First There is a Mountain … Creative Loafing on The Allman Brothers Band

Creative Loafing Dec 28, 1981 vol 20 #31 

First There is a Mountain …

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It’s Sunday, May 11, 1969. Around noon. A group of us, just on the heavy side of 20 years, are walking south along the “Strip,” the loosely demarcated Midtown section of Peachtree Street that lies somewhere between 14th and 5lh Streets. We pass the DayGlo-colored Catacombs nightclub at 14th — past Bradshaw’s Cafe and the Peachtree Art Theatre heading, by a circuitous  route, for Piedmont Park and some live music at the weekly “be-in.”

Bell-bottomed jeans, zippered boots, tie-dyed shirts, blanket ponchos. Dressed in the times. The conversation floats and convects like smoke in the air. Vietnam, local rock ‘n’ roll bands, a rising young black politician named Maynard Jackson, police harassment of hippies, Nixon. Teddy Kennedy is in town for the weekend, looking like a solid bet for a presidential bid in the coming decade.

firstthereis2But the topic seems to flow consistently back to music, the “poetry of this generation.” Radar, The Hampton Grease Band, Jeff Fspina, Eric Quincv Tale, Chakra, The Sweet Younguns. These are the solid local acts that we catch at such venues as the Bowery, The Bottom of The Barrel, The Golden Horn, The Twelfth Gate, the Bistro, the Catacombs and, best of all, for free at Piedmont Park. Grabbing a quick bite at the Roxy Delicatessen we ramble out the back door and take a short cut down llth Street, dropping almost 100 feet off the Peachtree Street ridge into the park. The Great Speckled Bird, Atlanta’s underground newspaper, has negotiated with the city to allow rock bands to play the park on weekends.

The exclusive Piedmont Driving Club used to race horses here on a meadow below Cheatham’s strategic Confederate entrenchments. Now, 100 years later, the hip community, the flower children of Atlanta, have adopted it as a meeting place to congregate and listen to their music — the “Piedmont  green of a city park,” as local spokesman Barry Weinstock characterized the venue.

Prepared to boogie, we enter the park by the VFW Club — stride up a small hill and across the ball fields. There’s a strong fragrance from the flowering linden trees that ring the fields. Here once stretched the 1895 Grand Plaza with its landscaped radial walkways, where Booker T. Washington was allowed to stroll and John Philip Sousa marched his band.

Rock bands have been setting up here since the previous spring. In inclement weather, they play under the adjacent, 1920’s-era pavilion. As we approach the steps we see about 50 colorfully dressed people milling around them.

It’s a sparkling afternoon — cool, breezy with the sun bright and streaming through the elm trees that overhang the steps. The light reflects a bluish cast off the granite blocks. Long-haired roadies are arranging equipment for a band. Speakers and Marshall amplifiers line the back wall of the terrace and wrap around it facing out towards the lake.

A crowd is forming slowly. Bird staffers are standing and watching, discussing how the band drove up from Macon that morning on the spur of the moment — no one had heard of them. A black family is barbecuing ribs on the nearby granite grill. A Frisbee zips close overhead — dogs and children cavort about — a tambourine jangles. The smells of patchouli, cigarettes and marijuana diffuse through the cool air.

A tall, lean young man with long reddish blond hair, sideburns grown shaggy into his moustache, emerges from the crowd. He is an unusual looking dude, even for this crowd. Carrying a vintage Gibson Les Paul electric guitar slung over his shoulder, he walks to one of the Marshall amps and plugs in. Another man, remarkably similar in appearance, sits down at the organ. The two drummers, one black the other white, take their positions. They are followed, by a messianic-looking bass guitarist and another guitar player.

Discordant tune-up notes puncture the air. There are now over 100 people gathered around — standing, some perched on the granite walls and planters, others sprawled on the ground, two or three have climbed into the trees.

The band members turn to the blond guitarist. Shoulders rolled forward like a boxer, he smiles confidently, reaches into his pocket and extracts what looks to be a long Coricidin pill bottle. He places it on the ring finger of his left hand, knocks the pick-up switch of his guitar into the forward position, nods to the band and snaps his fingers:

“Alright gentlemen, I…2…3…4.” Duane Allman, his long hair flying in the wind, pulls his slide down the fretboard into Muddy Waters’ classic tune, “Trouble No More.”

Butch Trucks and Jaimo are laying down their syncopated rhythms in metered rolls, playing off each other, punctuating and driving the blues rhythm. Berry Oakley’s Gibson bass is humming deeply. Dickey Bett’s liquid  guitar switches easily from lead to rhythm and harmonic counterpoint around Duane’s slidework. Gregg Allman’s keyboard weaves into the melody, his raspy lyrics cutting into the music with righteous intonations: “Don’t care how long you’re gone— Don’t care how long you stay — Good kind treatment — Bring you home someday.”

And the masterful slide guitar of Duane Allman responds, ringing out in clear tones and full vibrato with a deep melodic range and clarity perhaps not heard here since John Philip Sousa led his band down the Grand Plaza with “Stars And Stripes Forever.”

