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The tapes were found in closets and attics
The Allman Brothers Band’s “At Fillmore East” album is regarded by many as one of the greatest live recordings ever made.
When compiling their list of the 50 greatest live recordings of all time “Rolling Stone” magazine ranked “At Fillmore East” number two, second only to James Brown’s 1963 “Live at the Apollo” set and one slot above Johnny Cash’s 1968 recording, “At Folsom Prison”.
When it was released in 1971 the record transformed the Allmans from a band with so-so drawing power outside its southern base to a must-see live act across North America and beyond.
Once people were treated to a taste of what the band could do on stage it was like they could not get enough of the powerful southern blues/rock mix that was their stock and trade, particularly when they shifted into high gear, jamming for upwards of 20 minutes on tracks like “Whipping Post” and “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed”.
But now there’s another release competing for the affection of Allman Brothers fans.
In celebration of the band’s 50th anniversary they’ve put out a four-CD set of previously unreleased live recordings recorded the same year as the Fillmore East concerts.
Recorded at promoter Bill Graham’s celebrated San Francisco venue, the Fillmore West, the just released concert package features more than 20 classic Allman Brothers tracks, including a 45-minute version of “Mountain Jam” recorded at the Warehouse in New Orleans in March of the previous year.
Fillmore West 1971 was recorded over three days in late January of that year with the original line-up of Gregg Allman, Duane Allman, Dickey Betts, Jaimoe, Butch Trucks and Berry Oakley and is the first live archival recording to be released by the band in 12 years.
“Fillmore West 1971” was recorded just two months before the legendary At Fillmore East sessions that rocketed the Allman Brothers Band to international acclaim.
The Allman Brothers have had several line-ups since first coming together in 1969 but the line-up on this set is hands down the best ever. Sadly, in October of the same year this set was released, guitarist Duane Allman would die in a tragic motorcycle accident at 24. Less than a year later bass player Berry Oakley would also die in a motorcycle accident. He, too, was just 24.
Live recordings from this period are sometimes of questionable quality but the quality of the recordings for Fillmore West 1971 are, for the most part, pretty damn good.
They were compiled by Kirk West, the band’s official archivist, from reel-to-reel soundboard masters which had been entrusted for decades to three members of the band’s long-time stage crew, Twiggs Lyndon, Joe Dan Petty and Mike Callahan, who’d been storing them in their closets and their attics.
Under West’s supervision the Fillmore West recordings underwent a meticulous transfer process. There were several successive attempts to restore the recordings over a period of years, with new restoration efforts mounted each time the technology available to them improved.
The first disc alone from Jan. 29 is worth the price of the set. Packed into that night’s performance were eight of the best songs they would ever record, “Statesboro Blues”, “Trouble No More”, “Don't Keep Me Wonderin'”, “In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed”, “Midnight Rider”, “Dreams”, “You Don't Love Me and Whipping Post”.
Night number two saw them replicate most of the set from the night before with the exception of two tracks. “Midnight Rider” and “Dreams” were dropped, replaced by a nine-minute version of “Stormy Monday” that’s almost as good as the Fillmore East recording.
For the third night of the Fillmore West stand they put “Midnight Rider” back into the show and added a killer version of “Hoochie Coochie Man" and “Hot ‘Lanta” which at the time was a relatively new song for the band. "Hot 'Lanta" is one of only three songs on the fourth disc but it’s in good company, with a version of Whipping Post that runs almost 21 minutes and the aforementioned 45-minute version of “Mountain Jam” from the New Orleans show.
While this package includes multiple versions of several songs none of them are exactly the same because of the band’s penchant for jamming things out.
Doug Gallant is a freelance writer and well-known connoisseur of a wide variety of music. His On Track column will appear in The Guardian every second Saturday. To comment on what he has to say or to offer suggestions for future reviews, email him at email@example.com.