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Author: Subject: Standing on the Shoulders of Giants: Berry, Lamar & Woody

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  posted on 3/18/2009 at 05:56 PM

Relix Magazine, April/May 2009

Standing on the Shoulders of Giants: Berry, Lamar & Woody
by Oteil Burbridge

It's been a real honor, pleasure, and challenge to hold down the low end for the Allman Brothers Band for the last 11 years. Fortunately I had the rock-like shoulders of Berry Oakley, Lamar Williams, and Allen Woody to stand on. They were each so different from each other but they all possessed that combination of strengths that you need to be an improvisational musician. First, you need physical command of your particular instrument. Secondly, you need command of the harmonic and rhythmic traditions that you are dealing with, be it gospel, blues, jazz, bluegrass etc...Third, you need a strong sense of melody which is the beginning of composition, which is the beginning of improvisation. Most importantly though, is that personal fearlessness and humility that allows a musician to embrace his own uniqueness, to be himself in front of an audience, to reveal their true spirit. Most are lucky just to get just the first two.

Berry Oakley was a composer, not just a bassist. Listen to the bass lines he crafted in songs like "Stand Back," "Don't Keep Me Wondering," "Leave My Blues At Home," "Every Hungry Woman," "Melissa." These are not just "bass grooves;" they are melodies that provide a groove as well as a counterpoint to the vocal melody. Like you see with McCartney and Family Man, it's not even the same song if you change the bass line. Berry's sense of melody and composition gave him the ability to apply the same concept to improvising. Berry Oakley was also a guitarist so he carried that mindset with him in his approach to the bass. In the spirit of the times he refused to accept the rules and traditional boundaries of the bassist's role in music, and often departed from the normal path during the solos and jams. As Duane and Dickey developed their melodic themes in their solos Berry was listening and responding with an equally spontaneous counter melody. They were like a flock of birds or a school of fish in the improvisations. Berry is the Book of Genesis for all bassists who want to learn about what it means to play bass in the ABB.

Lamar came more from an R&B and jazz background but yet he still played with a pick in the ABB, with the exception of "Pony Boy" which he played on upright bass. He had that same great command of his instrument, understanding of rhythm and harmony, and sense of melody. Songs like "Come and Go Blues," "Jessica," "Southbound," and "Can't Lose What You Never Had" are testament to this. He tended to stick to the groove in long solos more than Berry. Butch says that Berry was more like a third guitarist, but of Lamar he states, "When Lamar showed up, he was always at home, and you could count on him to be there. That freed me up to go away for awhile, and play what I wanted. I think it gave both of us more freedom on the drums, and allowed us to create more." He also added a jazz feel sometimes like you hear in songs like "High Falls" with its pronounced Latin jazz flavor. Some of Lamar's more adventurous work can really best be heard in Sea Level, a side band that he was in with Jaimoe and Chuck Leavell. The important thing here is that Lamar played with confidence and command in the face of filling some extremely big shoes, giving much needed stability in a very trying time, and all without being a mere copy of Oakley.

Woody shared the same daunting task that Lamar did but times two. (I don't want to discount David Goldflies who is a consummate bassist, but all of the pre-Allen Woody ABB songs that live on in ABB live shows today come from Berry and Lamar). Woody was such a force of nature that there was never any question that he would be a copy of his predecessors. God truly shattered the mold when he made Allen Woody. He has such heaping helpings of all those necessary qualities that I mentioned above. His personality was so much bigger than real life and that was truly reflected in his playing. He knew that on the one hand you had to be true to Berry and Lamar but that you have to put your own stamp on things or else its not really improvising, not really composing. Like Lamar, most of my favorite work of Woody's is actually with Gov't Mule. He was actually the hardest one for me to ever try to "copy yet make my own" when I had the pleasure of playing with Gov't Mule. Technically I could do it, but the attitude...well if you knew Woody personally then you would know that it's impossible to even get close .Woody's spirit was so strong that you realize there's a gaping hole bigger than you could have ever imagined after he was gone. If you doubt me then please direct your attention to exhibit A, the first 15 seconds of Gov't Mule's "Blind Man in the Dark." The defense rests.

If I had to pick one word to describe the dominant feature of their roles in the ABB, Berry's would be "revolution" for the way he refused to be bound by the conventional rules of bass, Lamar's would be "foundation" for the rock like musical stability that he provided when the band so desperately needed it in the wake of Duane and Berry's deaths, and Woody's would be "spirit" for the enormous injection of spirit that he gave the ABB when they needed it so badly to comeback after many years off. They were all complete musicians to me. They merged technique and a vast knowledge of their traditions and imbued it with their huge spirits. The proof of the size of their spirits is in the fact that 40 years later I am blessed to pay tribute to them nightly on stage. It's all very humbling.




