When the Allman Brothers Band’s debut album arrived in 1969, it sounded like nothing else – an amalgamation of southern blues, hippie rock and jazz improvisation. But brothers Duane and Gregg had been honing their craft for years before, perfecting this blend of disparate styles. Four albums from Allman Brothers Band Records reveal their road to greatness – through experimentation and detours. Each is making their digital debut.
Allman Joys – Early Allman
This is the brothers’ earliest recordings, dating back to 1966, when Duane and Gregg were fresh out of high school. “Gotta Get Away” is an excellent slice of driving, garage rock, with Duane on distorted guitar, but Gregg is so young, you can’t even tell it’s him. “Oh John,” another original, is kind odd with its strange chord changes and keyboard sounds. It was actually recorded at the legendary Bradley’s Barn! “Street Singer” a Roy Acuff composition, is slow but interesting. “You’ll Learn Someday” a Gregg original, has a decent chorus. But, why “Ol Man River”?
Way before “Bell Bottom Blues,” Gregg wrote “Bell Bottom Britches,” a so-so original. Their cover of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Spoonful” is really good and actually got some radio play. Although the track sounds out of phase. All of a sudden, on “Doctor Fone Bone,” Gregg actually sounds like himself. These tracks were all released in 1973, but have been out of print ever since.
Hourglass – 1967
This early Allman band featured Gregg on organ and vocals and brother Duane on guitar (although you can barely tell he’s there quite often). Also of note is Johnny Sandlin on drums, a frequent collaborator of the Allmans over the years.
The album leads off with “Out of the Night,” not even 2 minutes in length, it’s a decent slice of horn-driven blue-eyed soul – but no Duane on this track at all. “Nothing But Tears” does feature some soloing from Duane, but he sounds handcuffed. “Love Makes the World Go Round” is a decent take on the Deon Jackson song, but the background vocals are kinda cheesy and this cover doesn’t really add anything to the original.
Also on the record is a very early Jackson Browne composition called “Cast Off All My Fears” – Duane has a pretty cool fuzz guitar here. This sounds more like the Beau Brummels or something like that, then real soul. They do Curtis Mayfield’s “I’ve Been Trying” but Gregg is struggling to sound older, and the track sounds forced. “Heartbeat” is tepid, just not passionate. The production is watery and no punch.
Not surprising, the most rockin’ thing on here is a Gregg Allman original, another version of “Gotta Get Away,” this time featuring some searing Duane guitar, a juiced up, and a pounding beat; it’s the best thing on the record. Unfortunately, it’s still not as good as the original cut as the Allman Joys.
Any momentum is soon lost by the banjo-led Del Shannon cover “Silently” – ugh. Then comes “Bells,” with a spoken piece and fazed out guitar – this is just dreadful. What the band lacked was a real solid direction.
Hourglass – Power of Love
We have producer Dallas Smith to blame for the atrocity that was Hourglass’ debut. He was brought back for the followup, Power of Love, but he seems to have given more creative control to the band this time around. The album cover featured testimonials from Neil Young and Stephen
Stills, who were both in Buffalo Springfield at the time.
Things have gelled better in the year since their debut. Gregg’s singing is more assured, the band sounds more confident, and everything appears more together. “Power of Love” is actually decent song. It’s not a direct soul rip off, but something different, and Duane is allowed to add some tasty fills. It was penned by the Muscle Shoals’ gods Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham. But most of the record is written by Gregg. “To Things Before” has the same chord progression that would be used to better effect on the Allman’s “Melissa” and has echoey background effects which are unnecessary.
A lot of these songs are just not memorable, Gregg was still finding his way. “Changing of the Guard” is so so, and an okay chorus saves “I’m Not Afraid.” “I Can’t Stand Alone” is better, maybe a little too poppy a chorus, but it’s progress, and how bout that fuzz guitar from Duane! The horns are mostly gone and so are the cheesy background vocals – also a marked improvement over their debut. Eddie Hinton’s “Down in Texas” is much closer to the blues rock of the Allmans. “I Still Want Your Love” is an atypical Gregg song, it’s actually bouncy – but it does feature a gritty vocal.
Their cover of the Beatles’ “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)” got the exposure on the Allman Brothers box set years ago. This jazzy interpretation is just instrumental, and features Duane on sitar
Duane and Gregg
These tracks feature future Allman drummer Butch Trucks and were done as demos for the band 31st of February. “Morning Dew” features some electrifying guitar from Duane. The sessions were helmed by former teen idol Steve Alaimo. “Nobody Knows When You’re Down and Out” sounds like a garage recording. “Down in Texas” is a better version of the Eddie Hinton song that they cut with Hourglass.
Most importantly, this is the first appearance of the Allman Brother classic “Melissa.” Gregg’s voice is a little tentative here, but the Duane fills are very nice. The arrangement is delicate and the chords are slightly different in the middle section. The very next track, “I’ll Change For You” sounds like a variation on Melissa, with similar chords and feel. In fact, much of this material is gentle in nature. “Back Down Home With You” is better, more soulful.
The tapes for this record are in pretty bad shape, with drop outs and loss of sound in channels, definitely apparent when you listen in earbuds. The driving “Well I Know” is the closest to something that the Allmans would become, Duane does a pretty nice solo.
All in all, there’s at least a couple of revealing tracks on all four releases. If you’re a dedicated Allman fan, these are definitely worth adding to your collection. —Tony Peters