By JAMES HEANEY
The road may indeed go on forever for the Allman Brothers Band.
Drummer Butch Trucks says he and his bandmates are having the time of their lives. They’re getting along famously, playing better than ever and have finished work on what Trucks said is “the best recording we’ve made in 30 years.”
The band, marking its 33rd anniversary, makes its annual visit Saturday to Six Flags Darien Lake with no end in sight. Chalk it up to clean living – imagine saying that about what was once one of the most self-destructive bands in rock – and an injection of new talent since the group reunited in 1989.
Dope dealers are out. Personal trainers are in.
Dickey Betts is still out. Warren Haynes is not only back, he’s credited with helping Gregg Allman rediscover his songwriting touch.
And Duane Allman, rest his soul, is never far from the band’s consciousness, but Trucks said 22-year-old slide guitar phenom Derek Trucks – Butch’s nephew, who’s been touring since he was 11 – has better chops.
“Derek is technically a better guitar player than Duane was. But there’s one difference – Duane invented it,” Butch Trucks said of their bluesy Southern rock sound.
Duane Allman, then a hot-shot studio musician, formed the band in 1969. The group built a fan base on the strength of its two initial records and constant touring. The Allmans took off after the 1971 release of “Live at the Fillmore East,” which stands as the band’s seminal recording and one of the best live albums in rock history.
Success was short-lived and bittersweet, however.
Duane died in a motorcycle crash just days after the Fillmore East record went gold. The band soldiered on, releasing the stellar “Eat a Peach,” only to lose bassist Berry Oakley in another motorcycle crash a year later. The group followed up with “Brothers and Sisters,” which produced its only Top 10 hit, “Ramblin’ Man.” The Allmans split up in 1976, regrouped from 1978 and seemingly called it quits for good in 1982.
A reunion tour in 1989 and a retrospective box set led to another reincarnation, and this time they make it stick.
New talent was added, Haynes and Derek Trucks, in particular, and the band has released three solid studio albums and a number of live discs and become a staple on the summer concent scene, attracting both old fans and new.
Perhaps most importantly, band members cleaned up, including Trucks and Allman. The one who didn’t, Betts, was told two years ago he was out until he got help. Betts’ response was to keep drinking and sue his former bandmates.
The band invited Haynes back into the fold, and Trucks said the result is harmony among musicians both on and off the stage.
“This last year has been the most fun I’ve had in 30 years.”
Trucks said the band’s musicianship is better than ever. The original members have improved over time, he said, and the younger players can flat-out play.
In addition, the band has learned to pace itself. It still plays 21/2- to three-hour sets but usually doesn’t tour for more than three or four weeks at a time.
Fans can expect to hear four or five new songs at Darien Lake. The set list varies from show to show, with the band playing 15 to 18 songs from the 40 to 50 it rehearsed for the tour.
“Every night is different,” Trucks said.
This past winter the band recorded its first studio album since 1994. It’s expected to be released next winter and might be titled “Victory Dance.”
Trucks said Haynes has helped Allman work his way out of his songwriting “funk” and the result was an album that was recorded with remarkable ease. Eleven songs were cut in 10 days.More releases are on the way. Taking a page from the Grateful Dead, the band has started releasing recordings of past live concerts. A 1970 show at American University is the first issue, with additional recordings to be released at least once a year.
Trucks said they recently learned that their former label had surreptitiously recorded hundreds of hours of studio jams and rehearsals back in their heyday in Macon, Ga. The best of that material may also make its way onto disc.
“Every damn thing we did was on tape. There’s a ton of stuff.”