Photo by Larry Hulst
The Allman Brothers Band will return to New York for its annual run of March shows this Thursday. After moving uptown to the United Palace Theatre, the Allman Brothers will return to the Beacon Theatre for the first time since 2009. In addition to the usual parade of guests and deep cuts, this year’s Beacon run will also feature a few milestones, including the group’s 200th performance at the Beacon and the 40th Anniversary of the historic shows recorded for the live album At Fillmore East. The Allman Brothers Band has also returned to the public consciousness thanks in part to Gregg Allman’s new top ten album Low Country Blues. A week before the first night of the ABB’s run, founding drummer Butch Trucks discussed the band’s return to the Beacon, as well as the ongoing plans for his Moogis website.
After a year at the United Palace Theatre, The Allman Brothers Band will back at the Beacon this March. There was a lot of bad blood between the band and the Beacon’s management after they bumped the Allman’s annual run for an ill-fated Cirque du Soleil show. Ultimately, why did you decide to return to the Beacon this year?
BT: You know, it’s hard to say. I mean there was nothing wrong with the sound at United Palace. What was wrong was just the crowd. It’s just not the same—it’s just not. I’m sure it was the same people but, you know, you can’t smoke at United Palace. Anything. If they see any kind of smoke wafting from anywhere in that place you get kicked out. And you’ve been to the Beacon enough to know you can smoke there. You have the smell of reefer all night long. The floors are all sticky with beer and everything else. And there’s no drinking at United Palace. It’s just, it’s much looser at the Beacon. And Goddamn, this year will be 22 years of history [at the Beacon]. It’s quite a tradition. It sounds great, it feels great. It’s the best place in the world to play as far as I’m concerned.
I believe the ABB’s March 25 show this year will be your 200th performance at the Beacon.
BT: The only thing I can say is that it may turn out in the long run to be a good idea that we skipped last year after that ‘09 run ‘cause it would have been hard to top the ‘09 run. We had something like 67 guests, including Clapton. We were all kinds of worried about what are we going to do in 2010 and then it turned out that we didn’t have to worry about it. And now that we’re going back this year after not being there last year, we don’t have to worry about that. It’s special just because we’re coming back. Everybody’s pumped, everybody’s excited. It’s pretty much sold out already. Then we’ll put it up on the Internet and everybody can enjoy themselves.
This year the Allman Brothers Band will celebrate the 40th Anniversary of the recording the At Fillmore East album during the Beacon run. Does the band have plans to mark that anniversary?
BT: Yeah. Now, we actually recorded two nights at the Fillmore [March 12 and 13, 1971 but the ABB is not scheduled to perform on March 13 this year so we’ll wager the band will celebrate on March 12]. I’m not going to say it, but you can guess what we’re going to play that night. And I would imagine that “Mountain Jam” will last a long time. The odd thing is that “Mountain Jam” wasn’t even on the original Fillmore but since it was part of the recording it wound up being part of that re-release we did. Tom Dowd remixed and did that archival recording of the Fillmore East and “Mountain Jam” got stuck on there. You can hear the start of “Mountain Jam” at the end of the original Fillmore. But we left it off because of time. It’s too damn long. We already had a double album. And back then you could only get so much on a LP album—I think 33 minutes a side was all you could do. We had a double album already without “Mountain Jam.” Then that wound up being two sides of Eat a Peach. But then once everything went to CDs, then time wasn’t so much a consideration, so we were able to put out a CD with all of it on there. [ At Fillmore East also features contributions from Elvin Bishop and Gregg Allman’s upcoming touring partner Steve Miller, both of whom could conceivably join the band this run].
The Allman Brothers Band’s New York City run traditionally kicks off the band’s year and includes some new original songs or covers. Do you plan to debut any new originals this year?
BT: You know, probably not. I mean the sad thing is—well, it’s sad in some ways but it’s not in other ways—is that all our songwriters are working on albums for other bands. Derek [Trucks] is working with Susan Tedeshi and putting together a new band and Warren is starting a new band—the Warren Haynes Band. Gregg just finished doing a solo record himself. These are our songwriters, and they’re tending to focus more on their own stuff than on the Allman Brothers. [Their mentality is] when we get together with the Allman Brothers, this is when we play and have fun. But their focus as far as what they’re building for the future is their own careers. There’s no doubt about it: The Allman Brothers are winding down. Another three to five years is probably all we’ll do. But there’s also no doubt about it—when we get together as the Allman Brothers, that’s the most fun that Derek, Warren, Gregg or any of them have the whole year. Every one of them will tell you that. But they’re still planning for their futures so their original stuff tends to go more in that direction.
