The High Cost of Low Livin’
I wasn’t going to write anything about this, but then decided I had to, thanks to a really nice piece written by Mike Sepelak over at Mike’s Gone Fishin’: Sometimes I Feel.
Duane Allman in 1971, and barely a year later, bassist Barry Oakley.
Two huge, crushing blows to a band that was just finding their sound. But the Allman Brothers Band found a way out and played on through the years, anchored the entire time by Gregg Allman’s iconic voice and Hammond B3. There were some highs and probably as many—if not more—lows during the years that followed the tragedies of 1971 and ’72, but they did produce some good albums after that—most notably perhaps, Brothers and Sisters.
Due to heavy drug and alcohol abuse, they also produced some albums that weren’t up to par, and in 1976 the band split up. They got back together briefly after that, but disbanded again in 1982. In 1989 the Allman Brothers regrouped, and despite more turbulent times that included original member Dickey Betts leaving the band, they soldiered on. It was during the 90’s that Gregg Allman finally got sober and clean, and it showed in the quality of the music, which only got better up until their final show in 2014.
I was too young to appreciate their music early on, but as I became a teenager in the late 70’s, with summers spent working in the woods with a bunch of older, stoner-hippies (terms of endearment), I was indoctrinated into the sound of the Allman Brothers Band. I would have to say that since then, if there was one band whose vinyl, cassettes, and CD’s I listened to most, it was the brothers from Jacksonville, Florida. Despite that referring to their music as “Southern Rock” is not really an accurate description, the Allman Brothers Band is often labeled as such. It’s best to save that label for Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Outlaws, Molly Hatchett, 38 Special, and others—all bands that I also really like. Southern blues-rock is a better way to think of the Allman Brothers’ music—it’s on a different level from other bands that are all lumped into the Southern Rock category. Everything about the Allman Brothers’ sound is what I love most in music: heavy emphasis on guitars that scream, but not gratuitously so. Songs with less singing and more emphasis on the instrumental. Songs that build and go on for extended periods, allowing for plenty of time to get lost in air guitar solos.
I imagine that most people casually know who the Allman Brothers Band are thanks to Dickey Betts’ Ramblin’ Man, which became a chart hit and put them in the forefront of the mainstream audience. The problem with that is, Ramblin’ Man is perhaps the least Allman Brothers sounding song of all. It’s a fine song, but if that’s what you think of when you hear the band’s name, you’re missing out. Many would say that their earliest stuff was their best, and it’s hard to argue with that because their first few albums featured the original lineup. The band’s first live album, At Fillmore East, is absolutely iconic. The Brothers have always been at their finest when live, and this album is a must-have in order to fully appreciate that.
What many folks don’t realize is that the Allman Brothers Band put out a tremendous album in 2003—an album that, when I first heard it, really rekindled a flame for me. Hittin’ the Note is a must-have because it shows that the band was once again at their very best, after decades of turmoil and personal and professional lows. While certainly not the original lineup, one can imagine that the original Brothers would have been proud of where this latest album had taken the group. I was fortunate to see them in concert in 2009 with my old stoner-hippy boss. It was the only time I got to see the Brothers. How I wish I’d been able to make a trip to New York City to see them during one of their many sold-out runs at the Beacon Theater…
Fittingly, it was my old stoner-hippy boss who sent me a text last Saturday that said, “Damn. Brother Gregg Allman died.” That hit hard.
Drummer Butch Trucks in January, and now just 4 months later, Gregg Allman. 2017 has been a rough year.
He lived hard and that took a toll. But Gregg had gotten it together and was living right, continuing to make great music, both with his own band as well as with the Allman Brothers right up until their farewell concert in 2014. One can’t help but listen to The High Cost of Low Living and think that it was more than just words.
“It’s a high cost of low livin’
Ain’t it high time? You turn yourself around
Yeah, the high cost of low livin’
It’s bound to put you six feet in the ground.”
Rest in Peace, Brother Gregg. Thanks for the music.