The Allman Brothers Band: The Road Goes on Forever
The band’s second album Idlewild South, was released less than a year later. Producer Tom Dowd, who would become an honorary member of the band, helped them expand their palette. Still, the album did only marginally better than its predecessor despite two singles, “Midnight Rider” and “Revival” and the debut of Betts’ masterful instrumental “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed.”
ALLMAN When the first record came out at Number 200 with an anchor, and dropped off the face of the earth, my brother and I did not get discouraged. But I thought Idlewild South was a much better record, and when that died on the vine, I thought, Damn, maybe we were wrong about this group.
WALDEN I doubted myself. It seemed like I had just been wrong and that they were never going to catch on. People just didn’t grasp what the Allmans were all about, musically or any other way. But they kept touring, going across the country, establishing themselves city by city as the best live band around, and building a base.
BETTS Duane was bursting with energy; he was a force to be reckoned with. His drive and focus were incredible, as was his intense belief in himself and our band. He knew we were going to make it. We all knew we were a good band, but no one else had that supreme confidence. And his confidence and enthusiasm were infectious. He helped us all believe in ourselves, and that was an essential key to the success of the Allman Brothers Band.
ALLMAN We played 306 nights in 1970, traveling most of the off days. We were in a Ford Econoline van and then a Winnebago. That kind of schedule puts a lot of wear and tear on your ass, but we were sure getting better. We simply realized that we were a better live band than studio outfit because we were always ready to experiment—offstage as well as on, I may add. And the audience was a big part of what we did, which couldn’t be duplicated in a studio. A light bulb finally went off: we needed to do a live album.
The Allman Brothers’ marathon live shows were certainly drawing raves. Onstage, the group combined the Grateful Dead’s go-anywhere jam ethos with a far-superior musical precision. Under the circumstances, a live album was an obvious choice. The result was the double-album At Fillmore East. To cut the album, the band played New York’s Fillmore East for three nights on March 11, 12 and 13 of 1971. A mobile 16-track recording studio was parked on the street outside the theater, with Dowd and a small crew set up inside. Things went smoothly on the first night until the band unexpectedly brought out sax player “Juicy” Carter and harmonica player Thom Doucette.
TOM DOWD One of the guys asked me how to mic the horn, and I thought he was joking. They started playing and the horn was leaking all over everything, rendering the songs unusable. I ran down at the break and grabbed Duane and said, “The horn has to go!” and he went, “But he’s right on, man.” And I said, “Duane, trust me, this isn’t the time to try this out.” He asked if the harp could stick around, and I said sure, because I knew it could be contained [on the recording] and wiped out if necessary.
Every night after the show we would just grab some beers and sandwiches and head up to the Atlantic studios to go through the show. That way, the next night, they knew exactly what they had and which songs they didn’t have to play again.
BETTS We just felt like we could play all night and sometimes we did. We could really hit the note. There’s not a single fix on Fillmore. Everything you hear there is how we played it.
DOWD That album captured the band in all its glory. The Allmans have always had a perpetual swing sensation that is unique in rock. They swing like they’re playing jazz when they play things that are tangential to the blues, and even when they play heavy rock. They’re never vertical but always going forward, and it’s always a groove. “Fusion” is a term that came later, but if you wanted to look at a fusion album, it would be Fillmore East. Here was a rock and roll band playing blues in the jazz vernacular. And they tore the place up.
BETTS There’s nothing too complicated about what makes Fillmore a great album. We were a hell of a band, and we just got a good recording that captured what we sounded like. I think it’s one of the greatest musical projects that’s ever been done in any genre. It’s an absolutely honest representation of our band and of the times.
Jaimoe Fillmore was a particularly great performance and represents what a typical night was like for us. That’s what we did!
WALDEN Atlantic/Atco rejected the idea of releasing a double-live album. [Atlantic executive] Jerry Wexler thought it was ridiculous to preserve all these jams. But we explained to them that the Allman Brothers were the people’s band, that playing—not recording—was what they were all about, and that a standard-length phonograph record was confining to a group like this.
ALLMAN All of a sudden, here comes fame and fortune. In a three- or four-week period, we went from rags to riches, from living on a three-dollar-a-day per diem to “Get anything you want, boys!”
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