Monday, April 10, 2017

Duane and Gregg Allman with the 31st of February

There are three main groups of recordings on which Gregg Allman and his brilliant brother Duane appear together prior to the formation of the Allman Brothers Band in 1969. The Allman Joys recorded a series of sessions in Nashville in 1966; the results may not be great, but they are interesting. At its best, the group produced high-energy, fuzzbox-driven blues/rock.

The brothers' next group, The Hour Glass, seemed to have great potential. Their gigs at the Whisky a Go Go and the Troubadour in Hollywood were apparently a step in the direction of the Southern soul/blues/rock fusion that came to fruition with the ABB. The music  establishment was impressed, and the band was signed to Liberty Records, for whom they made two albums. The eponymous first album is overproduced lightweight pop, with a touch of less-than-impressive blue-eyed soul. The second album, Power of Love, is better, but is still a far cry from being an accurate representation of the band's strengths. Frustrated by the tight control that the record company was exerting over them, the band  retreated to Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama and recorded a self-produced session that is still mightily impressive. Unfortunately, Liberty wasn't impressed, and the recordings weren't issued until several years later, after Duane's death.

The final pre-ABB recordings by the brothers were made in the fall of 1968, when they hooked up with a Jacksonville band called The 31st of February. The core of that band was Scott Boyer (later of the band Cowboy) on guitar, David Brown on bass, and Butch Trucks (later of the Allman Brothers Band) on drums. The 31st of February already had an album out on Vanguard when Duane and Gregg joined.

Duane & Greg Allman (with Gregg's name misspelled), issued on the Bold label in 1972, represents the 31st of February's unfinished second album. It's definitely not a finished product - there are places where where instrumental solos were obviously going to be added later, and once Gregg can be heard to say, "The break will go here."

But in spite of that, these are the most musically interesting and rewarding of the Allmans' "apprenticeship" recordings. Gregg's songwriting has come into its own, as can be heard in "God Rest His Soul," Gregg's tribute to the recently murdered Martin Luther King, Jr. And Duane's playing is very nearly fully developed at this point - he has mastered the slide and pretty much put away the fuzzbox. There are two near-masterpieces on the album, the blues standard "Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out," and the first recorded appearance of Gregg's haunting "Melissa." The latter songs marks the first recorded appearance of Duane's "bird chirp" slide guitar playing - that very high, beautiful sound that was unique to him. The legendary March, 1969 Jacksonville jam session that resulted in the formation of the Allman Brothers Band was just around the corner.

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