Brothers Gregg and Duane Allman had been fronting bands since 1963. They had wrangled a recording contract in 1967 and released two albums in one incarnation as the Hour Glass. By 1968 they realized their sound wasn’t going over well in their current base, California. Duane relocated back to the south where they had grown up.
Gregg stayed in California where he fulfilled a contractual obligation while Duane, back home, became a much in demand studio guitarist working out of FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. He sharpened his style while playing with many of the eras top soul and blues acts. Duane also started to put together a band, jamming in Jacksonville, Florida with Dicky Betts and Butch Trucks.
Gregg rejoined his brother and the band went into the studio and recorded the Allman Brothers Band. The album mixes together everything from blues, jazz, rock and soul and created a new sound that would shortly be dubbed Southern Rock.
The album didn’t sell very well and was treated almost a regional curiosity. The album barely cracked the Billboard Top 200 list. While the album was being released the band toured extensively and slowly but surely the album was raised in the public consciousness. A few years later as the band gained in popularity the album was paired with the band’s second album, Idlewild South, and re released as a two record set “Beginnings”.
The album opens with the Spencer Davis, a British pop star, number “Don’t Want You No More” which seems like an odd choice for an American band. The Allman’s version captures everything the band was about in it’s first 60 seconds. Opening with dual guitars, dual drums and Gregg’s sweeping organ in the background. At the minute mark the guitar riffs kick in weaving in and out. The song has no vocals and actually serves as an intro to “It’s Not My Cross To Bare”. By the end of this, their second recorded song, the band has introduced the listener to the rest of their trademark sound. Incredibly tight musicianship, dueling guitars, some of the best slide guitar that was ever put on vinyl and Gregg’s growling powerful vocals.
The third song is “Black Hearted Woman” which owes a bit to Jimi Hendrix’s “Crosstown Traffic” in parts. The band cooks here and the show showcases Gregg’s vocals. Both guitarists shine and the rhythm section kicks it up a notch.
The first side closes with the McKinley Morganfield tune “Trouble No More”. The slide guitar on this is exceptional.
Side two, one of the great album sides in American rock, opens with “Every Hungry Woman”. This is a four minute song marked by some of Gregg’s fiercest vocals. The guitar interplay is extraordinary, check the guitars from the two to three minute mark.
Next up was “Dreams” a song that was to become a staple in their live sets. This is a seven minute blues/rock song that never surrenders its jam based roots. Both guitarists establish that they can play sweet almost lyrical riffs that give the song’s instrumental parts an almost trance like quality.
The album closes with “Whipping Post” one of the band’s signature songs. This song has it all and probably has some of the most poignant singing of any rock song ever. Two years later when the band’s classic album “Live at the Fillmore East” was released with it’s just shy of 23 minutes version garnering all sorts of attention this version started in retrospect to receive the attention it was due.
In retrospect it’s hard to understand how this album was ignored upon it’s initial release. By 1969 there was enough FM format stations in the country and DJ’s were open to playing songs longer than three minutes. The album holds up even today and still sounds fresh and exciting. The wailing guitar bits on “Whipping Post” get deep into your spine and psyche today as they did forty years ago.