We’ve had several new songs, but not a whole lot. What we tend to do is take a lot of the old material and just rework it. If you’ve heard “Black Hearted Woman” in the last year or two, you’ll know we took that ending and turned it into a pretty intense thing. “Rocking Horse” has also totally changed in the last couple of years. That’s what we’ve been doing more and more and more of—either pulling out an old blues tune like “Woman Across the River” or reworking some of our own songs so they sound fresh.
I had a lot of fun playing that Bob Dylan song “Blind Willie McTell.” It’s odd because when we first started it I didn’t like it and then—the more we got into it—the more I got into that groove and now it is one of my favorite songs of the night.
That song in particular fit really well into the repertoire.
BT: That’s what we’ve been doing more and more of—just pulling out songs and making them our own. “Blind Willie McTell” is a Dylan song but we got it from The Band and then we did it our way. It’s what we do. We don’t play a Muddy Waters song the way Muddy Waters played it. We “Allmanize” it. We’ve been using that word for [our approach]. We don’t do “The Weight” like The Band, we don’t do it like Aretha. We do it kind of in-between. We do it like we do it. And there’s a little bit of The Band, there’s a little bit of Aretha but it’s mostly the Allman Brothers. So in that sense there will be new material. Whether it’s brand new, newly written material or not, I don’t know. I may be surprised. We may get to rehearsal and somebody may have written two or three songs. I don’t know. I just don’t know until we get to rehearsal.
While promoting his solo album, Gregg has mentioned in a few interviews that he hopes to bring the Allman Brothers Band into the studio to work with T-Bone Burnett.
BT: Yeah exactly. But then again most of his solo album is covers. There’s only one original tune on that album. He and T-Bone Burnett pulled out a bunch of old blues tunes that people hadn’t heard before and there’s only one original song on that album.
How do you see the material on Gregg’s album in relation in the new originals and covers he’s brought to the Brothers? Obviously his solo work tends to be more soul-oriented and performance-driven.
BT: This is what Gregg likes to do. I mean Gregg’s tunes tend to be much more songs, they’re much more intimate. They don’t get so esoteric and out in left field. And with the Allman Brothers, we’ll go wherever the spirit moves. Sometimes it moves in strange places, but, we jam. We jam a lot. It’s seldom that the same song will sound the same twice. But with Gregg, that’s kind of the way he likes it. He likes to have the songs and he likes them to be consistent and that’s Gregg.
Way back in the beginning, we really had a difficult time with that. He brought “Whipping Post” to the band as a slow ballad. And, as you may have noticed, that ain’t the way it turned out [laughter]. And he almost quit the band over that. He got really pissed off about what we did to “Whipping Post” and Duane sat him down and told him to shut up. And Gregg has obviously come to appreciate what we did with “Whipping Post.” It’s definitely one of the great rock and roll closers of all time. To the point to where back in the ‘70s, it didn’t matter who was playing, somebody in the crowd at some point would scream out “Play ‘Whipping Post.’” It didn’t matter who was playing.
And Frank Zappa told us this story: He said, “You know, about six or eight times, in-between songs, somebody would scream out while we’re playing, “Play ‘Whipping Post!’” And he said, we were walking off the stage in Germany one night and somebody screamed “Play ‘Whipping Post,’” and he said, “I looked at everybody in the band and I said, next time some motherfucker yells that out we gonna play it.” And they learned it and he said that’s one of their favorite songs of all times. And they did a great job. If you’ve ever heard Zappa’s version of “Whipping Post,” it was incredible. He had Ian Underwood playing with him at the time. I forget who the singer was but he sang the hell out of it. They played it all the time, but it was because somebody screamed “Play ‘Whipping Post’” too many times and Zappa was the kind of guy that would do that. He was something special. We’ll miss him.