Photo by Dean Budnick
It’s been a busy few years for Oteil Burbridge. Since the Allman Brothers Band played their final show in 2014, he’s packed stadiums and arenas as a member of Dead & Company, released a solo album comprised of original music, grown into a headliner with his own rotating Oteil & Friends ensembles and, closer to home, adopted a baby girl.
But, despite his hectic schedule, there was still something missing: playing with his Brothers. So, when the opportunity arose for the surviving members of the Allmans to reunite for an official 50th anniversary celebration and belated farewell, the bassist jumped at the opportunity to find a date to make it work.
And, on March 10, just a few days shy of the Allman Brothers’ 51st anniversary, Burbridge will join several of his former bandmates for a special show, at New York’s Madison Square Garden. Billed “The Brothers,” the evening will feature the surviving members of the Allmans’ final lineup—Burbridge, founding drummer Jaimoe, guitarist and singer Warren Haynes, percussionist Marc Quiñones and guitarist Derek Trucks. Rounding out the ensemble will be Widespread Panic drummer Duane Trucks—who is not only Derek’s brother and founding drummer Butch Truck’s nephew, but also filled in for his uncle during the sole ABB show the elder Trucks missed in 2014—Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble keyboardist Reese Wynans and Rolling Stones touring keyboardist Chuck Leavell, who was a key member of the Brothers during their 1970s commercial peak and high-profile 1986 regrouping.
The inclusion of Wynans in the lineup is actually something of a full-circle moment: the keyboardist played with founding members Dickey Betts and Berry Oakley in their pre-Allmans group, the Second Coming, and participated in the initial jam sessions that set the stage for the Brothers’ formation in early 1969. Feeling his nascent project needed a lead singer, Duane Allman ultimately called his younger brother Gregg back from California; they rehearsed as a seven-piece band for a short time, but Duane ultimately decided that he did not want two keyboards and two guitarists in the band and, as Butch Trucks says in the biography Skydog, Wynans was “odd-manned out” of the band. However, he remained in the band’s orbit, first touring with the New Second Coming and then, with Duane’s help, scoring a spot in Boz Scaggs’ outfit.
For Burbridge and his bandmates, the upcoming Brothers performance is also a chance to give the group a true rock-and-roll goodbye. Though the Allman Brothers Band have always felt like the rare band who seemed to truly retire, their final years were marked by Gregg’s health setbacks andschedule restrictions due to the various member’s myriad of projects. The Allman Brothers Band actually briefly toyed with the idea of playing Madison Square Garden in 2014, but ultimately decided to end their touring career with a run of shows at their longtime haunt, New York’s Beacon Theatre. The final night, October 28, was a three-set affair that stretched into the early hours of the new morning, which happened to be the anniversary of Duane’s passing.
Shortly after announcing The Brothers’ upcoming date, Burbridge spoke with Relix and Jambands.com about their decision to group, Betts’ absence and who might fill in for Gregg behind the mic.
It’s been over five years since the Allman Brothers Band played their final show. When did you initially start talking about the upcoming anniversary celebration?
We’ve been talking about it since before the actual 50th anniversary, which was last year. I’ve had so much going on with the adoption and Dead & Company that I can’t remember exactly when it all started to come together. But definitely, in the last few months, it felt more like, “Oh, it’s really going to happen now.” So we started taking one step at a time, crossing the T’s and dotting the I’s and such.
Since the final Allman Brothers show, both Butch Trucks and Gregg Allman have passed on. How did you settle on the musicians who will fill in for them?
We have Duane Trucks on drums, who filled in for Butch Trucks one time at the Beacon when he had a little health issue. When we played with him that night, we were like, “That’s amazing. It’s just in his blood.” So in that sense, I guess we shouldn’t be surprised—it was a real no brainer to get him. I can’t remember if Reese Wynans came from Derek or from Warren, but I thought that was a great idea because he was at that original jam [that led to the Allman Brothers]. Gregg was still out in California at that point. Reese has that history, and there’s such a connection with the blues there. It all really makes sense. And obviously Chuck Leavell—there’s no need to speak on that connection.
Both you and Warren sang on occasion with the Allman Brothers Band, but without Gregg or Dickey, who will provide lead vocals at the MSG show?
I don’t know—we haven’t really talked about that yet. I’d really like to get Lamar Williams Jr. up there. He played a bunch of shows with Butch, Jaimoe and us [as Les Brers] just before Butch passed away. He’s obviously Lamar Williams Sr.’s son and he just sings so great—it’s unbelievable. I had him and Duane Betts with me on my birthday at LOCKN’ doing some of the Allman Brothers stuff. But, we haven’t gotten there yet, really. I used to only sing “Franklin’s Tower” and “Anyday” by Derek & The Dominos with the Brothers and, a couple of times, I sang “Seven Turns.” We have so many songs to get through because it’s just one show. I can’t really see myself singing “Franklin’s Tower.” [Laughs.] We’ve got other stuff to get to that’s more pressing in terms of the Allman Brothers’ legacy. We’ll see how it all shakes out.
That’s before “Let Oteil Sing” t-shirts were a hot commodity on Shakedown.
There’s no way I’m going to sing any of those songs better than Lamar. [Laughs.]
He’s a real singer. I would rather hear him than me up there. [Laughs.]
Lamar and I originally met in Macon, Ga., when he was still living there, one time when we were playing down there. It was so long ago. When I moved back to Atlanta, probably 10 years ago, I hooked up with him again because he had also just moved to Atlanta at that point. We started writing some stuff together—I was writing on the banjo—and I am hoping to pull some of those tunes out with my band. He would come over to my house and we’d write and hang, and that’s where we really connected and formed our friendship. Then, I worked with him last year with my band here and there. I was really happy to see him getting out there with The New Mastersounds. I’m super happy for him and I know his dad is up there very proud of him.