“Some day baby — you ain’t gonna trouble— poor me — anymore.” Duane’s final licks glide the song back to earth, his last note sustaining through several bars as Dickey’s vigorous cascade puts the coda on the song.

 The Allman Brothers Band has begun its Atlanta debut.

Bill Graham, the late music promoter, was interviewed for this story just hours before he died in a helicopter crash in California on Oct. 25. He recalled, “…and what you got with Duane was what you get from those few guys who…,yeah, they’ve got all that technical stuff down, but he really got the essence of what the black man, the black musician, gave us. That’s the soulful aspect of picking, and all the technical prowess in the world doesn’t give you that.

“I don’t want to disrespect any artist. I can give you some half-a-dozen guitar players that the world thinks, you know, are the cat’s meow. But there’s no soul; it’s dipped in water, it’s not dipped in soul of any kind. They can make those riffs work — but that’s all they are. And musicians knew that! Otis Redding knew that, Aretha Franklin knows that, and Ray Charles knows that!

“And Duane was one of those players who had the technical proficiency, but never sold it. He never sold anything on his guitar… there was no, ‘Can you top this?’ He never tried to beat you. He always wanted to play with you. I remember Eric Clapton told me years ago that one of the things he loved about Duane was he just wanted to play with you — he didn’t try to show you anything.”

This May 11, 1969, concert was the first in a long line of free concerts the band performed at Piedmont Park. This spring afternoon they blow up a storm, playing traditional blues numbers and original songs written by Gregg Allman in collaboration with the other band members. Newly formed, they have been rehearsing together only two months, but there is a cohesive vibrancy to their playing that is hard to describe. The following week’s issue of the Bird features Bill Fibben’s full-page photograph of Duane Allman on its cover, and peppered within are descriptions and interpretations of the day. “For the rest of us there is, was and shall remain Music…. Sunday it was the ALLMAN BROTHERS, an aggregation soon to be too important to play Piedmont Park…their music is compulsion and became at our reception propulsion…it overwhelms verbal communication…The general opinion going through the crowd was that these guys could stand up against the best — Hendrix, Cream, etc. I am not alone in the opinion that they may be one of the great pop music discoveries ofl969.”

Miller Francis, nationally known music critic for the Bird, would write his first of many reviews of the group: “You don’t, can’t listen’ to the Allman Brothers; you feel it , hear it, move with it, absorb it.”

But what appeared to be an almost overnight success was actually a strenuous ascent. The Allman Brothers Band had coalesced from the permutations of many musical collaborations. By early 1969, Duane Allman had established a reputation as a solid session guitarist at Fame Recording Studios in Muscle Shoals, Ala. About that time, Atlantic Records Vice President Jerry Wexler bought Allman’s contract from Fame and resold it to Capricorn President Phil Walden.

Capricorn at first wanted to structure a Claptonesque group around Allman, featuring him as the star. Duane eschewed the spotlight, however, opting to hold together his newly formed band. Walden laid out the hard cash for the equipment and moved them up to Macon that March.

Berry Oakley’s widow, Linda Oakley Miller, recollects that, “At first we all lived in Macon in an old Victorian House on College Street that Phil rented for us. Our daughter, Brittany, was born that April. There was little money, everyone slept on mattresses on the floor, but the positive energy from Duane and the growing quality of the music sustained us.”

The spartan communal life was subsidized in part by the small salary of road manager Twiggs Lvndon and the generosity of Louise Hudson (Mamma Louise), proprietor of the H&H Restaurant across from the Capricorn Studios at Cotton and Forsythe Streets. Mamma Louise dished up some of the finest “vittles” in town, along with an encouraging word when “her boys” needed it. The band practiced and rehearsed tirelessly during the day, often playing for free in Macon’s Central City Park.

At night, a short stroll down to the bottom of College Street took them into Rose Hill, a picturesque antebellum cemetery carved into the bluff’s along the Ocmulgee River. Here was a sanctuary for the musicians to stretch out and experiment, playing acoustically amidst the Italianate brick terraces, marble angels and lush vegetation planted by Simri Rose 150 years ago.

Sometimes at Rose Hill the musicians would wander among the headstones of the “humble and exalted” gathering inspiration  from the inscriptions. Most probably they chanced upon the monument of the famous relocated Macon citizen, W.L. “Young” Stribling, the “King of The Canebrakes.” In the ’20 and ’30s he was a world heavyweight boxing contender, a protégé of Jack Dempsey and the fighter Gene Tunney “wouldn’t fight.” Stribling was killed in a tragic motorcycle accident at the height of his career a few miles from the cemetery.

Phil Walden concentrated the band’s live concerts in smaller club ;and college venues in the Southeast, bringing them along slowly, like a good boxing manager would handle his prizefighter.

They shuttled often that summer between Macon and Atlanta to play free concerts in Piedmont Park, trying out new songs, arrangements and jams. The mere presence of Duane began to enkindle rapport with the growing crowds. His improvisational long jumps on the slide or straight lead guitar carried the audience with him on his melodic explorations — in and out of different keys and back, the playing improving at each hearing — temporarily transposing us out of the social turmoil and daily hassles.

