(This is a guest cross-post I wrote for Vampire Blues, a blog which my friend Steve also sometimes writes for. Thank you very much.)
I was a teenage stoner metalhead, and I was a Texas country punk devotee. I’d even listened to a Willie Nelson record or two, but I was never an Allman Brothers fan. No. Hippies with muttonchops “jamming” with the blues was a bridge too far.
Then I met Her. She was a Marxist history major with a bitchin’ bod. When she strapped on more than one gin martini, she was trouble. But before she left me to become a lesbian, she hipped me to the wonder and beauty of the Allman’s “Blue Skies.”
“Blue Skies” is basically two long guitar solos pasted together, with a Walt Disney-damaged lyrical chaser. Duane Allman’s playing would pierce the heart of a goddamn Republican. It is a gorgeous, utterly perfect piece of music.
And for many years after Her, I had no interest in hearing anything else by the Brothers.
Last summer, I was stealing some music from an old Austin punk rock friend, and some Allmans ended up on my iPod. My friend swore it wasn’t his, and blamed a mutual acquaintance who is a New York journalist and jam rock apologist. (I have heard that upstate New Yorkers love Southern rock in general, and the Allmans in particular.) Nevertheless, I vowed to give the muttonchops one more chance.
First I listened to Eat a Peach. I liked it! (Except for the nearly forty-minute “Mountain Jam.” ) I had always heard that this album was the Allman’s masterpiece. I had heard wrong. Peach was actually a stopgap odds and sods collection, released just after Duane Allman was killed in a motorcycle accident as the rest of the band was still reeling from the loss. But it has “Blue Skies,” and it has “Ain’t Wasting Time No More,” one of the best songs ever about not feeling sorry for yourself. Also, Gregg Allman seems to be singing around a mouthful of chewing tobaccey. Somehow this pleases me.
I wanted more, so I got Beginnings, which is notable for being a repackage of two albums with really terrible cover art. The cover of Beginnings is even worse. But the music!
It’s a surprising set, if only in the way the songs shift between breezy and boozy. What really gets me are the headbanging moments, especially two spots where the Band seems to be literally nailing the groove to the inside of your brain pan. The first comes at the climax of “It’s not my Cross to Bear,” and the second, even more nailingly, at the climax of “Whipping Post.” These climaxes build and build until they overwhelm—two piercing, fuck-you-up guitars, two drummers wailing, the notes getting higher and higher. It’s no less slamming than certain Daft Punk tracks—the Allmans just kill with different tools.
As a matter of fact, you’ll probably find the sounds at the end of “Whipping Post”—and that feeling of something that is spiraling ever upward—in plenty of other, very different kinds of music. But I also like the fact that these are songs with a real End. “Whipping Post” climaxes like a Hitchcock film. Sure, non-narrative, ultra-abstract contemporary music with guitars, or electronics, can be good. But in these less-than-narrative times, the climax of “Whipping Post” is deeply satisfying.
“Dreams” is also really, really nice. Like a very hot summer afternoon. Put it on. Grow your own muttonchops.