“Play all night!” an audience member yelled… On March 11th, 12th, and 13th of 1971, The Allman Brothers Band performed at Bill Graham‘s Fillmore East, and recorded it for a live album. Advertisements for the shows read: “Bill Graham Presents in New York — Johnny Winter and, Elvin Bishop Group, Extra Added Attraction: Allman Brothers.” While Winter was billed as the headliner, by the third night, the Allman Brothers were closing the show.
Today marks the 50th anniversary of completing the recording of one of the most legendary live albums to ever grace this Earth. When thinking about The Allman Brothers, At Fillmore East is one of the main treasures that comes to mind. The double LP is widely considered to be the band’s definitive recording, capturing their authentic sound, giving them both artistic and commercial breakthroughs, and is the kind of record you can spin on a daily basis and still find something new you love about it.
“We realized that we got a better sound live and that we were a live band. We were not intentionally trying to buck the system, but keeping each song down to 3:14 just didn’t work for us. We were going to do what the hell we were going to do and that was to experiment on and offstage. And we realized that the audience was a big part of what we did, which couldn’t be duplicated in a studio. A light bulb finally went off; we need to make a live album,” said Gregg Allman about the decision to record the three-night run [excerpt taken from Alan Paul‘s One Way Out: The Inside History of the Allman Brothers Band].
While a few things went almost terribly wrong—like the uninvited horns section, or the bomb scare that suspended the final night’s music through sunrise—the album still turned out as one of the best ever.
After dealing with the three nights of chaos, producer Tom Dowd explained of the final product, “The Fillmore album captured the band in all their glory. The Allmans have always had a perpetual swing sensation that is unique in rock. They swing like they’re playing jazz when they play things that are tangential to the blues, and even when they play heavy rock. They’re never vertical but always going forward, and it’s always a groove. Fusion is a term that came later, but if you wanted to look at a fusion album, it would be Fillmore East. Here was a rock ’n’ roll band playing blues in the jazz vernacular. And they tore the place up.”
Despite being recorded in New York City, the album cover photo was actually taken on a very cold day in Macon, GA, where the band all lived. Apparently, the band was having trouble in cooperating with the photographer that day, giving scowling looks toward the camera. “At one point, a man walked up over next to our truck and Duane jumped up and ran over to him, and the photographer starts screamin’ and hollerin’,” explains Butch Trucks of the experience. “Then Duane came back and sat down, and we all busted out laughin’ and THAT is the picture. That is the ONLY picture from the whole day with everybody laughin’. And if you look, Duane’s got his hands like this. [folded]. What he had done was ran over and picked up a little eight ball of cocaine.” If there’s anything you need to know about Live At Fillmore East, that’s it.
In honor of this special mark in rock and roll history, listen to the full album now:
Allman Brothers Band – At Fillmore East
[All quotes via Alan Paul]
[Originally Published 3/13/16]