Joe Roman, an Atlanta music promoter, remembers Duane dropping by The Twelfth Gate coffee house after one of the Piedmont concerts that summer to offer a donation and talk with the other musicians and clientele. “Duane was down to earth; he didn’t have a rock star complex.” Others recall that Duane was always approachable and genuinely interested in people.

Visitors to Piedmont Park ere just as likely to see him mingling with the crowd to watch other acts on any given weekend when he happened to be in town. He passed through not only with his band but by himself, en route to Atlantic session work in New York or Muscle Shoals. Often he would stay at a particular apartment overlooking the park. There was a grassy promontory nearby where he liked to take his acoustic guitar late at night and play. In the evenings you might catch him jamming at the Bowery or Twelfth Gate with such groups as the fledgling Lynyrd Skynyrd band. Duane would frequently offer encouragement. “You gotta sort yourself out and sort the music you hear out,” he’d say. “Then find something to hang your notes on. You hang your notes on your attitude and on yourself.”

The summer of ’69 was also a watershed period for musical promotion in Atlanta. Organizations like the Bird, Nexus House, Atlantis Rising, the Universal Life Church and the Twelfth Gate had all nurtured the free music in Piedmont Park, serving as inspiration for the emergence of hip entrepreneurs.

Musician Alex Janoulis and his wife had started up the Dynamic Talent Agency. Steve Cole had formed his Discovery, Incorporated. Both companies began as booking agencies and expanded into promotional companies, teaming up with organizations like Frank Hughes’ Electric Collage Light Show to promote some memorable pay and free concerts within the next several years.

Promoter Alex Cooley and his partners were putting together the first Atlanta Pop Festival, bringing in such headliners as the Grateful Dead, Johnny Winter and the Chicago Transit Authority. It was held at the Atlanta International Raceway on July 4. Working along with Cooley was Ed Shane, operations manager for Atlanta’s WPLO-FM radio and popular emcee for local concerts. Shane had, by the summer of 1969, captured the ears of Atlanta’s younger listeners with his formula of playing favorite cuts off of long-playing albums and keeping a music/ commercials ratio of 8:1 rather than the monotonous 2:1 prevalent today. Shane’s self trained ear and low-key delivery served him well as he helped build the radio station from a pilot project at Georgia State University in 1968 to an institution of regional esteem at its location at Peachtree and Fifth Streets.

In September, the ABB flew to New York City to record their first album at Atlantic Studios and swung back through Piedmont Park on Sept. 21 for the Atlanta “Mini Pop Festival” promoted as a rally for the recently fire-bombed Atlantis Rising.

This concert took place on a portable stage at the north end of the ball fields, adjacent to where the old Sergeant Pepper-style bandstand stood for the Cotton States Exhibition. The weather held and the ABB, along with the Hampton Grease Band, Brick Wall, the Sweet Younguns, and the Booger Band, filled the freshly cut fields with  appreciative people. That day, the twin guitar leads of Allman and Belts, counterpoised at opposite ends of the stage, were creating something new out of their extemporaneous rhapsodies.

Miller Francis’ critique in the following issue of the Bird captured the feeling: “The Allman Brothers were there to prove that they are in better shape than ever….When they closed the show with their bluesy arrangement of Donovan’s ‘First There Is A Mountain,’ the spirit of the people in attendance approached that of a Grateful Dead concert.”

In October 1969 the Allmans were back at the park, headlining the three-day Piedmont Music Festival which began on Oct. 17. Co-producers the Universal Life Church and Atlantis Rising also brought in some national names. At $l-a-day optional donation, it was a real deal.

The temperature dropped into the 40’s that first evening and the eclectic audience of hippies and straights huddled close as the music and the glow from the Electric Collage Light Show helped provide an illusion of warmth. Berry Oakley and Dickey Belts’ old band.,The Second Coming, played, followed by Joe South, Boz Scaggs and Mother Earth, with Tracv Nelson energetically belting out her boozy lyrics through a feeble sound system.

Saturday was better, but it all peaked Sunday. The smell and feel of autumn was in the air and the crowds had grown from hundreds into thousands as the word had spread. With the audio problems finally resolved, local band Radar started things off. Berry and Butch joined in with Larry Rhinehardt of the Second Coming for a musical reunion. The day seemed to last forever as the music progressed.

That evening the sunset painted an indigo hued horizon over Pcachtree Street, silhouetting the newly emergent spires of Colony Square. The Brothers, playing for the third day in a row, closed the program with a transcendental version of “Mountain Jam.” Duane’s polychromatic melody, running like  a thoroughbred through the fields, synchronizcd with Betts and Oakley’s phrasing to hold the spectators spellbound.

The Piedmont Park Music Festival ended with two couples being married on stage by the minister of the Universal Life Church. The festival was declared a success and profits were channeled back into the community. The music scene seemed to be developing in Atlanta, gaining momentum. Hopes were high as eyes looked ahead to more music in the Park the following Spring.

