Southern Rock’s manifesto is like no other rock album. The Allman Brothers Band, released in November 1969, carries a hard sonic power absent from its closest temporal and spiritual brother, the Band’s Music from Big Pink (1968), and tight, sharp-cornered riffing missing from the work of the Grateful Dead, who the Allmans resembled in their two-drummer, double guitar form and in their tendency to stretch out in live performance. Mostly, though, the group had the brothers themselves: Duane, a guitar sharpshooter whose session work had honed his chops — including a wicked slide technique — to a razor’s edge; and Gregg, whose organ playing and lyric writing demonstrated a finesse far beyond his 21 years, and whose voice was a soulful, ragged howl coming from a place of honest truth. In an era when the integrity of white blues bands was, rightfully, beginning to be questioned, along with the plantation politics of the music industry, no one, not even Lester Bangs, argued with the Allman Brothers Band’s authenticity or the singular chords they struck, as they effortlessly crossed over into country and jazz, articulating a maturing musical vision for the American South. That they were an integrated band was interesting (in 1969 much of Georgia, the Allman’s home base, still segregated its schools), but it was what underpinned that fact that made their music ascend: a fascination with next steps, set against a background of a changing rock vocabulary, so that every member of the band was important. While Duane and Gregg receive much of the attention as the band’s geniuses (and they were), guitarist Dickey Betts’s influence on the band, particularly his use of the major pentatonic scale, went a long way towards defining the Southern Rock sound, while the rhythm section of Berry Oakley, Jai Johanny Johanson, and Butch Trucks provided a propulsive force but also a lithe one, booty shaking, more akin to what Carlos Santana was putting together on the west coast than anything coming out of the blues or country scenes of the time.
Paraphrasing the Rolling Stone Record Guide‘s review of the Allman’s Live at Fillmore East (1971), even when the band went long form, when they jammed, there weren’t any wasted notes. At a scant 33 minutes, the Allmans’ first album is similarly lean, a killer hard rock set that proved to be less of a template than an opening salvo (1970’s Idlewild South shows voracious growth, as does 1972’s Eat a Peach, Duane’s death notwithstanding). While “Dreams” and “Whipping Post” are the album’s jaw-dropping closers, this is a record with no filler whatsoever. “Every Hungry Woman” is a favorite, metal crunch up against slide guitar sirens, organ moans, and an epic swamp beast of a riff. The dueling guitars in the solo section say more in their few seconds than many bands say across a career, and Gregg’s roar channels some deep beast that must’ve drunk from the same watering hold as Ray Charles and Charley Patton. Inimitable.
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