The album I couldn't live without: Live at Fillmore East
There are many terrific live albums. Road-hardened rock bands over the decades have produced showcases of their best performances in abundance. There are many to choose from. Some elevate somewhat ordinary chart bands to extraordinary heights, through superior musicianship (example: Atlanta Rhythm Section); others take a performer at a highlight stage of a long, varied career (Lou Reed: Rock 'n' Roll Animal).
A lot of mainly studio-oriented bands struggle in the live arena, and streamline complex musical passages memorable on the album, but seemingly rushed and perfunctory by the time it gets to a live release.
Some musicians (Neil Young for one) trial new songs in small venues, and sometimes sit on the results for decades.
Some unexpected gems come from delicate, ethereal music that is transformed live by the passion and energy of the performers (Genesis: Live), which transcend the studio versions.
The best live albums are a combination of virtuoso playing, judicious editing, audience atmosphere, and all the elements required lining up in harmony.
The absolute peerless peak of live performance is The Allman Brothers Band: Live at Fillmore East. This includes tracks later added to the Eat a Peach album released after Duane Allman's tragically early death before his 25th birthday.
The most lively, communicative, and inventive musician I have ever heard, Duane was simply a natural genius, who picked up guitar instinctively and thoroughly. His first recorded song was a Jeff Beck number - this tells you his calibre. He sorted out his slide guitar technique within two days of hearing Ry Cooder play on a Taj Mahal album, while he was sick with the flu.
He grew up in Florida, with input from his Tennessee bluegrass-playing uncles, and, being unsuited to schooling, spent most of his youth in various Florida bands until, with the graduation of his younger brother Gregg, they embarked on a regular tour of the Southern states, learning their craft as Southern Soul singers and players.
A stint in The Hourglass in California taught them the perils of the music business, then Duane launched a career as a session musician with Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, where he played scorching lead guitar on seminal albums by Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin, Boz Scaggs, Ronnie Hawkins, Otis Rush, Johnny Jenkins, Delaney and Bonnie, and Herbie Mann, among others. These albums are well worth listening to.
Duane was always longing to create his own band, and after a session with a selection of Florida's finest, he invited his brother Gregg back to take vocal and Hammond organ duty. Thus the legend began.
Three years of hard touring and little money saw them at the razor edge of sharpness at the Fillmore East. This concert before their rabid New York fans revealed their transition from rock and blues musicians to pioneers in blues/jazz fusion, with soaring twin guitar harmonies, extended solos and blues workouts, expressing the full range of their musical repertoire. It doesn't get any better than this.
Skilful interweaving of the best of the best of the three-day event, allowed producer Tom Dowd to splice together the finest live album ever offered for sale to the public.
Duane and Dicke Betts together created an unprecedented guitar exposition, underpinned by the fertile rhythm section and Gregg's songs, soulful vocals and Hammond counterpoint, which together is the most uplifting and satisfying music I have ever heard, and which renews me every time I enjoy hearing it.
Duane was a leader, an inspirer, a hard-working genius who provided the spark for all the talented musicians who joined him in the remarkable recordings we have as a reminder of his all too brief time on earth.
Have a listen to Derek and The Dominos. Eric Clapton was blown away to hear Duane, and begged him to join his band fulltime. That was a partnership I would have loved to hear more from.
This is my Desert Island Disc. I would be content should this be all I ever own in the future.
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