In November, the ABB’S first album was released. Miller Francis gave it a rave review. Later that month, the band was in town for the Turkey Trip at the Georgian Terrace Ballroom. They stopped by WPLO-FM and Ed Shane broadcast his first formal interview with Duane. Shane asked him to compare concert venues. “Well, any time you’re getting paid for something, you feel like you’re obligated to do so much,” Duane replied. “That’s why playing the park is such a good thing, because people don’t even expect you to be there. And if you’re there to play, that’s really groovy….About the nicest way you can play is just for nothing, you know. And it’s not really for nothing — it’s for your own personal satisfaction and other people’s, rather than for any kind of financial thing.”

The first winter of the new decade in Atlanta ushered in the Laundromat Craft Cooperative at 979 Peachtree Street. Counterculture businesses along the strip were flourishing. Sandalwood incensed headshops and colorful boutiques like Sexy Sadie’s blossomed forth from dusty vacant buildings alongside of porn shops and honky tonks. In the evenings, traffic queued for blocks along Peachtree as all manner of culture rolled by to gawk and rubberneck at the spontaneous Street theater and panorama of freaks parading down the sidewalks.

Freddie Bauer and Steve Rash, local media entrepreneurs, were experimenting with a music video program called “The Now Explosion” which aired on channel 36. Bauer and Rash would later film and record the Second Annual Atlanta Pop Festival, going on to produce and direct such movies as The Buddy Holly Story.

Music promoters discovered the funky old Sports Arena over on Chester Avenue. Murray Silver, Jr. (Jerry Lee Lewis’ biographer) and Alex Cooley started booking such album-sellers here as John Mayall, Fleetwood Mac, Canned Heat, Johnny Winter and Delaney and Bonnie. Groups played on a rented, wooden stage. Ventilation was not the best. Some say at certain concerts you could get a contact high on the back row. but the converted wrestling hippodrome was known to resonate spectacularly.

In March 1970 the Allman Brothers, riding on the moderate success of their album, got second billing with Santana at the Municipal Auditorium. The “old barn” as it was nicknamed also had an exemplary reputation for its acoustics and ability to focus and merge the energy of performer and listener.  A favorite venue of opera singers, even the great Curuso sang here in his prime.

Miller Francis recalls: “The Allman Brothers were great, though — It’s hard to describe what happens between Atlanta and the Allman Brothers, but their music brought the house down. It’s terrific to have them back here, but it did seem strange hearing them in the setting of the Municipal Auditorium for up to six bucks instead of for free in Piedmont Park — seems like  success should work the other way around. We hope to see them back in the park this summer.”

In April The Great Speckled Bird was banned in Macon, but the Allman Brothers Band had found a home. And through their donations, free concerts for charitable causes and other acts of good will, they were winning the affection of “movers and shakers” like “Machine Gun” Ronnie Thompson, mayor of the Fall Line city.

On Saturday, May 9, 1970, the ABB stole the show from headliner Smith at the Georgia Tech Coliseum.When a scheduled Grateful Dead concert was threatened at the Sport’s Arena the next day because of waylaid equipment, Duane donated his sound system and the show went on. Many who attended the concert remembered it as one of the best ever at that venue. Spirit, music and chemicals blended as the Dead jammed with members of the ABB. Jerry Garcia and Duane Allman exchanged riffs — igniting a musical conflagration that thrilled the crowd as the protean Donovan improvisation flowed into “Will The Circle Be Unbroken.”

That summer, Sam Massell was the new mayor of Atlanta who talked of the hippies having “the right to live this life they have chosen.” But the Strip was metamorphosing  in  a vein similar to the Haight-Ashbury district in San Francisco. The soft drugs were hardening, motorcycle gangs were moving in — injecting paranoia into the community. As crime increased, arrests and police confrontations multiplied. In response to public outcries, Massell deployed more police throughout the Strip, driving the freaks off the street in a series of purges. Permits for music in Piedmont Park became hard to acquire. The People’s Peace Festival officially “did not occur” and bands “did not appear,” however a large crowd did gather on June 7 and, according to the Bird,  it, “…was a line Sunday with free food. spontaneous music and swimming in the lake.” Everyone in attendance talked of the coming Cosmic Carnival.

Envisioned and promoted as the state-of the-art new trend in musical happenings, the Cosmic Carnival was set for the Atlanta Braves Stadium on June 13. In addition to  the Allman Brothers, there were to be such groups as Traffic (with Steve Winwood), Ten Years After, Mothers of Invention, Albert King, Mountain and It’s A Beautiful Day, which featured George LaFlamme on electric violin. Disappointment appeared in the guises of rainy weather, poor sound and discouraging ticket sales, which resulted in several groups pulling out at the last minute. Promoter Forrest Hamilton remembers that he was discussing the financial loss from the only 19,000 attendees with Duane and the new ABB road manager, Willie Perkins, during a break in one of the dugouts, when Duane informed him to forget about paying them, that the band was playing for free.

