When Jaimoe, one of the last surviving original members of the Allman Brothers Band reached out to his former bandmates early last year, no one could possibly have imagined how COVID-19 would quickly take over our lives. In the phone calls he made to his musical “Brothers,” he asked that the group reunite for one last show, to properly tie off their fifty-year run in a fashion that matched the remarkable impact the band had made on modern music. It was something the band had discussed five years earlier, but the passing of Gregg Allman and drummer Butch Trucks made that notion seem largely out of reach. Now the idea made sense to everyone, and they quickly moved to rearrange schedules and commitments to make this sendoff real. And so began the process of creating “The Brothers Concert.”
Guitarist Derek Trucks recruited his brother Duane, who has for years held down duties behind the drum kit with the band Widespread Panic. Long-time Allman Brothers member Warren Haynes stepped up as the logical choice to assume all vocals and to play guitar. And veteran organist Reese Wynans, who earned notoriety for his work with Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble, was recruited to handle the very important needs on the Hammond B3 organ. He also had had history with Gregg Allman and Dickey Betts through playing on their solo efforts, so his inclusion was as natural as a blood line. Pianist Chuck Leavell, who made unforgettable contributions to the Allman Brothers album Brothers and Sisters, bassist Oteil Burbridge and percussionist Marc Quinones rounded out the band. (See our interviews with Chuck Leavell in Issues 133 and 134.)
They rehearsed for less than a week at SIR studios in Chelsea, New York before hitting the stage on March 10, 2020. There they crafted a set list of just over two dozen ABB hits, which will be released on CD, Blu-ray and DVD on July 23 as The Brothers, March 10, 2020 Madison Square Garden.
The song selection holds no surprises. Instead, it is the set progression that best demonstrates the group’s remarkable ability to establish a sequence that guides the audience on a one-of-a-kind journey. That night they drew a community of over 18,000 fans into an experience no one will soon forget. The band played with precision and a singular sense of reverence that celebrated a body of music that has forever transformed rock n roll.
In the end it would be the last performance given at Madison Square Garden before the lockdown. It was also the last major concert event of 2020. The finality tied to this concert is poetic in so many ways. If you had to pick a band to close out the performance of live music in the pre-pandemic era, who better than the band that completely changed the way live music is presented, consumed, and collected?
I was really fortunate to be there that night with my wife. It was a magnificent evening in so many ways. The release of The Brothers, March 10, 2020 Madison Square Garden is sure to be the band’s next best-seller. It will join another epic release by the band, Allman Brothers Band – Bear’s Sonic Journals: Fillmore East, February 1970, a deluxe edition 3-CD box set.
We had the opportunity to catch up with our good friend John Lynskey, chief archivist and historian for the Allman Brothers Band Museum at The Big House (www.thebighousemuseum.com) about how the 50th anniversary night came together, why it ranks among their best performances, and what impact the legacy of the band and this night will have on the future of rock and roll.
Ray Chelstowski: Did COVID-19 create a sense of urgency in getting the show done?
John Lynskey: I think that the reality of COVID crept up on everybody in rehearsal, particularly on the last day. Then suddenly it was like “oh sh*t!” Had it been a day later the show would not have happened. So, I think that the sense of urgency was about playing the best show possible because no one knew what was coming next. In that regard they hit a home run.
RC: Rehearsal for the show was really limited, especially considering the band had to rehearse with new members.
JL: Yes, there were only a few days of rehearsal but when you think about the level of talent, the tremendous amount of chemistry, and the fact that everyone had done their homework it’s not surprising [how well things worked out]. Everyone had communicated before rehearsals and knew the set list. So, for Duane to step in for Butch was perfect because he was able to play with the energy that Butch had twenty years ago. With Reese it was literally about coming full circle, having been part of the Second Coming, a pre-Allman Brothers group that included Dickey Betts and Berry Oakley. Reese was [also] part of that famous jam in Jasonville when Duane Allman said, “anybody who wants to leave this room is going to have to fight their way out.” Reese was there so it was really interesting to see what he would bring to the table. It all fell into place because everyone really wanted to do it. It tied up some loose ends, and as Derek (Trucks) said, “when Jaimoe asks you can’t say no.”
