Gregg Allman - organ, vocals; Duane Allman - guitar; Dickey Betts - guitar; Berry Oakley - bass, vocals; Butch Trucks - drums; Jai Johanny Johanson - drums, percussion
Developing the soaring twin lead guitar attack that served as the foundation for much of Southern rock, the Allman Brothers Band was much more than the founding fathers of a musical genre. Far more progressive and diverse than the school of music they inspired, the group incorporated blues, soul, rock, jazz, and country elements into a heady brew all their own. With improvisatory skills that rivaled the greatest of jazz musicians, the Brothers quickly established a reputation for inspired jamming. Their live performances at Bill Graham's Fillmore East have deservedly become the stuff of legend, and it was there, in March of 1971, that the original lineup recorded one of the greatest live albums of all time. That album, The Allman Brothers Band at Fillmore East was indisputable proof that this group was leading the charge into the new decade and for that moment in time, they were arguably the most inspired and promising rock band in North America.
Recorded a full year prior to the legendary live album, this Fillmore East recording captures the Allman Brothers when they were still a relatively new band, full of youthful passion and just beginning to establish a reputation. Performing on a bill presenting two of the best California bands of the era, the Los Angeles-based Love and San Francisco's Grateful Dead, this recording captures the Allman Brothers Band out to prove themselves to one of the country's most discerning audiences. Despite their limited stage time as an opening act, the musicianship is extraordinary from the sizzling set opener, "Elizabeth Reed," to the last ringing notes of a nearly 40 minute "Mountain Jam," which concludes the set. This is a band on a mission, wasting no time getting down to business and totally delivering the goods. Compressing an incredible amount of creativity and energy into the one-hour time allotted, it was performances like this that established the band's reputation.
The set begins unconventionally, foregoing their usual blues cover warm-ups, in favor of Dickey Betts' magnificent new instrumental "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed." Here it is presented in all its newborn glory. Featuring the synchronized and intertwining guitar work of Duane Allman and Dickey Betts and the wonderfully melodic bass work of Berry Oakley, this is a tour-de-force opener that cannot be ignored. Even at this early stage, its boundless potential is obvious and although the improvising here is still tight and focused, it is not difficult to see how this number became a jamming staple of the band's repertoire for decades to come. Next up, the band delivers two superb blues covers, beginning with a raunchy romp through Willie Dixon's "Hoochie Coochie Man," which features a rare lead vocal from Berry Oakley.
In a deeply emotive voice that belies his young age, Gregg Allman leads the charge on a smoldering rendition of Casey Bill Weldon's "Outskirts of Town." Both of these songs, the latter soon to be dropped from their repertoire, showcase the band's blues-based roots. Compared to the soaring instrumentals, these blues covers provide a rather simple framework, but it is within this context that Duane Allman's slide work is most raw and expressive.
The set begins heading for the stratosphere with a ferocious take on Gregg Allman's "Whipping Post." The outstanding melodic bass playing of Berry Oakley propels this exciting number, with both Duane Allman and Dickey Betts soaring over the propulsive rhythm section. Shorter than the expansive versions that would develop in coming months, this is all the more fascinating for it, as they compress an incredible amount of energy into a little less than nine minutes.
For the set closer, the band goes into full improvisational mode, delivering a monumental version of "Mountain Jam." Based on the simplest of folk riffs borrowed from the 1960s Donovan single, "First There Is A Mountain," this 35 minute exploration is the early Allman Brothers Band at their most adventurous. By taking a very simple element and exploring all of its possibilities, the band creates a magical panorama of sound. The two guitarists intertwine and synchronize in a manner nothing short of telepathic, as they weave through Berry Oakley's bass line, which often leads the way. The propulsive double drumming is also notable here and indeed, the entire band achieves a symbiotic instrumental communication level that can only be attained by musicians who are playing and listening to each other in equal measure.
There is no mistaking the unbridled passion of the original lineup of the Allman Brothers Band. This February 1970 Fillmore East performance allows listeners a glimpse of the youthful band at their hungriest, just as they were beginning to be recognized. The band would suffer devastating blows in the years to come, but despite numerous personnel changes, would become even more popular, achieving career longevity that endures to the present day. However, during this initial phase when Duane Allman, Berry Oakley, and Dickey Betts were among the band's guiding lights, the Allman Brothers Band on stage was pure instrumental poetry in motion.