The following day, the ABB were back in Piedmont Park playing for free again. Gone were the ragged Ford Econoline vans of the prior year, and in their place was a new Winnebago.

Excitement had been building for the second annual Atlanta Pop Festival promoted on the radio stations as a Woodstock amid the pecan trees. It was held July 3-5 at the Middle Georgia Raceway in Byron, Ga., a farming community  just  south of Macon.

An estimated 400,000 people attended the festival, rivaling Woodstock in attendance and performers. Only about 50,000 people actually paid to get in before the gates were finally thrown open on the second day to end a siege. Promoters Alex Cooley and Steven Kapelow later said they thought they broke even.

There was some bad acid, sporadic violence, but generally it was just too damn hot for hassles. Temperatures and humidity soared to record levels that weekend and the densely packed crowds made it even hotter.

Hendrix was there, two months before his death, along with John Sebastian, Procol Harum, the Chambers Brothers, Jethro Tull, the Bob Seger System, Spirit, Johnny Winters and Ten Years After. B.B. King came on about10:30 Friday night in his three-piece  suit playing in 98-degree heat with the sweat streaming onto his guitar, Lucille, while he belted out those majestically anguished trills and tremolos.

Of course, the Allman Brothers were there. Willie Perkins recollects Duane flying in late Friday from Atlantic session work, jumping on his motorcycle and speeding down to Byron just in time to open the ABB’S first set. “Statesboro Blues” was recorded that evening and appears on the album  The First Great Rock Festival of the Seventies.

The ABB played the last day as well, and late at night. Duane jammed with Johnny Winter and Leslie West in a sizzling rendition of “Mountain Jam.” each musician raved up with searing guitar runs as the sun began to rise. When it was finished, though, we all knew who the best guitarist was onstage.

As Byron was drawing to a close, another landmark event was taking shape for later  that month — one that would also be filmed and sound tracked and then, like Byron, never released. Andy Barker, mayor of Love Valley, N.C., was bringing in the ABB to headline the Love Valley Rock Festival set for July 17-19 in the Blue Ridge Mountains. The little North Carolina town with a population  of 72 played host to 75,000 people.

The festival was remarkably peaceful, attributed aptly by Norman Cousins in The Saturday Review: “Mayor Barker handled the event with the kind of aplomb, friendliness and wisdom that is badly needed at a time when too many people seem eager to connect their prejudices to their temper and to believe the worst of one another.”

The excellent motion picture of the concert was instructive of Duane’s guitar abilities. Guitar Player magazine later published an article describing his method of playing slide.

Arlen Roth, the writer, assumed that Duane used the free fingers of his left hand to damp the strings behind the glass slide as he fingcr picked with his right. All slide players do this, Roth stated, to keep extraneous notes from sounding and to minimize overtones. However, the Love Valley film clearly show that Duane did not damp down. He apparently had such a fine touch that he could control the intonation and sustain simply by the agile pressure he exerted on his pill bottle! Resurgent Capricorn Records President Phil Walden reminisced earlier this month on Allman’s ability. “Duane had this miraculous command of his instrument… great finesse — a wonderful touch and impeccable taste.” he said. “That’s what initially attracted me to his playing. It was in the era when a lot of the real fast-speedy players were the darling of the business…[Duane] was the guy that refused to indulge himself in that kind of playing….It’s not only important what he played, but what he didn’t play. His music had just enough polish and just enough rawness — it had just the right edge on it.”

Allman’s influence can be perceived in the phrasings of a diversity of musicians, from the acoustics of Leo Kottke to the blues of Eric Clapton and the jazz of Pat Metheny. Drivin’ ‘N’ Cryin’ guitarist Buren Fowler emphatically affirms that Allman is his favorite player. The lyrics of country artist Travis Tritt  lament “…I still miss Duane Allman.” Black blues guitarist Michael Hill of The Black Rock Coalition credits Duane’s slide playing with inspiring him on the bottle neck.

The fast-paced summer of 1970 accelerated for Duane as he continued to split off from the band for brief periods to do Atlantic session work in Muscle Shoals, Miami and New York. At the suggestion of Jerry Wexler, Delaney Bramlett decided to use him as a session slide guitarist for his new album. “Duane was the greatest guitar player I ever played with,” Delaney has said of his friend.

Duane went on to jam often with the D&B band. One such concert introduced Allman  to jazz flautist Herbie Mann a chance meeting that would later bring the two musicians together for Mann’s Push Push album.

Musicians and professional critics agree that the peak of Duane’s session work occurred during the recording of Layla & Other assorted Love Songs. The tracks for the album were cut in late August and early September at Tom Dowd’s Criteria Studios in Miami — bringing together perhaps the two best white guitarists in the world. That fall, amateur critics here in Atlanta were heard to remark that the record should have been credited as “Duane And The Dominoes.”

In September, Hcndrix was dead and Joplin would follow in another month. The ABB was on a southern circuit allowing them to play for free in Piedmont Park again on Sept. 27 with Eric Quincy Tate, the Avenue Of Happiness, Stump Brothers and Chakra. The only known audio recording of the band playing here was made by Atlantan Marty Feldman, who taped “Mountain Jam” as the band played beneath the pavilion. This was the last time the band ever played the Park.

