COME AND GO BLUES

Back then, Brothers and Sisters was a notable purchase: a new record, still on the charts. What led to this profligate expenditure? Perhaps the infectious boogie of the radio single “Rambling Man” demanded more frequent playing than AM radio offered; doubtless hearing the instrumental “Jessica” on 3XY’s Sunday night Album Show fanned desire. A late Christmas present to self, maybe?

Or, with the prospect of university creeping like an autumn chill under the bright door of summer, soul-soothing was required. Music was (and is) the balm of choice.

Less likely, but still plausible, is the explanation that, having completed a summer of work in two different jobs*, I felt wealthy enough to spring for a full-price record. Although, given that it was probably purchased from Max Rose Electronics, there may have been a staff discount of some kind.

Did I steal it? Conceivable, but unlikely. I don’t think the part-time job at Bentleigh Sewing and Records** had begun then.

One thing is certain, the fifth album by The Allman Brothers Band (released August 1973) was on high rotation in at least one suburban Melbourne bedroom by early ’74.

There are but four albums on this chart that don’t sit in the VC shelves. Sad but true.

Brothers and Sisters was written and recorded during a difficult time for the band. Although a year had passed since brother Duane had died in a motorcycle accident, the impact reverberated still. Bass player Berry Oakley, in particular, could not shift the relentless grief arising from Allman Senior’s death; his alcohol consumption only accentuated the emotional ruin he wandered in. When he crashed his own bike just three blocks from where his friend died, there was a sense of an unstoppable tragedy having played itself out in Macon, Georgia.

Brother Gregg clearly wanted to be busy. The band had toured extensively and released the studio/live hybrid album Eat A Peach. Allman Junior began recording his first solo album using principally session musicians. One of these was keyboard player Chuck Leavell, who also contributed to Brothers and Sisters. There was a real sense that Laid Back was taking Gregg away from the Allman Brothers Band recording, and this created tension—particularly with Richard Betts (the Allman’s other guitarist/songwriter). Indeed, Gregg himself described his first solo project as ‘a mistress’. The younger brother’s alcohol use didn’t help band relations. Stories relate how Gregg’s presentation of new song, “Queen of Hearts” to the band was so affected by his drunkenness that the band dismissed the song outright.

As a result of Allman’s absence, creative control defaulted to Dicky Betts, with the result that Brothers and Sisters has a country feel in parts. Yet the filtering of Betts background through the blues-soul-rock prism of the band is exactly what makes Brothers and Sisters one of the best and most successful Southern rock albums of all time.

Brothers and Sisters opens with a bluesy bustle on “Wasted words”. Gregg is in fine voice, Leavell’s piano pumps and the slide guitar of Richard Betts glints like sunlight off a river. The country boogie of “Rambling man” (with Betts singing and added guitar from Les Dudek) rattles along like a branch-line freight train, powered by Butch Trucks sharp drumming; the final dual guitar section is a delight.

“Come and go blues” demonstrates beautifully how Southern rock melded blues and country influences with rock sensibilities. It starts slowly, building relentlessly so that you’ll be nodding along by the final chorus. “Jelly Jelly”, on the other hand, takes a slow blues and delivers it’s lovelorn lyrics in a soulful sway; a different kind of ‘South’ permeates its organ-based groove.

There are just three songs on the second side of Brothers and Sisters. Opener “Southbound” charges homewards with an upbeat shuffle and all the momentum of a weary traveller bursting into a jog as he nears home. Great Gregg vocal, fabulous Betts guitar solo, brilliant piano comping from Leavell. If I ever compile The Best Driving Album Ever^, this track will feature prominently.

Confession: I love “Jessica”. I’ve never met her yet her melodic curves and rolling harmonies beguiled me from the first strummed guitar chords, through the middle-section piano solo to the lead guitar(s) returning for a passionate closing reunion. Full of light and shade, sparks and interplay, “Jessica” is an almost-perfect example of a rock instrumental you can sing along to.

The contrast with the album’s final song could not be more marked. “Pony boy” is a back-to-basics blues both paying homage to and re-invigorating the Delta sound. Betts’ acoustic slide guitar is superb and the stomping piano and percussion accompaniment is mischievously lively. Story goes that Betts’ uncle would travel by horse and cart when he went out drinking ‘cos the horse knew the way home.

Talking of drinking, please raise a glass to Gregg Allman—singer, songwriter, organist, guitarist, Southern rock legend—who died on 27th May 2017 aged 69.

Although this piece features Brothers and Sisters, most of the Allman Brothers (and Gregg’s) 70s albums have received a spin over the past few days. Of the solo Gregg Allman material, my favourite is Laid Back (enhanced by a Mati Klarwein cover painting) though Playing Up A Storm is good too.^^

If you have ever considered checking out Allman Brothers music, Brothers and Sisters is an excellent place to start. However the first two albums also come highly recommended. The 1969 self-titled debut is as good as anything from the period while Idlewild South (1970) is perhaps even a shade better. Both were re-issued on vinyl in 2016.

