Sunday, June 14, 2009

June 14: Allman Brothers Band, "Eat A Peach"

Artist: Allman Brothers Band
Album: Eat A Peach
Year: 1972
Label: Polydor

Few bands have suffered great tragedies in both the number and severity that can compare to those suffered by southern rock legends, The Allman Brothers Band. However, it has been proven time and time again that tragedy can lead to amazing creative endeavors. After the sudden death of guitar virtuoso and band founder Duane Allman, The Allman Brothers Band released one of their finest works ever, and continue to tour to this day. Finding a perfect balance between southern style rock and roll and the "jam band" scene, The Allman Brothers Band created some of the most musically stunning, yet relaxing and enjoyable music throughout their career. With a lineup that has seen many different musicians, the mood of the music and the high level of talent has been consistent throughout the past forty years. Having as many albums as they do, it is hard to pick a "best album," yet their 1972 record, Eat A Peach, presents everything that makes the Allman Brothers Band one of the most sensational groups in history.

First off, I feel it necessary to dispel one of the most common myths in music history. Duane Allman was NOT hit and killed by a peach truck. It was, in fact, a flatbed lumber truck that hit Duane and his motorcycle at an intersection in Macon, Georgia on October 29, 1971. What IS true is that Allman Brothers Band bass player, Barry Oakley, would meet a similar fate less than a year later, and only a few blocks from where Duane was killed. The album title, Eat A Peach, actually refers to a comment Duane made a few weeks before his death when he was asked what he was doing to help the revolution. Duane simply replied, "There ain't no revolution, it's evolution, but every time I'm in Georgia, I eat a peach for peace." Eat A Peach furthers the bands' eerie mythology, featuring a second song that was inspired by a tombstone. Having already given the world the stunning jazz instrumental, "In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed," which was inspired by a headstone in the Rose Hill Cemetery, this time around, the band presents "Little Martha," presumably inspired by the tombstone of "Martha Ellis," a twelve year old buried in the same cemetery. Ironically, both Duane and Barry are buried within eyesight of both of these two musical muses. All that being said, Eat A Peach was originally released as a double album, and it combines live performances, as well as the final recordings with Duane and a few post-Duane tracks as well. These studio tracks contain some of the most treasured songs in the Allman Brothers Band catalog, including "Melissa," "Blue Sky," and "Little Martha." Taking these songs, as well as the stunning live tracks, it is clear that the Duane-led Allman Brothers Band were poised to create some of their most amazing work.

Musically, there are few bands that can hold a flame to the overall sound created by the Allman Brothers Band. Beginning with the fantastic guitar and slide guitar playing of Duane, who also contributed to the Derek And The Dominoes classic, "Layla," it is often his playing that takes the songs into the category of "amazing." Duanes' brother, Gregg Allman, is undoubtedly one of the most talented keyboard players that the world has ever seen, and it is he who creates the amazing moods, from bluesy to joyous, that permeate the bands' music. The only other member of the Allman Brothers Band who has been in every lineup is drummer, Butch Trucks. Father of guitarist Derek Trucks (who has played with the Allman Brothers Band since 1999), Butch remains one of the most revered drummers in history for his raw talent and ability to adapt to nearly any style. Though he took a break for a few years in the early 1980's, the percussion work of Jai "Jaimoe" Johanson simply cannot be overlooked. Widely considered to be one of the most talented drummers in history, the dual percussion and dual guitar of the Allman Brothers Band is one of the reasons that their music was so phenomenal. Also lending lead guitar and slide guitar work to Eat A Peach is longtime band member, and fellow guitar legend, Dickey Betts. The duo of Duane and Dickey help to make the music on the album extremely original, and the half hour live jam, "Mountain Jam" highlights just how much talent lived within the pair. To this point, while Duane is usually considered one of the five greatest guitar players ever, both Betts and later band guitarist, Warren Haynes also regularly appear in the top part of "greatest guitarist" lists.

Along with playing a wide array of pianos, keyboards, and organs, Gregg Allman also handles a vast majority of the vocal work for the Allman Brothers Band. On Eat A Peach, some of his most beautiful and spectacular work is featured. Gregg's voice is truly the perfect sound for each and every song that the band plays. From rockin' blues numbers to the gorgeous southern ballads like "Melissa," Gregg's voice blends perfectly with the music. Dickey Betts also makes his first ever appearance on lead vocals as he takes the reins on his own composition, "Blue Sky." Lyrically, the Allman Brothers Band are usually quite straightforward with the themes behind their songs. Cheating lovers and the joy of simply being alive play in stark contrast to one another, yet these two themes dominate a majority of the Allman Brothers Band catalog. However, on Eat A Peach, there also lives the blunt, beautiful, and unsubtle tribute to Duane, written by Gregg, "Ain't Wastin' Time No More." The opening verse says it all, as Gregg laments, "Last Sunday morning, the sunshine felt like rain, week before, they all seemed the same. With the help of God and true friends, I come to realize, I still had two strong legs, and even wings to fly..." The song would become an anthem of a generation, and serve as a fitting tribute to Duane, whilst simultaneously serving as a sign that the band would live on.

Very few bands, perhaps only Pink Floyd, even come close to the amount of "mythology" that is found within the annuls of the Allman Brothers Band. From songs inspired by unknown dead to the passing of the core of the group, the band proves that tragedy both destroys as well as creates. Though the band was still very early in their career, they had already proven that they were one of the most talented bands on earth, and found themselves riding high on the success of their sensational Live At The Fillmore East live album. With the tragic death of Duane Allman in the middle of recording sessions, the band seemed done for, yet managed to turn things around and release a sensational record. Dominated by the awe-inspiring, half hour live jam of "Mountain Jam," Eat A Peach is a true representation of the bands' past, present, and future. Presenting a fitting tribute to Duane, by showcasing his live performances, the final pieces he had written, and postmortem songs in his memory, one can rest assured that Duane was smiling upon its release. Beautiful singing and lyrics, jaw-droppingly spectacular jams, and more talent in one band than has ever been seen before, the Allman Brothers Band's 1972 release, Eat A Peach, still stands tall as one of the greatest moments in music history.

Standout tracks: "Ain't Wastin' Time No More," "Melissa," and "Mountain Jam."

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