Jam bands are no new trend to Allman

July 02, 1998|By J.D. Considine | J.D. Considine,SUN POP MUSIC CRITIC

According to the trend-spotters, jam bands are all the rage among younger concertgoers. These groups, which started becoming popular a couple of summers ago, emphasize extended improvisation and often mix blues, rock, jazz and Latin elements into their sound.

All of which seems eerily familiar to Gregg Allman.

"It does strike me kind of funny," he says, over the phone from a tour stop in Cleveland. "Because we have been doing the exact same thing."

Indeed, the Allman Brothers Band -- though generally only credited with having laid the foundations for Southern rock -- also helped write the book for jam bands, through such performances as "Whipping Post" and "You Don't Love Me" from the 1971 classic "At Fillmore East."

It's still the same thing, says Allman. "Music has not changed in . . ." He pauses, as if consulting some internal calendar. "Well, we have our 30-year anniversary next year. March 26, 19-and-69, about three o'clock in the afternoon. That's when we all finally assembled in the same room for the first time.

"I remember it like it was yesterday," he says. "I remember almost everything that was said, and usually, you don't. There was something real magical about that day."

In rock and roll terms, 30 years is several careers at least, and to be sure, the Allmans have been through some changes in that time. Among the most dramatic were the deaths of guitarist Duane Allman, Gregg's brother, in 1971, and bassist Berry Oakely the following year.

Yet there are times, says Allman, when the sound and spirit of their music erases the years. "Sometimes it sounds like we're just out in this rehearsal hall that we had," he says. "We had this one old, pre-Civil War house that was made into different apartments. The big room, we had all our stuff set up in, and the other room -- which was another big room -- we had 12 mattresses, and a Coca-Cola machine full of beer. Then we had a bathroom off to the side.

"That's what we had. That's all we had. I can remember how it sounded back then, and a lot of nights, I'll close my eyes, and I'll just be there, you know? It sounds a little more sophisticated in places, yeah, but it's basically still there."

Some of that familiar feel has to do with the songs, but mostly, it's a matter of groove. That's why Allman doesn't like the idea of idolizing the soloist above everyone else in the band. "A solo really is only as good -- and this is a pretty bold statement -- is only as good as the rhythm section playing behind it," he says flatly.

He cites Eric Clapton's solo from the Cream song "I Feel Free" as an example. "He had just that solid beat behind him," says Allman. "It never, ever, ever altered itself in any way. It went on, so he knew exactly what he had to work with and knew exactly the stair-steps he was moving on as he played that solo. I imagine it flowed right out of him, very easy."

Needless to say, Allman himself is a groove man. "I love classical music, I love Latin music, I love all kinds of different music," he says. "But if it doesn't have like a six-and-a-half-foot groove to it, I can't play it.

"But if it's blues, and it's just got that good, two-fisted shuffle, or a nice slow waltz, or something like that, then I'm ready," he says, and laughs contentedly. "I'm in."

Allman Brothers Band

When: Tomorrow, 7 p.m.

Where: Merriweather Post Pavilion, off Little Patuxent Parkway, Columbia

Tickets: $40 pavilion, $25 lawn; prices $5 higher day of show

L Call: 410-730-2424 for information, 410-481-6500 for tickets

Sundial: To hear excerpts from the Allman Brothers Band's new release, "Mycology," call Sundial at 410-783-1800 and enter the code 6158. For other local Sundial numbers, see the directory on Page 2B.

Pub Date: 7/02/98

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