Can a band develop such a strong personality that its character remains even when core members are replaced? To put it another way, can the Allman Brothers Band still sound like it should when it contains no brothers named Allman?
Those were the questions when an alumni group named the Brothers celebrated the ABB’s 50th anniversary at Madison Square Garden on March 10, 2020. This video answers both questions with a “yes.”
It’s interesting how the band’s non-original members reshape the ABB sound, but it’s far more interesting how the ABB sound reshapes the playing of those new members. Guitarist-singer Warren Haynes plays differently than he does with his own band Gov’t Mule. Fellow guitar soloist Derek Trucks plays differently than he does with the Tedeschi Trucks Band. Bassist Oteil Burbridge plays differently than he does with the Dead & Company. It’s not just that the setlist includes 21 songs from the ABB’s canonical period of 1969-1973 (and only three songs from the later years). It’s that the ABB had a particular way of emphasizing melody within a rootsy blues format — and all the participants adopt that approach for this concert.
Whether they’re articulating the familiar themes and riffs from those songs or improvising new variations, they always manage to emphasize blues harmony, blues phrasing and the kind of springing melodies that stick in the ear. That’s not an easy balance to pull off, but these musicians do it again and again. They have the training for it.
On March 10, 2020, the Brothers gathered at Madison Square Garden to celebrate the 50-year legacy of the Allman Brothers Band.
The last show that the Allman Brothers Band played under that name was on October 28, 2014 at the Beacon Theatre in Manhattan. The lineup that night was Haynes, Trucks, Burbridge, percussionist Marc Quinones, singer-keyboardist Gregg Allman, drummer Butch Trucks and drummer Jai Johanny “Jaimoe” Johanson. In 2017, Allman died of liver cancer and Butch Trucks by suicide. But the five living members from that night reunited as the Brothers this year at Madison Square Garden. Allman was replaced on organ by Reese Wynans (the keyboardist in founding guitarist Duane Allman’s pre-Gregg band) and Butch by his nephew Duane Trucks (Widespread Panic’s drummer and Derek’s brother).
Besides Jahanson, the only other living original ABB member is Dickey Betts. He was invited to this show but declined, citing scheduling conflicts. Betts has been feuding with his ex-bandmates ever since he was fired in 2000, yet his presence was still felt. The show includes five Betts compositions, including the evening’s high point, “Jessica.”
After the ninth song of the night, Haynes welcomes Chuck Leavell to the stage. The pianist has played with the Rolling Stones for 37 years, far longer than the three years (1973-76) he played with the ABB, but he made crucial contributions to the latter band’s recovery from Duane Allman’s 1971 motorcycle death. He revisits those overlooked days when the ABB was a two- keyboard band rather than a two-guitar band by engaging with Wynans on the gospel flavors of “Soulshine” and with Derek on the jazzy digressions during an 18-minute medley of “Mountain Jam” and “Blue Sky.”
This “50th Anniversary” arrived a year late. The founding core of the band held their first rehearsal on March 26, 1969, and they released their self-titled debut album on November 4, 1969. But the phrase “51st Anniversary” doesn’t have quite the same ring to it. The show emphasizes those beginnings from a half-century ago.
“The Allman Brothers Band” album was an astonishing opening move, announcing an unprecedented mix of blues and melody, flavored with some jazz and country.
The evening opens with the first two songs on that debut release (a medley of “Don’t Want You No More” and “It’s Not My Cross to Bear”) and ends with the album’s final song, “Whipping Post.” In between, the band plays the record’s four other songs. That album was an astonishing opening move, announcing an unprecedented mix of blues and melody, flavored with some jazz and country. It created a template that’s still attracting gifted musicians 50 years later and still reshaping the way they play.