Everyone came to the table with a common cause and no agenda, with the only goal being to play the best show possible.
RC: Was there ever discussion about bringing in any guest vocalists or other sidemen or women?
JL: No. This was purely “family,” the surviving members and close associates only. Credit Haynes for coming up with the idea of adding Reese because they need a Hammond B3 (organ) player. It was a brilliant idea. Other names were thrown about but Reese was there, as I said, even before the beginning of the band.
RC: Chuck Leavell told me that there was quick talk that night about taking this on the road, but COVID ended all of that.
JL: Yes, I talked to Chuck at intermission at the show and he was saying how this would be an amazing act to take on the road. Could it have happened if COVID hadn’t hit? Given everyone’s schedule, who knows if they could pull it off. But good God almighty it would have been worth seeing.
RC: Were there any scheduling conflicts that people put aside to make this all work?
JL: Well for this one show there was enough advance notice for everyone to clear their schedules. For Chuck (Leavell) the Stones had just finished their tour. (Warren) Haynes and Derek (Trucks) work like crazy. (Marc) Quinones is with the Doobie Brothers now. Oteil (Burbridge) is with Dead & Company and Duane (Trucks) is with Widespread Panic. So, coming up with the date required a lot of advance work by Bert Holman (the Allman’s manager), talking with everyone [else’s] managers to make this happen. I think that that [was] actually the key. Everyone worked together, management, musicians, everybody.
RC: What do you think was the real highlight of this show and does it come across as powerfully in the recording?
JL: That’s like asking someone to choose between their children! I think you have to look at it between the instrumentals and some vocal songs. Instrumentally there were moments of sheer brilliance where you can tell that these guys were just creating, where there was a Zen-like form of communication at work. As you come out of the drums on “Mountain Jam,” the last five minutes or so, you get an example of the greatest creative flow you may ever hear in music. You have eight guys exactly in tune with each other.
They did it on “Jessica” as well, at about the six-minute mark right after Derek’s solo. The next seven minutes of that song was an expression of improvisational creativity like no other. On the vocal side, “Every Hungry Woman” was an amazing treat in that it’s a song that was rarely played live, either by the original lineup or with the band from 1989 onward. So, that was a bit of an unusual choice and what they did on that from beginning to end was extraordinary. Then the real high-wire act was the run and gun between Haynes and Derek. I mean they were on the edge of disaster, where one slip would pull the whole thing apart, and yet they pulled it off. It was amazing.
Vocally you have to tip your hat to Haynes. Haynes had a lot of pressure on him that night and he was phenomenal. Is Warren Haynes Gregg Allman? No. But he’s Warren Haynes, one of the best cover singers of all time. While I wouldn’t call Allman Brothers’ songs “cover material,” he resurrected Gregg Allman that night and still remained “Warren Haynes,” I think that “Desdemona” was the best combination you could have hoped for where Warren Haynes is the vocalist and the guitarist. The depth he showed on that song alone was his A-game.
RC: Warren Haynes has told me that Gregg Allman was always generous in sharing vocal duties with him. That experience singing many of these songs really came through on this important night.
JL: He was as prepared as anyone could be that night. Yeah, the relationship between him and Gregg was interesting. In the early years Gregg did give him tremendous opportunity. In the latter years Gregg came to depend on him to be another vocalist. The year that Haynes and Dickey both left [the band] you could tell the burden that that put on Gregg. So I can’t say enough about what Haynes did that night. This is a man who has covered everyone from Van Morrison to Jerry Garcia to Elton John. The list goes on and on. He is a musical chameleon who some say makes the cover version of a song better than the original. Let’s face it. Gregg would have been very proud of what Warren did that night.
RC: Let’s switch gears and move to Allman Brothers Band – Bear’s Sonic Journals: Fillmore East, February 1970, which was recorded by Grateful Dead engineer Owsley Stanley. Why was his role so important and what helps set this record apart?