That fall the ABB spent a good deal of time in New York City. Bill Graham and Public Television were filming groups at his Fillmore East and the Allman Brothers were shot doing a four-song set. This short piece, long forgotten, was relocated recently by Allman authority Ron Currens. It is among the only known video of Duane and shows clearly his versatility as a guitarist.

The ABB closed out 1970 at the Warehouse  in New Orleans with a spirited New Years Eve concert. The year had ripened the band into a nationally prominent group, cemented by the recent release of their second album, Idlewild South.

With only a brief holiday respite. Discovery Incorporated was bringing the Brothers back to Atlanta for a sold-out concert at the Municipal Auditorium on Jan. 16. The evening was cold and crisp. The expectant crowd packed into the “old barn” for a night of hot music. The band had recently retained Carlo Sound out of Nashville to tour with them and the difference in the acoustic quality was astounding. ,

The Hampton Grease Band opened the show for the Brothers with their unique jazz-rock style. Over the years, this group had created a solid following in the Atlanta area and they would soon cut their own album and go on to play Bill Graham’s Fillmore East.

Around 9:30 p.m. the Brothers took the stage. The park days appeared to be over — the ABB had finally hit the big time. Duane stepped to the mike to wish everyone happy New Year the band was glad to be back where it all started playing for their first real fans again. There were those in attendance who were bitter, complaining about having to pay up to $5 for the sounds that had been given away free to them in the “Piedmont green” amphitheater.

But then Duane started to sweep into the elegant opening bars of “Statesboro Blues,” the music perfectly amplified and separated by the expertise of Carlo Sound…Frank Hughes’ magical light show flicked on…the elevated mirror ball sending rays spangling from the ceiling…matches were being struck…the air redolent with that old intimate smell. Suddenly, it didn’t matter — “Hell, yeah! Play all night!”

The familiar music was all around us  “Midnight Rider,” “Elizabeth Reed,” “Don’t Want You No More.” “Not My Cross To Bear,” rolling into something we hadn’t heard before. “Hotlanta,” an ABB original, was m being played appassionato — for the first time. Duane dedicated it to all of us.

The band finished the concert with a tortuous “Whipping Post” and left the stage.  But the crowd wasn’t about to let them go.  Stomping, hollering and whistling, they had  to hear it again — once more — for old times sake. The Brothers, coaxed back, took thcir positions again. Duane, his long white shirt wet with sweat, walked to the microphone. “Here’s one we all have a lot of fun with,” he said.

And as those two haunting guitar melodies floated in counterpoint over the kettle drums in “Mountain Jam,” the air seemed to incandesce and catch fire — emitting its own energy. Thousands of clapping hands were keeping time as that lilting musical koan built its magical elevations in the night. Musician Tony Glover has said that “… anybody who heard [Duane] on a good night knows how close he could come to going right through the roof of the sky.” This was one of those nights.

By now the big music promoters were starting to extend their markets into the Atlanta area, supplanting the local guild. That spring, a New York entrepreneur by the name of Howard Stein started booking rock bands here. His logo was a face caricature of Jean Harlow which he used in all his ads. Rolling Stone and The New York Times published articles about the imminent “death of Atlanta’s hip Strip” due to biker gang/hippie feuds, rip-offs and heroin trafficking. Even the Bird was lamenting these symptoms. However, in April the community rallied with the People’s Fair in the Park featuring Horse Roscoe, The Stump Brothers, Alex Taylor and Wet Willie.

The free concerts in Piedmont Park came to a somber end, however, on Independence Day, 1971. Any hopes of resurrecting the music were squashed in the aftermath of a series of shootings that began later that month and continued. The specter of Altamont, Calif. seemed to loom grotesquely over the “Piedmont green.”

But while there wasn’t much happening musically in the park, there were big things shaking at the ticket venues. Howard Stein was bringing the Allmans back to town for two sold-out concerts at the Municipal Auditorium on July 17. Their Live At The Fillmore East had just been released. Atlantans Ron Currens and Bill Ector attended both performances, and later wrote moving stories describing the day, which appeared in Les Brers magazine.

For most of us in Atlanta, it was the last time we ever saw Duane Allman. Photographer Carter Tomassi was there that day shooting stills for the Bird. His shot of Duane and Berry on the stage door balcony of the auditorium between shows remains a classic.

Running on adrenaline now, the ABB were entering the last leg of the marathon touring nd recording schedule that had begun over two years ago. Their place as one of the premier rock and roll bands in the world was nailed by their triumphant Fillmore album going gold. Tracks were starting to be laid down for their next album, which would be called Eat A Peach. Atlanta artist Flournoy Holmes, who would do the artwork for the cover, remembered talking with Duane that September about the job. He recalls that “Duane had just bought a purple motorcycle and said he wanted me to paint his and Berry’s bikes — after they finished up their tour.”