The Allman Brothers Band were a hard-working live band, a fact clearly demonstrated in their catalogue. There are several live albums from the time and more extracted from the archives. But for the sound of a storming blues-rock band live in the seventies, you cannot go past At Fillmore East. Having said that, I also love the live/studio Eat A Peach, the deluxe CD edition of which adds a whole disc from the final Fillmore East concert, making it outstanding value. That live bonus disc is spinning as I finish writing this post.

There is a pull to focus on the deaths—Duane, Berry, now Gregg—but I’ll go with the playing: committed, soaring, sometimes indulgent… always passionate.

*

* After the bookshop adventure, a more satisfactory and long-lasting relationship was established with Max Rose and his small emporium of records and electrical goods. Typing Max’s name into the search field will produce a rack of stories.

** A brief intro to this remarkable shop appeared at the end of the post “Stitching together rock, jazz and funk”.

^  Either when CDs become fashionable again, or when home recording and car playing of vinyl records is commonplace.

^^ I couldn’t bring myself to spin the one with Cher.

*

48 comments

  1. Nice, comprehensive post. It’s hard to overestimate how popular the band was after Brothers and Sisters came out. They were everywhere and that’s back when rock was still the leading edge and not pop or hip-hop. Everybody loved that album. If you watch ‘The Exorcist’ – which I’ve seen about 12,000 times – I always enjoy the fact that when two of the characters are talking in a bar, ‘Ramblin’ Man’ is playing in the background. (Historical note – Bob Dylan invited Dickey to play with him at a show once. Dickey wondered how Dylan knew all the lyrics. Dylan said he wished he had written it.) Good call on the Cher album. BTW.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for adding extra texture to the story, Jim.
      Dylan jealous? Bet Betts was chuffed.

      Like

      1. Yeah, Dickey referred to it as an honor. Liked the way Dylan sang it, too. Would love to hear that.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. pinklightsabre · · Reply

    We listened to the Fillmore East show last night outside,my friend Anthony and I. God how I love his voice, they were really it. This was a great piece,a nice tribute. And agreed that record is a great place to start, really pretty. Thanks Bruce!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My pleasure Bill. A warm evening, a glass of something and the Allman Brothers playing… I’ll be round with a bottle of Aussie Shiraz in time for tonight’s concert.

      Like

      1. pinklightsabre · · Reply

        Sounds divine. Yes, “all of the above.” And that slide guitar…drippy. Like maple syrup or something. Thick, thick wine.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Right on, focus on the music. The deaths suck, big time, but the music keeps them alive in a way.

    Excellent write-up. Really get the sense of your connection to it all.

    Does that chart say “Almond Brothers?” Or maybe “Ormond Brothers?” Or perhaps Osmond Brothers?”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Osmonds. For sure. 😆

      Like

  4. Thanks for this look back on one of my favorite album purchases from that formative year of 1973 when I was 15. The next year I saw the Brothers and Sisters line-up in concert, great show. In the interest of research, I just listened to a song from “Allman and Woman.” Yecch!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Ha! You’re a brave fellow, Rick. Thank you for doing the hard yards on that one; a fine one-word review.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Good musician. RIP Gregg Allman. Always remembered for your music.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s a fine catalogue to leave as legacy.
      Thanks for your comment.

      Like

  6. Loveable composition! Gregg Allman never sung better than on “Wasted Words” or on the wonderful Blues numbers “Come And Go Blues” and “Jelly Jelly”.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Great post and tribute Bruce. I never really knew about the tension between this and Laid Back… both brilliant albums in their own ways. And Gregg was on great form on both: Wasted Words and Come & Go Blues both up with his best I reckon. But there’s no doubt this was album was mostly about Betts showing that he was just as important to the Allmans sound as Duane was. His songwriting and performances on this album are just stellar.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. True enough. There was a space and Betts confidently stepped into it. It’s his melodic sensibility (rather than the country background) that I enjoy in his work. ‘In memory of Elizabeth Read’ springs to mind.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Great harmonies too. Elizabeth Reed is one of his best for sure.

        Like

  8. At fillmore east is on the 1001 (I have a copy, but haven’t explored yet) – when I feel the urge for a blues-rock storm, I will know where to look!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yep. Fillmore Allman’s will deliver on that (in any of the several versions out there!).

      Liked by 1 person

  9. A nice salute to Gregg Allman, Bruce. Vickie Lawrence and Sweet were #1 and 2 respectively on that weekly chart. Wow… just wow. I sure hope “Angie” overtook them both the following week! – Marty

    Like

    1. ‘Ballroom Blitz’ was a MONSTER in Oz. It powered Sweet’s career for years. I’ll research the next couple of weeks and post the answer to your Rolling prayer, Marty.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. A great post, Bruce. I’ve just started exploring the Allman Brothers… late hopping aboard the train, but certainly appreciating the short ride so far.

