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Book Review

Play All Night!: Duane Allman and The Journey to Fillmore East


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Play All Night!: Duane Allman and The Journey to Fillmore East
Bob Beatty
272 Pages
ISBN: #978-0813069500
University Press of Florida

Reading Bob Beatty's Play All Night!: Duane Allman and The Journey to Fillmore East is sometimes akin to becoming embroiled in a tortuous tug-of-war between the author's intellect and his passion. But this musician/historian deserves kudos for the way he maintains a precarious balance between his self-avowed devotion to the Allman Brothers Band and what were no doubt strict academic guidelines within which he worked (this tome was originally the thesis for his PhD).

Not surprisingly given the aforementioned warring states of mind, the prose proceeds in fits and starts, especially in the early going. The 'Preface' sounds clumsy, as scholarly works tend to, and also Beatty tends to continue embellishing his point(s) after otherwise effective explications: see page one-hundred for a jumble of descriptions of the nascent sound of the ABB.

If only the author more often used the straightforward approach he does in his 'Introduction' where he explicitly declares ..'This book is not a biography of Duane Allman...' Overall he keeps his reach from exceeding his grasp though. For instance, his comparisons between the Allman Brothers and the Grateful Dead are refreshingly candid and even if the writer seems a bit precious in his discussion of the former's use of psilocybin—and overlooks a similar approach by the latter with LSD—he remains as circumspect on the topic he stipulated would during the aforementioned intro.

In the course of the slightly less than two-hundred page narrative (some seventy more are devoted to footnotes, references, index etc.), the native Floridian incisively probes the psyche of the brilliant guitarist and bandleader nicknamed 'Skydog.' Self-motivated with a reckless abandon, Duane Allman pursued his musical goals in much the same way as his future bandmates did, by fruitless attempts to record with his own groups and collaborate with others as an accompanist (that particular satisfaction insufficient even with substantial recognition he derived from such roles in Muscle Shoals studios.)

When the six men who comprised the original Brothers fully comprehended their bond in March of 1969, it was with the realization they were all a reflection of each other: hungry, inventive musicians ready to flourish in a mutually-nurturing band environment. Not that it was easy going from that point on, but Bob Beatty accurately and economically describes Duane Allman And The Journey to Fillmore East as an extension of the relative adversities the bandmembers had endured in previous alliances.

Even if the reader is a long-time ABB fan, this is a fairly suspenseful account of the sequence of events leading up to the commercial success of the now iconic concert album and the breakthrough it represented for the Allmans. Progress was tantalizingly slow however, so much so that, even after the release of the album, with the leader's drive still pushing them on, the all-around success of At Fillmore East sounds that all much sweeter for its inexorable peaking in culmination of their combined efforts (especially when it came to the proviso there would be no post-production overdubbing prior to release).

It's probably too much to expect Bob Beatty to be genuinely objective in discussing the music at the heart of Play All Night! (its title taken from a concert attendee's shout during one of the New York shows captured on tape). But his scrupulous research and its attendant annotation certainly suffices otherwise (as does his early declaration of devotion to the group), especially as he delves into the machinations behind the album: besides the campaigning by the Brothers' manager, Phil Walden, to release a two-LP set for the price of single album, there's the advocacy on the band's behalf by pivotal figures such as concert promoter Bill Graham, operator of the famed venue at which their live album was recorded.

At least the way Beatty relates it via his own research combined with his many interviews (Allman business associates and fellow musicians), the agreement with Jerry Wexler, head of the Atlantic Records organization through which the Capricorn label was distributed, stood as something of a coup de grace of marketing to bring the band the widespread acclamation it deserved: by early 1971, the Allman Brothers Band had, for all intents and purposes, pushed word of mouth recognition to its limit via their non-stop roadwork.

The author also makes more than a little about the jazz leanings within the improvisational approach of the ABB. He strains somewhat in doing so, though, as most references to that end reside in drummer Jaimoe's approach to playing as well as his listening taste. Band members' mentions of John Coltrane and Miles Davis are otherwise rather nebulous, suggesting their attraction to those icons' music is more instinctive than a deliberate means of widening their musical horizons.

But in this regard it's important to note Beatty gives proper attention to the other influential elements at work within the band. Drummer Butch Trucks had a classical background, while bassist Berry Oakley took an innovative approach to his instrument after switching from guitar in an earlier band. Meanwhile, guitarist Dickey Betts gets his due as both a near-equal (and sometimes superior) to his fretboard partner, as well as a songwriter who could compose in a way that both contrasted and complemented the ABB's other source of originals, vocalist/keyboardist Gregg Allman.

Add to that the group's staunch loyalty to its Southern roots, musical and otherwise— they refused to move north more than once—and the ABB's distinctions were many, however understated they might have been. The Brothers' cultural self-awareness enhances their chosen style precisely because it lacks any narrow-minded provincialism.

Beatty has delineated how each member of the ABB recruited by Duane Allman carried with him an intrinsic component of the music 'Skydog' foresaw making with a group of his own making. Currently a resident of Nashville (notably the birthplace of the two Allman brothers), he vividly portrays how these elements became fused by a mutual humility: it was crucial that all the members of the band see beyond their individual roles within the ensemble and grasp the greater whole. Taken from four shows over two nights in The Big Apple, the well-paced and often incendiary seventy-some minutes of the increasingly mythic album may be seen as nothing less than inevitable.

The very foundation of Duane Allman And The Journey to Fillmore East is grounded in such keen perspectives. Notwithstanding Bob Beatty's somewhat false modesty, it is an animated set of insights only hinted at, to a greater and lesser degree, in the best of the other books devoted to this band, namely, No Saints, No Saviors: My Years With The Allman Brothers Band (Mercer Univ Press, 2005) and Galadrielle Allman's Please Be with Me: A Song for My Father, Duane Allman (Spiegel & Grau, 2014).

Play All Night! might have been expanded with a discography or at least Bob Beatty's personal analysis of the famous album as an additional appendix. But the omissions leave open the distinct possibility of another expanded edition, including the content he admits he left out in honing his focus with such astute attention to detail.

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