THE ALLMAN BROTHERS BAND at LA CIGALE, Paris 2 Juillet 1991.
I had discovered the Southern rock at the end of 1981 with Molly Hatchet but I still did not know anything about the origin of this musical movement. Of course, I knew that "Dreams I'll never see" was signed Gregg Allman and I had read some articles about the Allman Brothers Band. But for the rest, nothing!
Having realized that this band was the pioneer of the Southern rock, I hastened to fill my gaps by rushing on any album that might come along.
I remember it like it was yesterday. « Brothers and sisters »! I did not choose it, it was the only record of the Allmans available in the display units of a famous Parisian record store well known for its lack of choice despite its notoriety (no free advertising!). I immediately liked the contents of the inner sleeve with all the musicians and their families. And their unusual look! Yeah, it had the good flavour of the South!
To be honest, by putting for the first time the record on my turntable, I did not know what I was expecting. To the energetic power of Molly Hatchet? To Lynyrd Skynyrd's biting attack (which I had inevitably listened to after Hatchet)? Obviously, I was wrong.
And the voice of Gregg Allman! And then, I also strongly appreciated the quality of the compositions, especially « Ramblin’ man » that made me have a great time and the instrumental « Jessica » who gave me a huge shock (I remember have repeated it a good dozen times). So it was this wonderful musical cocktail that spawned the Southern rock? I had discovered something important. I had a great lesson.
Subsequently, I managed to complete my collection of the Allman Brothers Band but also its various variations (Gregg Allman Band, Great Southern and Dickey Betts, Sea Level), which was not an easy thing to do back then. I also learned that the band had performed in France, especially in 1980. I was raging in my area. Too young and too ignorant, I was missing out on it. From then on, I began to eagerly await every release of the various members of the Georgian combo.
And time passed.
The 80s were coming to an end and nobody cared about Southern rock anymore. Still, everyone in their area, Gregg Allman and Dickey Betts got still themselves talk about with good albums. They stayed in the race. Yes, in the US surely. But in France, it was difficult to find their productions relegated to the rank of music for specialists and other collectors. Whatever! One way or another, I always managed to get them, while secretly dreaming of a possible reformation of the Allman Brothers Band.
And then, in 1990, the big surprise! An event hardly believable! A new record of the Allmans began to bloom in the racks of record stores. And an excellent, then. I lived a daydream. The Macon's band got together again and showed a dazzling shape. However, deep inside me, I doubted that one day it poses its « flight cases » in France.
Fortunately, the destiny was watching.
Tuesday, July 2, 1991.
I tumble out of the metro entrance like a furious buffalo and I head at a brisk pace to the hall of La Cigale while feeling feverishly my ticket buried in the pocket of my jacket. I put it in an envelope so as not to spoil it. I know, it's silly. But since I bought it months ago, I watched it every night to make sure I was not dreaming. It must be said that as soon as I heard the news of the passage of the Allman Brothers Band in Paris, I rushed to buy my place.
In fact, I have two tickets. I managed to persuade my friend Richard (a big fan of hard rock) to accompany me but an acute appendicitis hit him a few days before the date of the concert. And appendicitis at twenty-eight, it hurts (peritonitis and the whole mess)! Well, I should be able to easily refence his place so he can get his money back. In the meantime, I accelerate the walk because I want to be the first to arrive in front of the entrance.
La Cigale in view, I swallow nervously my saliva. Damn, someone beat me! This is a little guy in his early twenties before my very eyes. I am surprised but also happy to see that young people enjoy good music. We greet each other and the conversation naturally begins.
He tells me that he is looking for a place and hopes that there will be some available at the counter. I tell him I have one for sale. His eyes light up then he asks me anxiously how much it would cost. Despite his young age, he must be a regular at rock concerts.
Having always hated the poor dorks who bought tickets in whole packets in order to resell them on the sly at an exorbitant price on the nights of shows, I answer him quietly: "Well, the price that is marked on it! ".
The little guy jumps literally for joy and we do business without waiting.
Meanwhile, a small group of people gathered on the sidewalk but we are far from the big crowd.
The doors finally open, we pass the stage of the search and I rush into the room to place me in the first row. Gradually, the Cigale fills slowly with all the hairy and bearded that count Paris and its suburbs. Some provincials also made the trip to attend the event. I think that we are still very few to applaud a legendary band.
Suddenly, a slight movement goes through the audience. Someone yells, "Gregg! ".
I turn my head and see him. Yes, it's him! It's Gregg Allman! He must come back from any bar in the neighborhood. He walks nonchalantly along the left side of the room, into the bay that leads to the backstage. He gives us a brief wave of his hand before disappearing behind a heavy door.
Waah! It makes me a strange effect to see this living legend a few meters from me!
The time continues to run slowly and the wait is getting heavier. I wonder what songs they will play and I can not wait to see Dickey Betts on stage. Finally, the lights go out and a voice announces, « Here they come ! The Allman Brothers Band ». The music starts and we are directly immersed in the atmosphere with the instrumental bluesy « Don’t want you no more ». Placed as I am, I find myself right in front of Dickey Betts with Gregg Allman and his keyboards on the left. On my right, I can enjoy the way of playing of the second guitarist Warren Haynes (who played with the Dickey Betts Band just before the reformation of the ABB) and the bassist Allen Woody. The two drummers Butch Trucks and Jaimoe Johanson, perched on platforms, overhang their colleagues and are accompanied by percussionist Marc Quinones. Some projectors to enlighten the musicians and that's all. No crazy lights, no lasers or smoke. Just the music, magical and mesmerizing. The bass hums and the drum kits print a steady pace. Gregg Allman gives us a superb organ solo while the two guitarists compete for talent and finish in a final at the third.