    Before hopping aboard, I’d seen the Brothers and Sisters LP a few times, but never picked it up due to not having any real direction over where to start (started with Fillmore, as it happens).

    Also, if I ever see that Allman And Woman album I’m picking it up. Truly incredible album cover… and title. Incredible.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks James. B & S delivers on songs and arrangements; Fillmore on surging energy and blues-rock. And you are of course correct. No collection could be considered complete without ‘Two the hard way’.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Was Gregg choosing his own artwork for those solo album covers? They all look just slightly bizarre. Ah well-with a voice like his I’ll allow some leeway. Allman Bros music rang out at many a Memorial Day barbecue this past weekend….one question though Bruce:what’s with all of the Perry Como on 3XY in 1973? ted

    Like

    1. The covers certainly are varied, aren’t they Ted? There’s a link to my two-parter on Mati Klarwein if the ‘Laid Back’ art catches your eye.

      Perry’s single ‘And I love her so’ was a monster here. So many teeth rotted at the sugary bilge that Dentist went on strike for higher pay and bigger fillings. True story.

      Like

  12. Nice post.

    I read about the incident in which the band ignored Gregg since he was so drunk. However, I thought that this slighting was what led Gregg to instead start a solo record.

    I just listened to Brothers and Sisters yesterday on vinyl, and today on cd in the car.

    Easily a 9.5/10. Maybe even a 10 on some days. I really enjoy it.

    RIP Gregg. I was comtemplating getting Low Country Blues and I will get his upcoming release Southern Blood when it comes out later this year.

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    1. Thank Boppin’.

      The book I have simply states that Laid Back and B & S were begun at the same time. Guess there are a range of recollections (many substance affected!).

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Also, that music chart is awesome. Such an ecclectic mix. Now the rock, pop, r&b etc. are all on separate charts.
    I guess back then they just put them on the same chart and let the chips fall where they may.

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    1. It’s hilarious isn’t it? What is slightly less funny is that I can still sing about half of them.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’ve never heard See My Baby Jive. Could you sing me a few lines.

        😉

        Liked by 1 person

        1. With a title like that I thought it wad an early disco song.

          Liked by 1 person

        2. It’s one of the cornerstones of ‘Glam’. Break out the glitter, baby.

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        3. I showed late to the glam.party.i know the T Rex and Sweet but obviously missed a ton.
          I will now do a bunch of musical searching. I don’t think my collection can hold much more though. I may have to do some culling

          Liked by 1 person

        4. Cull = Regret. You have been warned.

          Liked by 1 person

        5. I agree completely.
          However, my wife and I differ on certain subjects.
          Apparently, there is such a thing as too many records.

          Liked by 1 person

  14. Another great post ! always nice reading you provide !

    Being originally very rooted in British (prog) rock, I have missed out on many of those early very “American” bands, might be time to dig into that scene. I have heard Allman Brothers, most likely several times, but can’t remember how they sound.

    Like

    1. Thank you for the kind words.
      This is ‘Southbound’ from Brothers and Sisters. You could do a lot worse as a starting place.

      Like

      1. Ya – great music for sure

        Liked by 1 person

  15. ‘At the Fillmore East’ ‘The Fillmore Concerts’ ‘Peach’ and this one are in heavy rotation on CB’s hi fi. Like I said to Jim at Music Enthusiast, they get better with age. Listening to ‘Southbound’ as I type. Sounds real good! Solid piece Bruce.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks CB. I’ve been enjoying the music too, even though the reason is sad.

      Liked by 1 person

  16. ‘ I couldn’t bring myself to spin the one with Cher’ quite right too Bruce, it shows that you are in full control of your grief here.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. The first Allman Brothers Band record I played after hearing of Gregg’s death. What a great album. I loved the tune “Jessica” so much we named our youngest daughter after it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. How music infiltrates our lives.
      Great story. Thanks.

      Liked by 1 person

  18. a fantastic story about Gregg Allman playing at a high school in 1977 is here…enjoy! ted

    http://buffalonews.com/2017/06/04/dream-sequence-gregg-allman-cher-lighted-canisius-high/

    Liked by 2 people

    1. What an awesome story.

      Like

    2. Great story of fame intersecting with the everyday. Thanks Ted.

      Like

  19. My Allmans consist solely of the original version of Fillmore East, Peach, and Brothers and Sisters, all of them excellent, but it is the one emphasized here (B&S) that I would choose as my favorite, probably due to the slightly turned-up country feel you mention. Where should I go next?

    I’ve confessed my possibly-unforgivable thing for Cher in the past. As such, I really, really wanted Allman and Woman to be good. When I finally heard it and discovered it to be an unmitigated turd, my disappointment was great.

    Like

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