Thursday, January 9, 2014

Warren and Derek Split the Allman Brothers - End of the Line?

There is an end to everything, to good things as well…
-          Geoffrey Chaucer, 1374

Oh, when I think about the old days,
Lord, it sends chills up and down my spine,
Yeah life ain't what it seems, on the boulevard of broken dreams,
Guess I opened my eyes in the nick of time,
'Cause it sure felt like the end of the line…
-          Gregg Allman, 1991

The Allman Brothers Band has been through a lot in 45 years.  Founding guitarist and leading light Duane Allman died in a motorcycle crash in 1971, but the band continued on.   Bassist Berry Oakley died a year and two weeks later, and still the band continued.  The band broke up [for two years] in 1976 after Gregg Allman testified against one of the band’s roadies in a federal drug trial.  The band broke up again in 1982 [this time for seven years] rather than make crappy music for Arista Records.  The group endured Gregg Allman’s myriad substance abuse problems and Dickey Betts’ legal woes, but the band played on.  Warren Haynes and Allen Woody left the band in 1997 to concentrate on Gov’t Mule full-time, and still the band soldiered on.  In 2000, the band fired Dickey Betts, and again the band endured.  The Allman Brothers Band survived many things that would probably kill other bands, but last night came news of what many of us have been dreading since 2000.  Guitarists Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks announced in a joint statement that they will be leaving the band at the end of 2014 to concentrate on their own musical endeavors [Gov’t Mule and the Tedeschi Trucks Band, respectively].  Both men have young families with whom they want to spend more time.

Warren Haynes is more than just a “guitar player” for the Allman Brothers.  He’s the musical director – for the last album Hittin’ the Note he was the main songwriter and the album’s producer.  He writes the band’s setlists, all of which are subject to Gregg’s approval.  He’s the guy who interacts with the audience the most – he’s the “front man.”  Derek Trucks is also more than just a “guitar player.”  For those of us who never saw Duane Allman, Derek is the one guitar player who channels Duane Allman’s musical soul.  It is no accident that Derek occupies the same area of the stage once held down by Duane.  The inclusion of Warren and Derek allowed the band to expand the band’s on-stage repertoire in ways that even the original band never did.  During the Duane/Berry years, the band played the same setlist every night.  That practice continued until Warren’s first stint in the band [1989-97].  After the Seven Turns tour [1990] the band began to play rotating setlists.  A given setlist would be played once every two or three days.  When Warren came back after Dickey Betts’ firing the band started the practice of never repeating a setlist.  For example, as I type this I have in front of me the three shows the band played at Atlanta’s Fox Theatre in 2004.  In all, fifty one different songs were played over those three nights.  The only song played on all three nights was Dreams.

In the back of my mind, I knew that someday this day would come.  Nothing lasts forever, as much as we would like some of them to.  The Allman Brothers Band was Duane Allman’s baby.  He started the band in 1969.  This year’s Beacon Theatre run will mark 45 years since Duane started the band.  I’m sure back in 1969 none of the band members gave a second thought to this band enduring into the 21st Century.  But the remaining original members aren’t young men anymore.  Gregg Allman and Butch Trucks are both 66; Jaimoe will be 70 this year.  Once a band that played over 200 shows a year, the Allman Brothers limit themselves to the annual Beacon Theatre run [every March], the Wanee Festival, the Peach Festival, and a month of shows in late summer/early fall.  The band hasn’t released a studio album since Hittin’ the Note [2003].  This fact is a sore spot for many on the band’s fan page on the Web.

Do I regret not having seen this line-up?  No.  Since 2003 the band has documented almost 300 shows [278 to be precise], most of which are available for sale.  I haven’t seen them, but through the magic of these official bootlegs I sure did hear them, and I loved what I heard.  At this point in my life, that’s good enough.  I got my live ABB fix during the 1990s, when Warren and Dickey Betts was the guitar duo and Allen Woody played the bass.  That’s how I prefer to remember the band.  When Warren left the band the first time in 1997, it was a body blow for the band, but it was one from which they could recover.  He was followed [note I did not say “replaced”] by Jack Pearson, who in turn was followed by Derek Trucks.  Dickey Betts was still there – he was the band’s musical director and main songwriter despite the band’s surviving namesake still being present.  There was continuity – there was a foundation from which to build.  Warren filled those roles after Dickey was fired.  Above all else, the Allman Brothers Band is a guitar band.  With both Warren and Derek leaving at the same time, what happens next?  Do the old guys want to go through auditions for two guitar players?  Is bassist Otiel Burbridge going to stick around?  I don’t see anybody who can fill those big instrumental shoes.Charles De Gaulle once said the cemeteries of the world are filled with indispensable men.  IMHO, at this stage of the Allman Brothers life, this is what Warren and Derek have become.  If this happened 40 years ago I might be signing a different tune.

I do not see the band recovering from this development.  Even Gregg is concentrating more on a solo career.  The last time I saw him in concert two years ago, half of the songs were Allman Brothers songs.  With that said I think he’s embracing more of his entire recorded legacy rather than just his solo work.  Jaimoe has his Jaimoe's Jasssz Band [a pretty good little band, I might add].  I don’t know what percussionist Marc Quiñones does in his down time, and Butch Trucks doesn’t appear to have his own side gig.

I have been an Allman Brothers fan for my entire adult life.  With all the trials and tribulations this band has endured over the years, by all rights I think they should have been dead and buried long ago.  In his first tenure with the band, Warren Haynes proved he was a fearless improviser who could go toe-to-toe with a legend like Dickey Betts.  The band was a going concern in the 1990s.  When the band looked like it might be consigned to history after the 2000 firing of Dickey Betts, Warren receives and deserves much credit for saving the band.  As the band’s de facto leader, he led the Allman Brothers Band on musical journeys they had never taken.  Derek Trucks brought his empathy for World Music [especially Indian ragas] into the mix, which gave the band a character unthinkable in the days of Duane Allman and Berry Oakley. 

Given that their announcement to leave the band at the end of the year came in the first week of the year, the remaining band members have a year to think about their next move.  My wish is this – that this 45th year of the band be its last.  They deserve to go out on top, in the proverbial “blaze of glory.”  As one of those lucky few bands who can make a legitimate claim to having invented a genre of music, it does them no good to see this band become a mere shell of its former self with the likes of Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Marshall Tucker Band.  Warren and Derek have more than earned their place in Allman Brothers lore, and given they have been pumping life blood into the band for the past 13 years, they have earned the gratitude of Peacheads everywhere.  I think I speak for all Peacheads when I say “thank you Warren and Derek, and best of luck to you.”  So far, the fat lady hasn’t uttered a single note, but she is warming up in the bullpen.  I think the band has finally reached “the end of the line.”