For The Allman Brothers Band, and that revolutionary group’s fans, this spring brought not only the multi-disc, career retrospective, Trouble No More, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the rock-and-roll icons, but also these four individual CDs from its pre-1969 inception. This quartet of albums, issued for the first time on disc and re-issued on vinyl for the first time in almost five decades, focuses on the early work of the brothers Allman- Duane and Gregg. While the music here admittedly is not what made the siblings famous, these four records, individually and collectively, provide illuminating background exhibits of two of the most influential figures in rock music history.
Taken chronologically, the first disc is a collection of tracks from 1966 Duane and Gregg recorded as members of the Allman Joys- a successor to their high school group, The Escorts. Gregg is just shy of 19 years-old, but already possessing signs of a voice that, in three years, becomes emblematic of the Brothers’ sound. Duane’s guitar contributions reflect the repertoire: stabbing, fuzzy bursts of teen energy; groovy and soulful flashes crashing into mid-‘60s psychedelic pop; like the Animals meets Daytona Beach R&B. It’s a record of its time and won’t escape sounding like it, yet does expose Gregg’s rapidly evolving songwriting instincts, on “Bell Bottom Britches” and “You’ll Learn Someday,” as well as his ability, even then, to interpret with the best of them, as on Roy Acuff’s “Street Singer” and Willie Dixon’s “Spoonful.”
Next up are two from the brothers’ migration west and their L.A. outfit, Hour Glass. A pair of albums- an eponymous debut and Power of Love follow-up- recorded in 1967 and 1968 for the Liberty label are conspicuously slicker and more polished. Again, the brothers lean into R&B and soul as foundations, with Gregg’s growl starting to evolve, and Duane’s guitar, when it shows up, taking command. Unfortunately, Duane’s work is limited on these pop vehicles seasoned with soft backing harmonies, peppy horns, and studio gloss. The Allmans fight to slash through the silk, managing to get to the frayed edges for a few minutes with Gregg’s original, “Got to Get Away.”
Last is a series of demos made in Florida in 1968 for a possible album by 31st of February, titled in retrospect, Duane and Gregg Allman; notable, as well, for the inclusion of future Allman Brothers drummer, Butch Trucks. This is the most interesting disc of the four, and, in some ways, the most indicative of their eventual music together as The Allman Brothers Band. Not the least of which is what could be the earliest rendition of an ABB classic, “Melissa,” ever released. Starting with the opening reading of Tim Rose’s “Morning Dew,” the nine cuts (seven covers) are loaded with doses of Gregg’s already-weary tone and Duane’s fretboard fire. The aforementioned “Melissa” is a wonderful curiosity in comparison to what ultimately showed up on Eat a Peach; consistent in lyric if a bit rushed in tempo. A positive aspect throughout much of the session, such as in the wartime folk of Gregg’s original, “God Rest His Soul,” is the evident and emphasized showcasing of Duane’s versatile guitar across a variety of genres.
The skeletal structure of The Allman Brothers Band is best unearthed and examined on the Duane and Gregg disc; the guitar-driven blues and boogie emerging as inspirations; Trucks building a rapport with the brothers. Hour Glass is a fun, but restrictive relic of its era. The Allman Joys gives glimpses of potential in the prodigious high school teens. Together, these four albums are certainly for the die-hards, but also have enough value for everyone else as historical markers of both the Allman brothers’ legacy and their initial ventures into the American pop rock scene of the late 1960s.