By: Scott McLennan
For the Worcester Telegram & Gazette
10 July 2003
Reinvention is the mother of The Allman Brothers Band. Through its 34-year history the iconic Southern rock ensemble has made room for many “brothers” as death, drug abuse and degeneration besot the Allmans with a frequency that would have permanently crippled most.
The 2003 edition of The Allman Brothers Band is a remarkable version of the group, which now consists of original member, singer and organ player Gregg Allman, drummers Butch Trucks and Jaimoe combined with “younger brothers” guitarists Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks (Butch’s nephew), bass player Oteil Burbridge and percussion player Marc Quinones.
What makes this lineup so remarkable rests in the work heard on “Hittin’ The Note,” The Allman Brothers Band’s first studio recording since 1994’s “Where It All Begins.” “Hittin’ the Note” is a classic Allman Brothers recording, full of creative peaks and signature style.
Allman and Haynes ably sell their bluesy songcraft to the modern world; the monstrous rhythm section reminds one and all that mechanized beat keepers will never give songs the sort of soul that humans can; and the tandem guitar work of Haynes and Trucks boasts a level of communication reminiscent of the interplay heard when Duane Allman and Dickey Betts were the ensemble’s ax slingers (brother Duane perished in a 1971 motorcycle crash, and the band fired charter member Betts in 2000).
While a gem from the studio has been long in the making, the band has sustained itself through live work. This year is no exception, as the Allmans’ annual summer tour passes through The Tweeter Center in Mansfield on Sunday. Susan Tedeschi, the Norwell-bred guitar goddess and wife of Derek Trucks, is also on the bill.
External and internal tensions have long run through The Allman Brothers Band. But when it came time to make “Hittin’ the Note,” those tensions seemed to dissolve, according to Burbridge.
“This record was a joy to make. You can hear the vibe and the mood captured on tape,” he said. “You can tell when you hear a record if everyone is on coke. If you listen to `Bitches Brew’ by Miles Davis you don’t have to do heroin to know what it feels like.”
Burbridge came to the Allmans in 1997 when Haynes and bassist Allen Woody left the fold to pursue their work with the band Gov’t Mule. Burbridge, a virtuoso bassist who runs his own group, The Peacemakers, plus plays in Page McConnell’s Vida Blue, said he had little familiarity with the Allmans before becoming a member. He thinks that helped him survive.
“I didn’t have a lot of preconceived notions, so there were no disappointments,” he said. “It was strange that there was so much tension within the band back then. But it was just a fact of life. I think it would have been harder for me if I was someone who idolized the band or had them on a pedestal.”
Haynes, instrumental in the Allmans “comeback” in 1989, returned to the band in 2001, a year after Woody died unexpectedly. The guitarist had previous studio experience with the Allmans and shared some of that history with Burbridge.
“I’d be talking to Marc (Quinones) and Warren during the recording and saying how good it was going, and they said, `You have no idea.’ They said, `What we got done in two weeks used to take two months.’ I got here for the sweet part,” Burbridge said.
“Hittin’ the Note” features a batch of blues- and soul-based tunes penned by Allman and Haynes detailing life on the run and love on the rocks. Covers of Freddy King’s “Woman Across the River” and The Rolling Stones’ “Heart of Stone” underscore the Allmans’ historic lineage, and to ice the cake the band developed “Instrumental Madness,” another long, anthemic instrumental to take its place alongside “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed,” “High Falls” and “Jessica.”
When a band has such classic albums as “The Allman Brothers Band,” “Idlewild South,” “At the Fillmore East” and “Eat a Peach” in its repertoire, it’s hard to imagine anything new coming along to earn a whole lot of respect. But “Hittin’ the Note” deserves that respect, and, in turn, shows the Allmans riding on more than nostalgia.
“The new record has shaken up the live thing. We basically had three sets we would rotate on the road. The people following us, after three nights, they saw it all. Now fans are happy that new songs are rotating in and out of the set and things are changing,” Burbridge said.
In March, the Allmans played 50 different songs during a 13-show run at The Beacon Theater in New York City, going so far as to break out a version of “Layla” originally done by Derek and The Dominos, the supergroup that featured Duane Allman and Eric Clapton.
Later this year the Rock and Roll Hall of Famers will release their first DVD, which is set to draw mainly from performances at the Beacon Theater.
“There’s good chemistry in this band,” Burbridge said. “You can’t plan or predict chemistry. How many times have you seen an all-star jam full of great players that just don’t go anywhere? There’s no predicting what makes good chemistry, so we know we’re real blessed this time.”
Scott McLennan can be reached at email@example.com