By Gareth Peard
For: The Times Leader
Offering up a few minutes to talk on his day off in Chicago, a buoyant Oteil Burbridge thought it important to end the conversation with a suggestive plea. “I’d like to add to all the fans to go buy a Howlin’ Wolf record,” Burbridge said. Had the broad-shouldered city’s antiquity taken hold of Burbridge on his short visit? Not quite.
“Because it’s Howlin’ Wolf,” he added. “I think Gregg’s (Allman) got about 12. If it wasn’t for Muddy Waters, Sun House, and Howlin’ Wolf, you probably wouldn’t have any Allman Brothers.”
Now going on seven years as ABB bassist, Burbridge has already savored more than twice the amount of history than the band’s founding member Duane Allman and original bassist Berry Oakley. Both were killed in separate motorcycle accidents tragically as the Allman Brothers Band was beginning to stir the southern rock scene in the early 1970s.
“I think I was four when they started the band,” the 38- year-old Burbridge said of brothers Duane and Gregg’s assemblage in 1969. “They’ve been doing it a long time, and it’s always great to be a part of something that has a tradition like that, but that also is still growing and changing.”
Burbridge originated as bassist for Col. Bruce Hampton’s now defunct Aquarium Rescue Unit, and now occasionally devotes his time to Page McConnell’s Vida Blue and his own band, Oteil and the Peacemakers.
Throughout the past six years, the Allman Brothers Band has been able to weave through scheduling conflicts revolving around about a dozen other side-projects between the group’s seven members.
“We’re always trying to keep moving forward, keep it fresh, stay in the moment. If something different happens we try to go along with it, you know, jam-out,” Burbridge philosophized, relating ABB performances to life off-stage. “It’s great, like participating in living history.”
The group’s first studio album in nearly a decade, “Hittin’ The Note,” released earlier this year, has added yet another segment to the Allman Brothers Band’s storied and bumpy road.
“It seems like everybody’s really digging it. I notice people singing along with the words now. We do at least four songs from the new album every night,” Burbridge said.
In addition, on any given night the band shuffles through material from throughout its vast archive, 34 years in the making.
“Definitely there’s a lot of eras to go through. There’s a lot of stuff that’s been around this long. Not that it’s not good, but the growth has really stopped, and it’s not necessary. BB King’s done the same show probably for 20 years and it’s great.
” I think it’s the crowd too,” Burbridge said of what separates bands like the Allman Brothers from the likes of King. “I think because people follow the bands from night to night; when BB King goes on tour, he doesn’t have the same crowd every night like The Dead do.
“But you know,” Burbridge chuckled. “When they (ABB) started out they used to do the same set for a year, when Duane and Berry were in the band.”