Saturday, March 23, 2013
Put the Boot In: "Will the Circle Be Unbroken"- The Allman Brothers Band 5-23-1970
In honor of the recently released Duane Allman Anthology, I decided to break out a prodigious and rare Allman Brothers Band recording featuring the original founding line up. This recording catches the band on a evening in May of 1970, though opinions vary on the exact date and location of the recording. What is listed on this version is May 23, 1970 Dacatur, GA Columbia High School Auditorium, but the show has also been listed as "Spring 1970" and as having originated from The Georgian Terrace Hotel in Atlanta, Ga. The version I have is a remastered soundboard recording (Peach Cobbler 6) similar in its sonic fingerprint to the Ludlow Garage official release, though still bootleg in its genesis. The recording is a partial, but the music it contains is unparallelled. Most of the concert is missing, or has not circulated as of yet, what this recording does contain is the last song of the set, a fifty plus minute reading of "Mountain Jam", and the double encore of "Don't Want You No More" into "It's Not My Cross to Bear". The "Mountain Jam" is more than enough to digest and is arguably the best version featuring the original line up.
The tape starts slightly into the beginning of "Mountain Jam". The sound quality is great, with minimal analog hiss, and all instruments coming through clearly and equally. Traversing the slopes of "Mountain Jam's" delicate Donovan penned melody, Betts and Allman weave colliding lines that counterpoint against one another. At around 2:40 Duane takes the first solo, ascending the mountain face on sharp and edgy metallic licks that immediately take the song up a level, into the thinner alpine atmosphere. Following Duane, Gregg takes a round, playing some slippery Hammond riffs that slowly build the band into a peculating and frothing Southern stew. The band is cooking now, as Betts steps in to stack musical bricks on the grooving foundation being layed down by drummers Butch Trucks and Jaimoe. Betts starts to develop the tension at six minutes, at first rising and then stretching notes like a fresh dough, thick soft buttery southern tones that bring to mind a peeling and humid front porch in the swamps of Georgia or Florida. A direct contrast to the icy bee sting, needle stabs of Duanes first solo excursion. At a bit past seven minutes Duane piggy backs on a Betts riff, and they start to weave together a tangled web of musical of "old man's beard".The organic peak swells into a paisley hallucination of spongy breathing hills, shouldered by mountainous slopes protruding through the low clouds.
Duane fires of flashing "ray gun" shots of alien tones as Barry Oakley sends chunky boulders of sound rolling down the slopes. The drummers thrash around as the slow burn of sound drops quickly into a primal and thunderous drums interlude. Trucks and Jaimoe serve and return poly rhythms, chuchuttas, and accents like tennis players on acid. It's drum interludes like this that make me think how underrated these guys are, especially when compared to Billy and Mickey of the Grateful Dead, who get the press. These drums compare or surpass many of the 1970 GD drums which in my opinion did get kinda redundant (ducks from flying tomato's). I digress, Oakley enters the drum battle as the drummers sit back with hi hat strikes and a simmering percussive backdrop to which Barry can have a solo spot. Oakley replies with an stunningly amazing bass solo littered with a creative high melodicism, and detonated "Barry Bombs". Oakley's frighteningly fast fret work eventually becomes a groovy swing fest with the drummers sympathetically listening and responding to Oakley's statements. After the rhythm section hits a frozen mountain plateau, Oakley climbs the rungs of the ladder to expose a dual guitar explosion that leads back to the bedrock of "Mountain Jam".
Dickey and Duane return to familiar territory and explore the barren mountain landscape, with intertwining and sometimes dueling lines. At around twenty four minutes in Duane puts on his slide initiating a ethereal and dreamy panorama. The cymbals chime and create a otherwordly enviroment where the air holds an electric charge and is tangible to the eyes. Oakley is constantly inventing new ways to avoid the root note as he dances delicately on the precipice. Duane's slide spot develops into a swinging strut which quotes "Will the Circle Be Unbroken". Duane "sings" the traditional melody through his attentive playing. The meshing gears of the band slowly wind and accelerate, Betts joins Duane's slide work and the two start to create a tapestry of notes, euphoric, and mind boggling. Oakley sneaks underneath the maelstrom of spindrift notes, thundering a deeper melody.
