After sitting out most of the 80s, the Allman Brothers Band reunited for the third time in 1989. They were a little tentative at first. There was no new album right away. New keyboard player Johnny Neel was an awkward fit for the band. The initial shows were essentially nostalgia nights.
But by the summer of 1991, undeniable progress had been made. They now had two albums of new material, 1990's Seven Turns and 1991's Shades Of Two Worlds. Neel was out and in his place was a percussion player named Marc Quinones. The band was finally back in the two guitars/one keyboard configuration they started with in 1969. Newcomers Warren Haynes and Allen Woody gave the band of boost of energy -- they would not be the faceless for-hire musicians that had filled out the 79-82 lineup.
The Allmans had escaped the classic rock nostalgia circuit and were getting their due as progenitors of the new "jamband" scene. They appeared on the H.O.R.D.E tour in both 1993 and 1994 and had the chops and depth of material to hold their own with any improvisational rock band past and present.
There was a bit of stumble in the summer of 1993 when Dickey took a leave of absence mid-tour after a dispute with his wife led to an arrest. Jimmy Herring, David Grissom and Jack Pearson filled in. Early 1994 saw them record the Where It All Begins album, which sold enough to reach Gold certification. This was a strong effort, with "Soulshine, "Sailin' 'Cross The Devil's Sea," "No One To Run With" and "Back Where It All Begins" being standout tracks.
Behind the scenes, the ever-mercurial relationship between Betts and Allman began to falter yet again. Substance abuse didn't help matters in the slightest. Allman was trashed at their Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame induction in 1995. I personally recall the first night of the Allmans Beacon run in March 1996. Gregg left the stage after two songs and Page McConnell from Phish came out for the rest of the night. The next night Gregg made it through the whole show but he was in rough shape. His organ and vocals were turned way down and after the last song he stood on the edge of the stage signing tickets -- it was his way of saying, "I'm sorry."
The band began to grind to a halt. There were no new songs and thus no new albums. No rehearsals. Play the old ones, make the money, and go home. Warren and Woody were beginning to peak as artists and had lost interest in the ABB. They had their own project called Gov't Mule that was picking up steam and released an album in late 1995. Maybe they'd be fine without the Allman Brothers and who's to say there was even still going to be an Allman Brothers with the way the founding members acted towards one another?
The March 1997 Beacon Run would be Warren and Woody's final Allman shows. (Warren would return in 2001 however.) Oteil Burbridge from Aquarium Rescue Unit would take over on bass. Not a southern rocker by trade, he was more on the funk and jazz spectrum. Replacing Haynes would be Nashville resident Jack Pearson, who had actually filled in for Dickey before in 1993.
Jack was congenial, professional and free of any psychological drama or vices. Best of all, he would he would do Dickey's bidding and not lobby for creative control. Dickey didn't mind playing with people better than him as long as they understood: This was Dickey's band.
Pearson was smooth, precise, equally adept at both slide guitar and single note leads. The guitar he played was a Strat-style instrument, unique for the Allmans. He had the best jazz chops of any guitarist in the band's history, utilized a lot of legato lines, and his playing exuded taste and space. At times he may have been a little too refined. The Allman Brothers at their core are a Rock Band. They were known for guitar solos ending in a frenzy of notes, bombastic statements that could please an amphitheater crowd. Pearson's approach was more sublime, he would slip in and out of his solos with humility and grace.
The summer/fall 1998 run of shows had three setlists, "A," B" and "C," albeit with some overlap. The September 8, 1998 show in Jacksonville, FL opened with the classic "Statesboro Blues" but the next three would be two songs from Where It All Begins and an Pearson-sung original called "I'm Not Crying" that was a staple in the setlists during this time. They had added a five-song acoustic set of blues songs and "Melissa." Jack handled the acoustic guitar with the finesse you would expect. After that would be the expected string of older hits ending with an "Elizabeth Reed" containing bass and drum interludes.
It was still just business. Play the shows, make the money. This was still Dickey's band. New songs would be introduced by Dickey in 1999 and 2000 but the band would never record them.
At the same time, something else was starting to happen: Gregg Allman was reemerging as a creative entity. Where It All Begins featured four writing credits from Gregg. The last time he had that many on a studio album was on their second one, Idlewild South, released in 1970. After 25 years of being in an alcohol and drug-addled fog and the punchline to bad jokes about rock and roll excess, Allman wanted an equal role in the band that bore his name. Dickey had assumed control over this band after Duane's death -- in all fairness, no one else was up to the job -- and ruled the Brothers with an iron fist. I was backstage at some Beacon Theater shows in New York in 1998 and got a startling glimpse at band dynamics: NO ONE was allowed to talk to Dickey. Not even his own band. Gregg and Butch Trucks began to wonder why it had to be this way.
As for poor Jack Pearson, he had one problem: Dickey was just too damn loud. Jack had tinnitus issues and Dickey's two Marshall half-stacks pushed the stage volume well beyond the level of what was tolerable.
Dickey being Dickey was not interested in turning down in the slightest and Jack left the band after the 1999 Beacon run, his tenure with the Brothers lasting 21 months and just over 100 shows. In his place would come wunderkind Derek Trucks. And after 11 months with Derek and Dickey in the guitar slot the final and biggest lineup change of all would occur.
The Allman Brothers Band
Moran Theatre, Jacksonville, Florida
mp3 @ 320 [347 mb]
01 Statesboro Blues
02 What's Done Is Done
03 I'm Not Crying
04 Change My Way Of Living
05 Stand Back
06 Hot 'lanta
07 Back Where It All Begins
08 Steady Rolling Man
10 Going Down The Road Feeling Bad
11 Come On In My Kitchen
13 You Don't Love Me
15 Blue Sky
16 In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed
17 One Way Out
18 No One To Run With