Revisiting the Allman Brothers Band on a not-so stormy Monday
By NICK TAVARES
STATIC and FEEDBACK Editor
In a new wrinkle to my morning routine since moving within 10 minutes of work, I no longer have to wake up an hour before the sun, running out of the house within 20 minutes of waking up in an bleary-eyed attempt to beat any kind of traffic heading into the city.
Instead, I wake up, I check the weather, I pull my clothes together, hop in the shower, walk out, make coffee, and from there, I usually sit at my computer for 10 to 15 minutes before hopping on the T, looking up headlines, emails and whatever else happens to cross my path. And while I do that, I usually call up some music to get me going in the morning.
This morning, I made an atypical pivot away from some of the new music I’ve been enjoying or any of the stable of my usual stand-bys. I navigated to ‘A,’ found the Allman Brothers Band, and cued up a live version of “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed.” And I sat there while the guitars wound their way in and around each other and the drums pattered and smacked syncopated along, all of it rolling just above the up-and-down bass line.
It was a way to get my Monday off to something less than a miserable start. From there, I put on Eat a Peach at the office and let it repeat four times through while I worked. And it turned into a surprisingly pleasant flashback to being 18 and 19 years old, when I was consumed by the band and, specifically, Duane Allman’s brilliance on the bottleneck slide guitar.
In retrospect, I’m guessing that I liked the Allman Brothers Band and their peers more than the typical 18-year-old New England kid with little to no interest in weed. But I certainly wasn’t alone in my appreciation of the band. At the height of my investment in classic rock, the appeal of the Allmans was primarily about the marriage between the harmonic guitar melodies and Gregg Allman’s incredible blues growl. They were less a jam band and more a jazz ensemble who owed as much to Elmore James as they did John Coltrane.
The Eat a Peach CD — the Polydor reissue from the late 1980s that I got for a penny from BMG in the late ’90s, for what it’s worth — was a frequent resident in my car stereo via a discman through the cassette adapter during my commute to and from class in college. I kept it in the arm rest, carried it in my backpack to listen to between classes, and brought it back inside to pop in the CD player while I was studying, and if it wasn’t that, it was any number of other CDs. In getting ready to write this piece, I jumped back through their entire catalog — their first two albums, the live At Fillmore East, their rebirth on Brothers and Sisters and the peak of their reunion on Shades of Two Worlds and Where It All Begins.
Eat a Peach was appealing as a car jam due to how it encompassed all the best elements of the band — amazing live performances, Duane Allman’s last moments of brilliance in a recording studio, and the fertal early days of the band after Duane’s death, when they were just as grief-stricken as they were bursting with creativity. The opening track, “Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More,” served as a mission statement as I started my morning and tried to instill some kind of work ethic within myself. It was such a positive message; time is rolling on, and there’s no time to waste in doing what we’re supposed to do.
I took a lot of the band as inspiration. In my first semester sophomore year, I convinced a professor to let me write a 15-page paper on the rise and fall of the Allman Brothers Band from 1969 to 1973 as some sort of case study on the possibilities and pitfalls of capitalism and the American dream. I can’t fathom trying to read that now, but I’m pretty sure I got an A on it. At least an A-minus. It was all an effort to turn a current obsession into something useful that I still practice today.
But I did really believe in that story, and how all the hard work in the world could be undone by a few twists of fate. Duane Allman was killed as his musical genius was just beginning to blossom, struck by a flatbed truck on his motorcycle. A little more than a year later, bassist Berry Oakley, who was killed in nearly the same way in the same intersection. Until then, they made hours of incredible music, and the lesson to do as much as possible in the time we have was cemented. Listen to all the ins-and-outs in the 33 minutes that make up “Mountain Jam,” or the highs they reach on the bluesy “One Way Out.” And from those frantic highs, they also had some gentle moments, on “Blue Sky” or “Little Martha.” They could do it all, and then they were gone.
I don’t spend nearly as much time listening to the Allmans as I used to. I don’t go out to see them every summer like I used to, either. It’s not for lack of interest, but there’s simply so much new music and so much older music I’ve discovered or I’ve yet to discover that it’s easy to set aside the old in favor of the unknown.
So on a day like today, a Monday back to the grind, it felt great to just pop in Eat a Peach and let Duane and company carry me through my work. It was essays and term papers a decade ago, and it’s editing at my job now. But the truly good music always stays good, and it’ll always have its day. Even if it’s not every day like it used to be, it’s a good reminder that I still love this band and these albums as much as ever. And it's a reminder to keep working.
May 6, 2013
E-mail Nick Tavares at firstname.lastname@example.org