The tour wound up in mid-October on the East Coast after an intensive western swing, part of which would later be chronicled by Grover Lewis in a tabloid expose in Rolling Stone. Duane stayed in New York for a few weeks, kicking back and relaxing, visiting friends like musician John Hammond and Deering Howe, the band’s first real vacation in two years a time to reap the harvest of their Herculean efforts.

The day before Duane flew back to Macon, he called Grover Sassman, the local Harley-Davidson dealer, to arrange for new tires to be put on his bike, and ordered a new helmet. “When Duane came by to settle up with me,” Sassman recalls, “I remember he climbed on his bike, took the new helmet and cut the chin strap in two. I told him that wasn’t a good idea, but he just smiled and rode off. Duane’s cycle was a Harlcy Davidson Sportster HLCH, I think it was a 1970 model. It was a modified chopper with fork legs. He had bought it second-hand from a local kid. The extended forks increase the distance from the handlebars to the shock absorbers on the front wheels and hurt handling at low speeds. All the manufacturers highly discourage them.”

The late afternoon of Friday, Oct. 29, Duane and roadie Kim Payne rode their bikes over to the “Big House” on Vineville Avenue. In the early days most of the band had lived in this large 1920’s structure perched on the higher elevations of Macon’s Vineville Historic District. That evening everyone was gathering for a surprise birthday party for Oakley’s wife, Linda.

The Halloween atmosphere was festive and upbeat. The band members joked and talked about the new album, a European tour in 1972, and especially about the new music they were composing and arranging. Linda Oakley Miller recollects that Duane was enjoying himself as he carved jack-o-lanterns out of the pumpkins for the kids.

Around 5:30 p.m., Duane said he was going over to his house on Burton Avenue and planned to meet up with everyone later. Waving goodbye, he slipped his helmet on and mounted his motorcycle.

Hillcrest Avenue is a straight stretch of road which runs westward from Pio Nono Avenue in a level grade for about half a mile, where it plunges abruptly down a steep hill. Bartlett Avenue, at the bottom of the incline, leads north to the city’s main rail yards.

And it was here that Duane Allman, traveling westward down Hillcrest that evening, came unexpectedly upon a truck making a partial turn onto Bartlett. Swerving to his left, Duane lost control of the bike and went down, skidding almost 100 feet through the crossroads. The Macon Telegraph reported that Duane had sustained a severe head wound and massive injuries to the torso. He died on the operating table three hours later. He was 24 years old.

The news of Duane’s death spread like a foul specter shrouding across the atmosphere in Atlanta. The bright autumn leaves seemed to pale — the pungent October smells soured in the wake of the tragedy.

Musicians and friends from all over attended the funeral in Macon. Poignant requiems were played, then Jerry Wexler stepped forward to give a moving eulogy. Pausing often to compose himself, he closed by saying, “…Those of us who were privileged to know Duane will remember him from all the studios, backstage dressing rooms, the Downtowners, the Holiday Inns, the Sheratons, the late nights relaxing after the sessions, the whisky and the music talk, playing back cassettes until night gave way to dawn, the meals and the pool games, and fishing in Miami and Long Island, this young beautiful man who we love so dearly but who is not lost to us because we have his music, and the music is imperishable.”

If you enter Rose Hill Cemetery in Macon off of Riverside Drive, you can ramble through its narrow streets — past Eglantine and Soldiers Square to Carnation Ridge. There, you come upon a small terrace midway down a grassy vale. A well-worn path beckons you down a gentle incline to where two of the most frequently visited graves lay overlooking the Ocmulgee River. Here lies Duane Allman, nonpareil of the slide guitar;

Next to him is his “brother,” Berry Oakley — killed in a motorcycle accident within nearly a year, and within two blocks of Duane’s crash.

The area is always well tended, regardless of the season. Flowers, sometimes stuck in long-necked beer bottles, adorn the marble slabs. Faithful reproductions of each musician’s guitar as well as favorite quotes are etched into their expanses. The two angels which used to sit at the foot of each tomb have been stolen, but there is no graffiti scrawled by vandals here as there is in other parts of the cemetery. White oak and hickory overhang a variegated understory. Visitors find this place peaceful and inspirational.

Ninety miles to the north, Piedmont Park sparkles like a green jewel in the dense setting of its metropolis. Twenty years has brought not a few changes here. Fairways have been turned back into meadows and fields. Drought and overuse have taken down some of the older trees.

Music is still played here, but not on the steps or ballfields anymore. Jazz, classical, rap and sometimes blues genres find a venue on the Carter Inaugural Stage. At night the homeless seek refuge under the pavilion.

Looking westward from the steps, the horizon is now monopolized by high-rises pushed up from the Midtown bedrock casting long geometric shadows over the “Strip.”

Sometimes, though, walking through the area, you catch a glimpse through a dusty store window of a faded psychedelic postr maybe the whiff of a discarded essential oil or the faint rustle of a tambourine. And then, like the mysterious fragment of a hologram, the whole era is suddenly reconstituted in all its vibrancy. And you remember that “It was a time of grace,” as George Leonard described it, “…when all in life that had been gray and two-dimensional seemed to explode into unexpected color and depth, rich with new smells and sounds and the imminence of miracles.”