At thirty minutes or so an orchestrated theme similar to ideas found in "Black Hearted Woman" develops with Betts and Allman peeling off notes like they are eating oranges. The jam again rises and rises with the entire band on board playing for the muse, and going whichever way their journey takes them. In a moment they top off at a scenic overlook, and the band tumbles into a "Hey Bo Diddley" themed segment that in a creatively herky jerky fashion begins. Similar to an alpine icicle the music smoothly drips into a crystaline dual guitar statement of the theme. Greg's shifty organ work dynamically moves in conjunction the churning guitars. Dickey and Duane then enter a call and response portion that is an absolute pleasure to listen to. Two instruments, one mind.
Betts and Allman both begin to use a over driven tone, signalling the drummers to pick up the pace at roughly thirty seven minutes. This patiently develops into a monstrous guitar driven orgasm that exhibits both beauty and then a crashing return to a twinkling and levitating space. Deconstructing "Bo Diddley" into a fragmented expanse, Duane and Dickey space out with unique melodic statements, with only Oakley's thick woody bass holding them to the mountainside. This transforms into a nice improvisational segment where each of the string players take turns leading the band into unmapped territory. Oakley's playing is awe inspiring and mind blowing.This extended jam then again disassembles itself into a tapestry of stars, where the music just hangs in the balance directed by an unseen force.
I'm losing track of time because of the constant development of new ideas and the shifting aural portrait created by the band. But I will say at around forty four minutes the band leaves the improvisational snow field and hits on revolving dual guitar line that pushes them closer to the wind blown mountain summit obscured by hazy clouds. Oakley drops heavy chords under Duane and Dickey's two guitars as they probe the unseen mountaintop. Their notes colliding and then splitting down the middle and traveling different paths, sometimes unable to be differentiated from one another. Sometimes one of them taking off like a down hill skier alone to explore, while one rests on a hollow frozen log, only to rejoin in perfect harmony. A straight rock and roll jam matures from the return to the "Mountain Jam" ideas. Duane, Dickey and Gregg each take a mini breakdown as the band navigates through some rock changes. This continues a diverse and amazing display of instrumental virtuosity, as I feel I have traveled to many musical worlds in the span of an hour. In the blink of an eye the band returns to the "Mountain Jam" theme right on time and right on target. The group coalesces back into one organism to restate the theme, an unbroken circle, blissfully unaware of the magic that they have just created. The song concludes in a large finale of sound and crashes to its end. The crowd is ecstatic, I am snapping, and Gregg thanks the appreciative people who have gathered.
If what has just transpired is not enough, the band returns, and Gregg states, "This is our hometown and you only have to ask us but once". The group then explodes into the double hitter of "Don't Want You Know More" segued into "It's Not My Cross to Bear". "Don't Want You No More" is a quick prelude but contains its many complex and groovy changes. Gregg takes a first solo, followed by Duane and then Betts, settimg the table for the soulful and well sung 'It's Not My Cross to Bear". 'It's Not My Cross To Bear" is the show stopper it continues to be right up through today. Greg growls the verses like a bluesman wise beyond his young years. Beginning the song with a powerful and stirring "Oh Yeah", Gregg sings it and makes the assembled crowd listen. Duane and Dickey both take slick and emotive solos, building until they coalesce with machine gun rapid snare hits and furious fret work by Oakley. The song climaxes and concludes stunningly, a fitting end to the over an hour of intense musicianship. The band says "Thank You", and that's that. The venue must be still reverberating with the intense musical alchemy that took place that night. I know that listening to this historical snapshot has caused some revolutions in my head!
This soundboard recording captures the Allman Brothers Band at the time when they are finding out what kind of musical beast they have created, and what they can do with it. There is a generous helping of improvisational magic to be conjured during a listening session of this performance. All of the band members receive an opportunity to express and share their musical prowess. I can only hope that the songs leading up to the climatic "Mountain Jam", and double encore somehow find their way into our hands eventually. I can safely assume that they are as devastating and powerful as the tracks we have. This line up of the Allman's would be too short lived, as within the next three years "Skydog" and Barry Oakley would be gone from this earth, and ironically the band would start to receive its greatest popularity, but at the price of losing its heart and soul. This is the "real deal", accept no substitutes, the "Allman Brothers Band".
Mountain Jam 5-23-1970 (8 mins)
Whipping Post 9-23-1970