By: Thom Smith
Palm Beach Post
The Allman Brothers Band has always been about family. From the communal Big House during the pre-fame days in Macon, Ga., to the present of comfortable living and noodling grandchildren, good times and bad, death and divorce, the family has persevered… and thrived.
“I’m having a (expletive) ball,” drummer Butch Trucks said after the band’s show Friday at Coral Sky Amphitheatre. Fun, despite former guitarist Dickey Betts, who was fired two years ago for too many chemical problems. Call it tough love or modern reality, the parting has not been sweet, but band manager Burt Holman said Betts’ suit for illegal termination should be resolved soon. Nevertheless, observers say both the Allmans and Betts sound better now that they’re apart.
Betts’ signature songs were missing, but the band has plenty more, plus fresh numbers from the new album Victory Dance due in January. The title comes from a lyric in a new Gregg Allman tune, Old Before My Time. The band also played a new instrumental, so new it doesn’t have a name. On the set list, it’s just “New Instrumental” until they choose from such possibilities as Table 21 or Cornbread and Cocaine.
The band has lost members to death and attrition, and although its original members might be AARP age, the music keeps coming, thanks in large part to the newer members, like guitarists Warren Haynes and Trucks’ nephew Derek, whose slide work conjures up eerie memories.
After Duane’s death, Gregg never allowed anyone to take up position next to his Hammond organ… until this tour. Derek is not disappointing.
Family, in one form or another, attends every show. Since Palm Beach is Butch’s home, Friday was his night. Wife/blossoming artist Melinda was only minutes off a plane from a gallery show in New York. Two daughters were there, one from Jacksonville with Butch’s first grandson, age seven months. They were joining the band for the southern leg — Clearwater, Daytona, Savannah.
Among the Palm Beach friends were Ashley and Brad Deflin. She knows the lyrics to every song on the new album. He runs Lehman Brothers’ Palm Beach office and spent several days on the bus during the band’s Midwest leg in late June.
“I saw a lot of the country from the bus,” he said. “The guys in the band just slept. They’ve seen it before.”
The family is spirit and blood, no better exemplified than by the solitary figure in the wheelchair clapping and tapping behind the bandstand. Tom Dowd, himself a rock ‘n’ roll legend, never sang, never played a guitar, never wrote a song. But his production work turned performers into stars and stars into legends: Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, Diana Ross, John Coltrane, Eric Clapton and Rod Stewart. He made the Allmans’ Live at Fillmore East one of rock’s best.
As band members took breaks during long jams, they visited Dowd, paying homage. Derek Trucks sat at his feet, asking advice.
“How was that one?” Gregg implored after an intense organ solo.
“I just can’t get over it,” Dowd said, ignoring the oxygen tubes in his nostrils. “They’ve been off three weeks and they come in here with no rehearsal and sound this great. Everyone knows instinctively what the others are doing.”
Sort of like family.
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