JL: I just think that his maniacal dedication to searching for “the sound” made him legendary. Never mind the LSD at the same time. But he was one of the first real innovators and pathfinders of searching for that perfect sound. He experimented with different mics and different angles and that made him a real trailblazer. At least with the Allman Brothers he just ran tape, all of the time. It didn’t matter. That’s why we are so fortunate to have those tapes from February of 1970. At that point, The Brothers had no money for anything in terms of [taping], and there were only certain venues where you might have soundboard tapes of any kind. So Owsley’s big contribution to the Allman Brothers is that he actually had the tape running.
This album reflects a real moment in time. You can see that this is a band that’s just eleven months old. They were still finding their way. And their credo at that time was, “when in doubt, just jam.” It’s fascinating to study the evolution of “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed.” The versions that are available on this collection are the earliest to have been captured via the soundboard. They had started playing “Liz Reed” out in California the month before and so you get to February of 1970 and you have a good recording of the song. Fast forward a year to the same venue and it’s a completely different animal. And it’s a completely different band in terms of their interplay, their confidence, and their creativity. “Liz Reed” is a great example of that. It’s like watching a child grow up.
You can trace the evolution, growth, and I think the confidence in these songs. That’s what was so great about February 1970. They didn’t have a very big set [list]. It was still very blues-based. But it was like watching a great ballplayer as a rookie. You just know that this guy is going to be great. It just is going to take a little time and the Allman Brothers came together faster than almost any band you can name. The chemistry they shared was amazing.
RC: The bill for that night was eclectic, with the Grateful Dead, Jack Bruce, Mountain and more.
JL: That was the genius of [Fillmore concert promoter] Bill Graham. He would expose people to different genres of music and if it doesn’t work on this bill then we will switch the bill up. He was obviously not afraid to mix and match. Bill was always willing to give the Allman Brothers a chance because he loved them and the relationship blossomed on both coasts, east and west.
RC: What’s next?
JL: We are working on a live box set with the original lineup, 1969 to 1971. It will present the best version of every song they played live. It will be a true live compilation of the original band’s best work and I think that people are going to absolutely love it. We are curating it through a lot of listening followed by a lot of discussion, The team that Bert Holman has put together includes the sonic mastery of Bill Levenson, who wants things as a producer to sound a certain way. Then you have the historical input that comes from tour manager and photographer Kirk West, Richard Brent, (Executive Director of the Allman Brothers Band Museum) and me. It’s a real give and take. However, sometimes it’s a moot point because there’s only one version of a song available.
RC: Is there one infamous performance out there that has gone missing that you’d love to get your hands on?
JL: The holy grail of all holy grails is the night before the closing of the Fillmore East in June of 1971. If somehow, someway a tape of the performance showed up in someone’s attic that would be the one. There’s all kinds of stories and rumors that the tapes were rolling that night. Wouldn’t that be something if it turned up? Never say never. As people from that time start to pass on their kids go up in the attic and they find things. Richard at The Big House (The Allman Brothers Museum in Macon, GA) receives new items every day that were discovered just like that. There’s always hope.
RC: As someone who is arguably one of the most knowledgeable people alive when it comes to the band’s history, do you still learn new things every day about the Allman Brothers?
JL: Yes, absolutely. For example, after the original lineup compilation is released, we want to go to a five-man band live compilation. The five-man band period, which was pretty short going from November of 1971 to summer of 1972, delivered shows that were out of this world. This is just prior to keyboardist Chuck Leavell joining the band. Just listening to how Gregg, Dickey and Berry came together to fill the unfillable void created by the loss of Duane Allman is just amazing. Betts stepped up, not just in his slide playing. But the guy who filled the biggest gap was Berry Oakley. He was a monster during that period playing lead and bass lines at the same time. It was amazing to see them all work together in their grief to make some amazing music. It’s a very overlooked period in the band’s history. I’ve immensely enjoyed digging deeply into the five-man band period and think that most people will find it as illuminating as I have.
RC: In the end, what was your favorite takeaway from The Brothers concert at Madison Square Garden?
JL: What I got a kick out of is that the Allman Brothers started with two brothers named Allman and the whole thing ends with two brothers named Trucks. There’s a great juxtaposition to that, [in] that the legacy could be carried forward in the end by two brothers, just as it started.
Click on the slideshow below for more images.