don’t know, there’s so much garbage out there. Radio has really gone strange on us.”
Allman, who has his own band, The Gregg Allman Band, has to blend touring schedules of the two groups. This month Allman released No Stranger to the Dark: The Best of Gregg Allman, which includes two previously unreleased cuts.
“The Gregg Allman Band does about 40 gigs a year, and the Allman Brothers Band does about 60 gigs a year,” said Allman. The new Allman Brothers record is scheduled to come out just after the release of an archival record from a 1970 college date. American University 12/13.70 predates the Fillmore East dates.
“It’s very good,” said Allman. “We were really on that night. Of all the tapes we have, that one is probably one of the better ones.”
As the band ages, said Allman, the audience range seems to spread in both directions.
“We get ‘em six to sixty,” he said. In 1997, Allman left a substance abuse problem behind him. He has a new Harley he calls “2 cc’s short of illegal” and is now married. “That’s a fact,” he said. “I’m happily married and sober. Yes, I’m very happy these days. We’re having a good tour and we’re having a lot of fun.”
Maybe the road does go on forever.
By COLLEEN CREAMER
for The Nashville City Paper