There are places in Piedmont Park where late at night, if you listen closely and the wind is right, there comes howling up sweetly, through the magnolia and oak, a melodious sound, glissading with an unmistakable, ethereal vibrato. And then, it lingers briefly on the fragrant air.

As Richard Albero said in a 1973 Guitar Player tribute, “Wail on, Skydog!” Play all damn night!

Since the death of Duane Allman and that of bassist Berry Oakley in 1972, the Allman Brothers Band has benefited from the expertise of a variety of musicians, such as keyboardist Chuck Leavell, late bassist Lamar Williams and guitarist Les Dudek. The band of today is reminiscent of the old 1971 group in makeup and style. In addition to core players Gregg Allman, Dickey Belts, Jaimo and Butch Trucks, current bassist Alien Woody and guitarist Warren Haynes round the group out.

ABB road manager Kirk West says the band is up for the sold-out, four-night live recording session scheduled for Dec. 28-31 at the historic old Macon Auditorium. Famed recording engineer Tom Dowd will produce the sessions, synthesizing the best cuts into a single CD package, about as long as the Live At The Fillmore album.

West says the sales of the new band’s last two releases have not reflected their success at the box office or the rave reviews left in the wake of their tours. He is optimistic however, that the release of their Macon live set will usher back in the post-Fillmore golden days.

With their expanded repertoire, the band plans to play a mixture of new and old numbers. Who knows, they might even break into “Mountain Jam” if the spirit hits them.

 

9 thoughts on “First There is a Mountain … Creative Loafing on The Allman Brothers Band

  1. i got hip to the allman brothers in late 70 i saw them first with duane and then 4 or 5 months later in ill. soon he was gone . a friend of mine went to florida so i hitchiked with him along the way we went to underground atlanta which made me think of old town in chicago anyway berry had passed by then so we went to rose hill the 45 years that this band has given me all the tragedy the ups and downs still today , to me anyway the best damn band to come out of not on ly the south but the states as well. saw gregg and devon in jan this year and i’m still as eager to listen to their music as i was then god bless you dog

  2. Outstanding! Superbly wrote, almost Note for Note of Duane and the Allman Brothers Band history and Legend.Macon and Atlanta,were the base if the ABB’s formative years,in Georgia.Thanks for the Memories.God Bless Duane and the ABB.

  3. Enjoyed reading this article. I was living in Fayetteville, NC around the time the Allman Brothers Band was starting to break out. We has a similar (if much smaller) scene happening in Fayetteville in the late 60s – early 70s as Atlanta had. Many of my friends back then were aware of the Duane & the Allmans Brothers have seen them at both Atlanta Rock Festival & Love Valley (which I attended). Also the Allman Brothers played Fayetteville twice in that era. The first was in August 1970 at a small indoor rock festival with Kallabash and some other bands that played the Love Valley festival and had Canned Heat as the headliner. Of course the Brothers stole the show (got three encores as the fans literally wouldn’t let them off stage) and by the time a very shaken Canned Heat came on stage they played about three songs before calling it a night as most of the crowd was already leaving. The second show was in Feb 71 at Cumberland County Auditorium in Fayetteville. A local band Lumbee opened the show (btw Lumbee also played Love Valley). This show had a very small crowd as show wasn’t advertised very well. Nevertheless the Allman Brothers didn’t let it affect their playing or how they related to the crowd. At one point toward the end of the show Duane commended to the crowd “There ain’t many of you, but y’all got a lot of heart.” The show itself was a long one that basically previewed ALL of the songs that were going to be recorded at the Fillmore East including Whipping Post & Mountain Jam. Also Berry Oakley did his version of “Hoochie Coochie Man”. I would dare say this performance was best I’ve seen from the Allman Brothers and over the years I’ve seen 30+ show. Anyway just thought I would share it with y’all.

  4. Man ….I’ve been looking for this article. I was a charter member of the blue site but left after dickey got the boot and over the years I’ve reflected on this wonderful piece of writing. I think I first saw it on Hittin the web in 1995? Thanks Ron!
    Take care Brothers and Sisters, KLBazur

  5. My first concert: Allman Bros., Lynyrd Skynyrd, Marshall Tucker Band, and Grinder’s Switch. Atlanta Fulton County Stadium, Saturday June 1, 1974.

  6. Great article but there is no Forsythe Street in Macon. It’s Forsyth. Like the city in Monroe County or the county in which Cumming is located.

  7. Love this article. I lived through many of the stories as I started working in the Peachtree-Seventh St bldg in July, 1966 and became a regular at Piedmont Park. I saw most, if not all, of the Allman Bros shows at the Park and around Atlanta. How do you join this group ??

  8. My grandmother dropped me and my cousin off in Piedmont Park that day while she went shopping. I had no idea what I was in for. Fell in Love with the Allman Brothers and Gregg Allman that very day at age 14. One of the days of my life I wish I could re-live.

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