The band goes straight to the slow blues « It’s not my cross to bear ». Gregg's hoarse and emotional voice literally takes my guts. Dickey Betts and Warren Haynes drop incandescent solos and Warren sends an unforgettable slide solo at the end of the track.
And then, the first high point of the concert arrives with « Statesboro blues » (originally composed by bluesman Blind Willie Mc Tell). It rocks to death with Gregg on the piano and Warren on the slide. Infernal!
Then Dickey Betts speaks. He tells us that he is happy to find the French public after all this time and he announces an old piece, « Blue sky ». I’m dreaming, it's one of my favorites! Dickey makes his guitar sound like in the old days with his special melodic style while Warren plays on the slide. Giant!
In intro of « Low down dirty mean », Dickey and Warren strum a small Delta blues that is warm to the heart. The song starts and stretches on two distinct rhythms (Delta blues then slow blues).
Right after, the musicians draw on a Southern rock register with « End of the line » from their latest album, « Shades of two worlds ». Dickey and Warren pour out hot solos and engage in a real six-string duel on the end. Impressive!
After the funky « Loaded dice » and his super slide solo, the band continues on a cornerstone of the repertoire of the Allman Brothers Band, the instrumental « In memory of Elisabeth Reed ». From the first steps, the tension goes up a notch and the audience applauds with force. Dickey and Warren spray the crowd of red-hot solos, Gregg's organ flies away and the two drummers perform a breathtaking solo. Fifteen minutes of engaging music and inspired improvisations. Fifteen minutes of talent! A legendary fragrance invades the Cigale.
This is the moment chosen by Dickey Betts to introduce the musicians. When he names Gregg Allman, the room explodes and the walls shake with applause. The band engages on a bluesy melodic ballad, « Gambler’s roll », bursting with sparkling organ and six-string solos, followed by the swinging and beefy « Good clean fun » (featuring a guitar festival too).
We ask for more and we will not be disappointed. Dickey Betts launches alone in an improvisation that allows the public to appreciate all the feeling and the style of the guitarist. The crowd is screaming! It's delirium!
After making his axe roar, Dickey sends the rhythm of « One way out » and the band takes us into a frenzied version of the classic Elmore James. On the program: an incredible slide solo from Warren, Gregg's excellent piano solo, Dickey's bewitched guitar, and a drummer's break from the two drummers. Another title of more than ten minutes of musical stunt. Huge !
Electrified, the public screams to be farting the vocal cords. Dickey announces a new song, « Kind of bird », a fast and swinging instrumental with slide rushes swinging between rock and jazz and a slow, grandiose break.
Then comes the funky rhythm’n’blues « Southbound », enhanced by Dickey Betts' vocals and fluffy guitar solos. The crowd exults!
I live an awakened dream. There is no saying, these musicians are really up to their reputation. What a show! But I still do not know that the best is yet to come.
The intro of "Dreams" resounds in the small room of La Cigale. The crowd shouts and trembles with joy. A hypnotic tempo envelops me while an aerial slide twists my ears. Here we are! The magic, the pure legend, the spark through which everything started, the return to the origins. I feel I have reached another dimension, having traveled through the time and finding myself in Macon in 1969.
After these ten mind-blowing minutes, the combo goes directly on another great classic. From the first chords of « Jessica », the audience screams with full lungs. I do not believe my eyes or my ears. This mythical band, initiator of the Southern rock, plays right in front of me my favorite song. It's not possible, I really have to be dreaming.
Warren Haynes launches first in a frantic solo mixing major and minor modes. Dickey Betts succeeds him, imperial as at the time, with his immediately recognizable melodic way of playing. After the break, the two guitarists answer each other and drift on some notes of « Mountain jam ». Finally, it's the melodic break and the return to the main theme with a memorable conclusion. A quarter of an hour of madness! A real killer! Ten years that I was waiting for that!
We barely have time to catch our breath as the Allman Boys finish us with a classic « Whippin’ post », also lasting fifteen minutes.
Three gigantic titles aligned in three quarters of an hour! What an encore!
Gregg and Dickey thank the audience, the band leaves the stage and the lights come back. The room slowly empties, smiles illuminate the faces.
Me, I'm literally shook up and I find it hard to realize that I just saw the Allman Brothers Band live. What a night ! On the way back, I feel I have attended an exceptional show that I will never forget.
Sunday, May 28, 2017.
I just heard the news: Gregg Allman is dead. Even if I knew that his health was declining, it makes me quite a shock. Our dear Southern rock has just suffered a huge loss.
The stupor passed, the concert of La Cigale comes back to me in memory. The virtuosity of Warren Haynes and the insane way of playing bass by Allen Woody. Jaimoe's dexterity and Butch Trucks' huge punch. Dickey Betts in the spotlight, his hat screwed on his head, playing with his eyes closed his incredible solo on "Jessica". And Gregg's hoarse voice, a voice full of emotion that squeezes the heart. Yes, it was an exceptional show!
And then, another memory of this magic evening resurfaces. A memory twenty-six years old. An image that I have kept deep inside me all this time and that will haunt me forever. The unforgettable vision of Gregg Allman slowly moving backstage of his slow and massive gait, his boots scraping the floor, his long blond hair falling on his black leather jacket and his eyes shining in the dim light. His hand salute.
A legend that passed ...