By Spencer Patterson
29 August 2003, the Las Vegas Sun
In the pantheon of rock legends cut down in their prime, Duane Allman rarely gets his due.
It’s not hard to figure out why. The guitarist’s fatal motorcycle accident occurred in October 1971, just months after the deaths of the more prominent trio of Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison.
Anyone who doubts the monumental loss the rock world suffered with Allman’s demise, however, need only listen to the early Allman Brothers document “Beginnings” to get a sense of his immense talent.
The disc — which pairs the Allman Brothers Band’s eponymous 1969 debut album with its follow-up, 1970’s “Idlewild South” — showcases a musician who did more for his instrument by age 24 than many better-known guitarists have done in their lifetimes.
Long before the term “jam band” was invented, Allman demonstrated that blues-based riffs could be stretched and improvised upon at length without becoming the slightest bit self-indulgent. (Check out the 44-plus minute “Mountain Jam” on “Live at Ludlow Garage” for proof.)
Whether contributing searing blues lines (“It’s Not My Cross to Bear”), adding understated slide work (“Don’t Keep Me Wonderin’ “) or playing the part of soloing guitar hero (“Whipping Post”), Allman stands out on virtually all 14 tracks.
His bandmates aren’t exactly slouches, either. Dynamic second guitarist Dickey Betts teams with Allman to give the group its trademark double-lead guitar sound and also contributes two of his best compositions to the disc: “Revival” and the instrumental “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed.”
The band’s rhythm section — bassist Berry Oakley and drummers Butch Trucks and Jai Johanny Johanson (“Jaimoe”) — combine to give the music the fullest, most percussive backbeat this side of Santana.
And Gregg Allman, a late addition to the lineup, infuses the proceedings with his characteristically sinister vocals and haunting organ solos. The disc also includes three of his most enduring songs: “Dreams,” “Whipping Post” and “Midnight Rider.”
Tragically, Duane Allman didn’t live to see the completion of another studio album. Soon after 1971’s “Live at Fillmore East” — the most essential piece in the band’s catalog — turned the Allman Brothers into legitimate superstars, Duane died in Macon, Ga.
Though the band continues to flourish today, led by Gregg Allman and guitar virtuoso Warren Haynes, its brief Duane Allman era remains its most captivating period. Check it out for yourself on “Beginnings,” a bargain two-fer readily available for under $15.
Artist: The Allman Brothers.
Year of release: 1973 (Polygram).
Tracklisting: “The Allman Brothers Band”: “Don’t Want You No More,” “It’s Not My Cross to Bear,” “Black Hearted Woman,” “Trouble No More,” “Every Hungry Woman,” “Dreams,” “Whipping Post.” “Idlewild South”: “Revival,” “Don’t Keep Me Wonderin’,” “Midnight Rider,” “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed,” “Hoochie Cooohie Man,” “Please Call Home,” “Leave My Blues at Home.”
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