ABB: A tough call between At Fillmore East (1971) and Eat a Peach (1972). Fillmore captured the Brothers in their element -- live -- and at their peak in one of the most celebrated live recordings ever made; the latter contains an extended excerpt from those Fillmore shows as well as Duane Allman's last studio recordings. FYI...the group's most commercially successful release to date was 1973's Brothers and Sisters.
LS: Toss-up between the band's first two records, Pronounced Leh-Nerd Skin-Nerd (1973) and the y'all-pull-up-a-chair Second Helping. Each contains numerous Skynyrd "classics" -- "Gimme Three Steps," "Simple Man" and "Free Bird" on the former, "Sweet Home Alabama," "The Needle and the Spoon" and J.J. Cale's "Call Me The Breeze" on the latter.
ABB: Most jam bands would note the ABB as being influential -- Phish, Dave Matthews Band, Widespread Panic, the Black Crowes, String Cheese Incident, etc. Other longtime Southern acts such as Charlie Daniels, the Marshall Tucker Band and even -- ahem -- Lynyrd Skynyrd have also credited the Brothers as being a major influence.
LS: The band's no-nonsense way of doing things, a legacy that has been picked up by the likes of the Drive-By Truckers, Kid Rock and Metallica. MCA Records estimates Skynyrd has sold over 30 million records over the past twenty-five years, and the band is the number one catalog artist the label has -- including The Who.
ABB: The tragic deaths of original guitarist and co-founder Duane Allman and original bassist Berry Oakley come to mind, but another low moment of a different nature (which also broke "em up at the time) was around 1975 when they became the focus of a federal drug investigation. Gregg Allman ratted out the band's tour manager to save his own ass.
LS: When the band's chartered plane crashed near Gillsburg, MS, in 1977, killing lead singer and songwriter Ronnie Van Zant as well as newish guitarist Steve Gaines and others.
ABB: Duane Allman was one of the most highly regarded guitarists to walk the face of this earth...and Dickey Betts isn't far behind. Oakley was considered a master bassist. Other past and present members have included the gifted Chuck Leavell (keyboardist, circa 1972), bassist Allen Woody (circa 1989) and current guitarists (and freakin' virtuosos!) Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks. Top it all of with one of the greatest white blues singers of all time (i.e., Gregg Allman), two top-notch drummers and this is the stuff legends are made of.
LS: Ronnie Van Zant's soulful howl suggested a real knowledge of the blues (as opposed to, say, Gregg Allman's practiced wail), and Allen Collins and Gary Rossington (and later, Gaines) were first-rate guitarists, if not Duane Allman (who is?). Artemis Pyle's jazz-style drumming and Billy Powell's roadhouse-style keys also contributed to the band's unique sound.
ABB: The Brothers have always been keen on cranking out a lot of traditional blues tunes but Duane, Gregg, Betts and nowadays Haynes have penned plenty of timeless songs, Southern anthems with themes revolving around the hardships of life and love that most anyone can relate to. The Brothers have also penned some subtle gems -- "Blue Sky," "Little Martha" -- that their current tour mates couldn't hope to match.
LS: Ronnie Van Zant's biggest commercial smashes -- "Free Bird," "Sweet Home Alabama" -- get most of the notoriety, but his impassioned takes on gun violence and drug use suggested another side of the raucous rocker, as did tender ballads like "Every Mother's Son" and "All I Can Do Is Write About It."
Great "Live" Act
ABB: At their peak, these architects of the improvisational jam were as tight as the best jazz band and equally imaginative. Compare, for instance, the epic subtle shifts and emotional power of "Mountain Jam" from Fillmore East with the tired macho guitar wankery of "Free Bird," and you'll hear why it's the Allman Brothers who are remembered, rightly so, as the great live band.
LS: "What song is it you wanna hear?" As the band's 1976 double-disc set One More From the Road proved, the band could hold their own with anybody as a live act, famously upstaging headliners The Who when the bands played some shows together. (Unfortunately, it's also the same disc that caused the aforementioned yahoos to chant "Free Bird" in the first place.)
Prospects for the future
ABB: Haynes and Derek Trucks have definitely re-stoked the fire and there are plenty more offspring to continue the legacy -- Berry Oakley, Jr. is one talented SOB, and though Elijah Blue Allman -- Gregg's son with Cher -- is more into the goth/industrial stuff at the moment, there's still hope. Just last year they released their first studio album in nine years, Hittin' the Note, which proved to be a truly transitional feat as it was the first ever without Betts.
LS: "Free Bird!"
ABB: Misconception No. 1 is that the Allman Brothers are just another noodly jam band (see "live act" entry). No. 2 is that guitarist Derek Trucks is Duane's nephew. Nope, Derek is in fact the nephew of original drummer Butch Trucks, who is still in the band.
LS: That the group was a bunch of knuckle-dragging rednecks who just crawled out of a swamp and strapped on guitars. Sporting songs about handgun violence ("Saturday Night Special"), the effects of drug and drink abuse ("That Smell" "Needle and the Spoon"), racism ("The Ballad of Curtis Loew") and more, the band had lyrical heft, too.
Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Allman Brothers Band will perform at Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre on Saturday. Call Ticketmaster at 704-522-6500 for more details.