With the vintage Live From A&R Recording, New York, August 26, 1971 just out, Allman Brothers Band fans can probably expect more from the group’s vaults in the future.
“Don’t be surprised if we come up with more,” drummer Butch Trucks tells Billboard. “We still have quite a lot of material, shows that were recorded in the early days. There’s even a few when we were a five-piece, after Duane [Allman] died and before we added Chuck Leavell to the band [in 1972], before ‘Ramblin’ Man’ and all that. I’m sure you’ll hear more from [the Allmans] down the road.”
The nine-track Live From A&R Recording captures the Allmans shortly after the release of the classic At Fillmore East concert album, playing a special show for select fans. The fact that it was held in a recording studio is an irony that was not lost on the band at the time — or even now.
“A recording studio is a place we always hated to be,” Trucks says. “We were always a live band. I look at making a record and being in a recording studio as more of a craft; You have to be so much more careful and play simpler. There’s always the tension with the red light on. Playing live is really the art form. You’re a lot freer, a lot looser. You’ve got people there that can give you feedback and then you can play off of that. There’s so much more energy.”
The Allmans had demonstrated their live veracity at the time with the just-released, destined-to-be-classic live set At Fillmore East. The A&R session, however, provided a happy medium for the group just two months before guitarist and band leader Duane Allman died in a motorcycle accident back home in Macon, Ga. “That was really a unique situation,” Trucks recalls. “We set up just like we do on stage except we were in a circle, so we could look at each other; I wasn’t looking at the back of Duane and Dickey [Betts] and Berry [Oakley]. We could really look each other in the eye, and it really helped the communication. Plus we had three or four hundred kids there, so it was a live audience. It was very neat.”
And the fact that it was one of Duane Allman’s final shows and last documented shows with the group gives the nine-song set an extra bit of emotional heft. “He had many conversations with us about if he dies, what to do,” Trucks recalls. “He said, ‘Don’t have a damn funeral. I don’t want anybody looking at me when I can’t look back at them.’ In fact, he told us to just put him in a wooden box, throw him in the river and stand there and play for two weeks — basically what he was telling us was what we did, which was ‘Don’t you dare give up this music that we’re playing if something happens to me.'”
The Allmans did just that, off and on, for the next 43 years until calling it a career (for now) during October of 2014. “I think when we split up it was time, y’know? It was starting to get boring,” Trucks says. “The money was great but, shit, the music is so much more important.”
Trucks, in fact, is still chasing the music with Les Brers, an improvisational rock troupe that takes its name from the Allmans’ 1972 song and includes several band alumni — fellow drummer and co-founder Jaimoe Johanson, bassist Oteil Burbridge, drummer Mark Quinones and guitarists Jack Pearson & Pat Bergeson — as well as Lamar Williams Jr., son of the late Allmans’ bassist, on vocals. The group plays at on April 15 at the Allmans-established Wanee Festival in Florida, and Trucks is hoping more dates and even short tours can be scheduled around Burbridge’s commitments to Dead & Company and Quinones’ work with Gregg Allman.
“Nobody is playing music like this, like the Allman Brothers, and there’s still a lot of fans out there, so that’s what we’re doing with Les Brers,” Trucks says. “We’re taking this stuff and getting loose with it and improvising and really having a good time. And I think once the word gets around there’s still a lot of people out there that want to hear this kind of music — and whether there is or not, we’re having a ball playing it, so if we can draw a big crowd that’s great, but if we don’t we’re still gonna play it.”
While Trucks and company are doing that, Gregg Allman remains out on tour after three of his crew members were injured in a bus crash this week in West Virginia. They were treated and released at a local hospital; Allman himself was not on the bus at the time, and the tour has gone on without missing a show. Allman and his band will also play at the Wanee Festival and will be playing summer shows with Peter Frampton and ZZ Top.