By: Timothy Flynn
For: The Flint Journal
As bass player in the Allman Brothers Band, Oteil Burbridge has never found it difficult to keep busy. The prolific musician, who joined the group in 1997, is also a founding member of jazz-rockers Aquarium Rescue Unit and Oteil and the Peacemakers.
But while Burbridge enjoyed the musical variety those concurrent projects brought him, he soon found it was just important to know when to say, “no.”
“I’ve really tried to cut it down,” he said of his many projects. “One year I played in six different bands, and it really wore me out. So now I try to pare it down. I’ve gotta have some time at home.
“I was tired — that’s what the effect was. If you overextend yourself, you don’t have as much to offer. I don’t think any of the groups suffered, but I did.”
He said he’s found a good balance these days, concentrating on the Allmans and a new project, an all-purpose power trio with Grateful Dead drummer Bill Kreutzmann and guitarist Scott Murawski, titled KBM. With just two bands vying for his time, Burbridge finds it much easier to manage his schedule these days.
“We’re only doing 24 dates with the Allman Brothers this year,” he said, “so I don’t really have to work around it. But normally that would be the case.”
At the moment, he’s concentrating on the Allmans, who will make a stop at DTE Energy Music Theatre on Wednesday. Although it’s been a few years since the band recorded any new material, Burbridge said fans can expect to hear some new tunes mixed in with classics like “Ramblin’ Man” and “Jessica.”
“We’ve gotta do it for ourselves first,” he said of the new music the band works up at sound check and often integrates into its show. “We’re always trying to mix it up. It happens organically. We don’t say, ‘We’re gonna do 10 new songs.’ We just kind of let it happen.”
The bassist said the group finds it easy to write these days, due in part to the relatively stable lineup the band has maintained over the past few years. The group has consistently dealt with a rotating lineup, beginning with the deaths of original members Duane Allman and Berry Oakley during its early-’70s heyday.
“This has probably been the longest the lineup’s stayed put,” Burbridge said, “and you can tell on stage. Then you can start evolving as musicians.
“But things have evolved all the time since I’ve been in the band. I’ve played with Dickie Betts and Jack Pearson and Warren Haynes. That’s three different guitarists. But even if the lineup stays the same, it evolves because people change. And the last two years have been fantastic.”
The band recently canceled some shows while founding member and keyboardist Gregg Allman recovered from treatment for hepatitis C. But Burbridge said Allman is “doing fantastic” and will be on board for Wednesday’s show and the rest of the tour. Next, the band will turn its attention to a series of 40th anniversary celebrations planned for 2009.
“A lot of cool stuff happens every year, but this is gonna be through the roof,” Burbridge said of next year’s shows. “We have some real big stuff planned. It’s gonna be spectacular.
“These things are always changing up until the last minute, and I don’t wanna put it out there in the rumor mill and curse it. But I can tell you this: It’s gonna be epic.”