[Edited on 3/18/2009 by Hophead]

 

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  posted on 3/18/2009 at 06:02 PM
Fantastic. Thanks, HopHead.

 

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  posted on 3/18/2009 at 06:02 PM
Always great to hear stuff like this from the band members. I wish that there was a thread on this forum where they could all drop gems like this on an on-going basis.

Thanks for the post, Ron!

 

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  posted on 3/18/2009 at 06:07 PM
Cool!

Thanks for posting this, Ron.

 

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  posted on 3/18/2009 at 06:09 PM
What a beautiful spirit and classy guy Oteil is.

The ABB is so blessed to have him, like those before him....

 

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  posted on 3/18/2009 at 07:07 PM
Oteil Burbridge is the John Candy of music ... proof that nice guys don't alway finish last .
 

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  posted on 3/18/2009 at 08:29 PM
He left out Dave Goldflies...

 

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  posted on 3/18/2009 at 08:40 PM
Thanks Hop ... Loved it....

 

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  posted on 3/18/2009 at 08:47 PM
I love listening to anything Otiel says, reading anything he writes, and hearing anything he plays. Thank you...

 

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  posted on 3/18/2009 at 09:13 PM
Wow. Post Of The Day. What an awesome read. Oteil deserves a lot of credit for that one. He nailed it and is probably the only one who could. Thank you Oteil. Here's to see you and the band in two months.

 

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  posted on 3/18/2009 at 09:52 PM
quote:
He left out Dave Goldflies...


He mentioned him in a complimentary way, though....

 

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  posted on 3/18/2009 at 09:54 PM
quote:
quote:
He left out Dave Goldflies...


He mentioned him in a complimentary way, though....


Indeed.

 

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  posted on 3/18/2009 at 10:11 PM
one of the great joys of my life is calling Otiel a friend...

a massive talent and a class act..

Hophead, you are a treasure here

 

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  posted on 3/18/2009 at 10:51 PM
Thank you. Anyone know how Oteil's show went tonight? I think Oteil is a great bass player. I love how he just digs in an stays focused and plays his a** off.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Hey HopHead, did you transcribe that? I wish Relix would go completely digital.

[Edited on 3/19/2009 by Angelemerald]

 

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  posted on 3/18/2009 at 10:56 PM
The ABB is very lucky to be graced with the talent of Oteil. His playing makes me smile every time.
 

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  posted on 3/18/2009 at 11:33 PM
Thank you for the read

 

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  posted on 3/18/2009 at 11:52 PM
Yes, I second the fact that Oteil is one of the nice guys in the business. And, if you really want to see him roll, see the Peacemakers.

 

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  posted on 3/19/2009 at 12:49 AM

Anyone who is an Oteil Burbridge fan owes it to himself or herself to watch the DVD of the Aquarium Rescue Unit live from Planet Hophead Volume 1. Go to the Trades forum and ISO. This is one of the Great Bands that has ever played.

 

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  posted on 3/19/2009 at 06:49 AM
Ron I replied (#2!) to the thread in the forum for the Planet Hophead DVD. I can't believe the offer was still there! Thanks again, my friend!

 

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  posted on 3/19/2009 at 08:39 AM
quote:
one of the great joys of my life is calling Otiel a friend...

a massive talent and a class act..

Hophead, you are a treasure here


 

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  posted on 3/19/2009 at 08:46 AM
much appreciated.

 

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  posted on 3/19/2009 at 09:25 AM
Thanks for posting that piece, Ron. It picked me up tremendously. Oteil is one of the finest human beings I have had the pleasure of being acquainted with. He brings nothing but joy, whether it is from playing his instrument, or in conversation. The world needs more people like Oteil.

 

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  posted on 3/19/2009 at 09:34 AM
Fantastic read!

 

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  posted on 3/19/2009 at 09:43 AM
That was great.

Glad he acknowledged all eras.

Very cool.

 

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  posted on 3/19/2009 at 10:32 AM
The band (and us!) is so blessed to have Otiel Burbridge where he is. Truly the right man to continue after Woody. To keep the bar moving upward. Obviously a very bright soul. Someone worth knowing. Beautiful article.

Standing on the Shoulders of Giants. My heart is glad Bro. Bill got a chance to check the view.

 
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