Monday, June 16, 2014

DVD REVIEW: "Song of the South - Duane Allman & the Rise of The Allman Brothers Band" (Guest Post)

Duane Allman & the Rise of
The Allman Brothers Band

Sexy Intellectual Productions
131 Minutes (2013)

Guest contributor and
leading Allman Brothers 
authority, Craig Ruskey 
returns to offer his stamp
of approval on a hot new
DVD release.

Simply put, this highly-anticipated two-hour DVD has been long overdue, and although it took a British outfit to develop and release it, the finished project proves to be well worth the wait. Most Allman Brothers fans will have a fairly keen understanding of the band, its beginnings and its now lengthy history. But writer / director Tom O’Dell digs deep and prevails upon several significant people to offer their memories and thoughts of Duane, Gregg and the somewhat meager foundations of what would later blossom into a driving force in rock music in the 1970s.

Following a brief recap and refresher course on the early days of rock n’ roll and the varying social climates in the North and South, the documentary digs right into the formative days of Duane Allman, his younger brother, Gregg, and the fascination both shared for blues and rhythm & blues music by the time they were young teenagers in Daytona Beach, Florida. While it would have been easy enough to skim lightly over this period, we’re instead given an in-depth idea of what some of their contemporaries thought, and those first inside views come from Ted Petrucianni and Sonny Fussell, two members of the Uniques, one of the initial outfits Duane and Gregg launched in the early 1960s. Also covered are the Escorts, the Allman Joys, the Hour Glass and how the contract with Liberty originated, and later fell apart. Insider views on this period are provided by Pete Carr and Paul Hornsby, two prominent players and longtime friends.

While the Hour Glass seemingly made a doomed decision heading for the golden shores of California with promises from Bill McKuen, what was brewing underneath was the determination the brothers had to wash their hands of the pop music they recorded for producer Dallas Smith. Hornsby gives a fairly detailed account of their hiatus from Los Angeles and the combined decision of all involved to book time at Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, where the earth-shattering “B.B. King Medley” was tracked in the first quarter of 1968. Although they were more than satisfied with their Muscle Shoals departing tape, Smith quickly rejected it as subpar material upon the band’s return to Los Angeles. Dejected after fighting an uphill battle with a record company that produced mostly pop and surf efforts, Duane decided to beat it back to the South while Gregg remained in California to finish out the contract.

The two-hour disc is evenly split between the formative period when Duane and Gregg were basically playing covers to the actual formation of the Allman Brothers Band following the now-famous Jacksonville Jam. This is where the meat and potatoes really fulfill the insatiable appetite that Allmaniacs share. Key figures in the second half of the feature are longtime road manager and friend Willie Perkins, and authors Scott Freeman (Midnight Riders) and Randy Poe (Skydog), all who offer definitive insight into Duane’s vision and the looming reality of finally fulfilling his musical destiny. One of the more intriguing aspects of the second half of this DVD is the improbability of success that faced Duane and Gregg, as well as Phil Walden, head of Capricorn Records, who in fact launched the label based solely on his confidence in Duane Allman’s abilities. The powerful record labels in the late 1960s and early 1970s weren’t based in the South. They were mostly located on the opposite coasts of New York and Los Angeles, and rarely anywhere else between the two. Another hurdle facing Duane and his ideas was the dearth of successful music emanating from anywhere below the Mason-Dixon line prior to this era. What was gaining traction, importance and critical acclaim before the ABB was formed included power trios and rock groups fronted by guitar heroes in the shape of Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix and others. A large six-piece outfit, now based in Macon, Georgia, and featuring twin lead guitarists, two drummers, a bass player who played anything but conventional bass guitar and a Hammond B3 organist who was saddled to his keyboard all night, surely wasn’t going to be accepted with open arms by the music industry or its fans. Or was it? Against all odds, Duane pressed forward with only Phil Walden, his Capricorn label, and very few others standing in his corner.

Other on-camera luminaries discussing Duane, Gregg and the importance of the Allman Brothers Band include E.J. Devokaitis (former curator / archivist of The Big House Museum Macon, Georgia), critics Bud Scoppa and Robert Christgau, author Mark Kemp, musician David Hood and producers Ron and Howard Albert (Criteria Studios). While the DVD isn’t authorized by the band itself, the producers thankfully managed to include various samples of ABB music (Don’t Keep Me Wondering / Dreams / Midnight Rider / In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed), several snippets of radio interviews with Duane and some film. The band’s Fillmore East performance in September of 1970 is incorporated, as well as some footage from the Atlanta Pop Festival courtesy of the Alex Cooley archives. The eminent roles of producer Tom Dowd and promoter Bill Graham also are discussed, as well as pivotal moments in Duane’s session career, and the feature concludes with the devastating losses of Duane Allman and Berry Oakley. While there is some stock footage tossed in, it all ties together seamlessly, and there are plenty of vintage photos used throughout, some rarely seen.

Although we might wonder why it took a UK outfit finally to produce and release a full-length film of this magnitude, we should all be celebrating the finished outcome. It’s been lovingly and thoughtfully assembled and edited, and touches on almost everything longtime Allman fanatics want to see and hear. It’s broken down into selectable chapters and also contains a few bonus features, including detailed interview segments with Willie Perkins and the Albert brothers. Brother Duane Allman is no longer with us in the physical sense, but the deep and lifelong spiritual connection he undoubtedly left behind with many of us still looms large. He almost always played against the odds, and unlike most who gamble, he usually came out on top. He believed in himself, his brother, his band-mates and his vision, and he left behind both an incredible legacy and an indelible mark. He has been honored respectfully and given the focus he has deserved for decades and it’s a safe bet that he would be proud. Scott Freeman wraps it up best with this closing quote: “Duane Allman’s the greatest guitar player that ever lived.” (Available on Amazon)

-Craig Ruskey
(June 2014)


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