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Allman Brothers Band: Jamming With The Trio

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(Left) Jaimo

“It’s amazing,” Jaimoe says. “Neither one of us compromises a whole lot of things, and within each of us there’s that voice, and it sounds like one.”

“Jaimoe put it best when he said, ’I can live my jazz through this rock-and-roll band and still feed my family,’” says Quiñones. “He can feel this whole other dimension and still retain this rock-and-roll groove and sound with two other guys. Oteil is playing quote-unquote rock-and roll bass, but he’s scatting, popping, playing funk – he’s got all these different hats. Nobody’s really compromising in this band. It’s labeled Southern rock and roll, but it really isn’t. It should be called a Southern improvisational band.”

As warm and fuzzy as it all sounds, it’s true that not everything they try ends up working. “Marc would be playing some stuff on this song, ’Dreams,’ a 6/8 feel. It was grooving, but we finally stopped it,” Jaimoe remembers with a laugh, “because I could see Greg’s head going in circles, going, ’What the hell are they doing to my song?’”

While mad playing skills are definitely a prerequisite for being on stage or in the studio with the Allman Brothers, the ability to nail a groove is far and away the key to what makes these drummers work. “It’s always about the groove,” Quiñones confirms. “It doesn’t matter what kind of music you play, all the chops you have mean nothing. You can be a master technician, but if you can’t groove, forget about it. That’s the most important thing for me. I’ll hear guys who play all their chops, and when it comes time for the solo, they can’t say anything, because you’ve heard it all.

“One of the reasons this band is working right now is because everybody is really communicating, sort of telepathically. Everyone is open to suggestions; everyone is open to the music we can play, and listening. Because everyone’s open on stage, the conversations are really interesting. It’s been like this, but not so much as it is right now. Everybody’s vibration on stage is so out there, and it seems like everybody is wearing it on their sleeves and we’re able to interact even more. I don’t think this band could have made the music they have in the past years without this constant communication on stage.”

Along with other legends like the Grateful Dead, the Allman Brothers are the unintentional forefathers of today’s thriving jam band scene. From where they sit, some of these groups truly do credit to the genre, and others don’t belong there at all. “I don’t want to name names,” Quiñones says, “but you can put that if bands are true to themselves and the music, they would understand the term ’jam.’ Jam means to expand, expound, and create.”

“For instance, you have [band that shall remain nameless],” Jaimoe notes. “They don’t jam. He’s a songwriter. How can they be called ’jam’ if they don’t get into improvisation? They’re considered a jam band, but they don’t jam. They have great musicians, but if you separate them – watch it now. They can’t do it. You have Phish, Widespread Panic; those are jam bands. They’ll get out there and play a song for 15 minutes. Some other people that are in that category need to check themselves. They need to have a song. A lot of those bands don’t even have a song. I’m sorry! The song or the talent.”

They have both the songs and the talent, but one element that puts the Allman Brothers over the top into jam band legend status is their deep experience playing together, knowing when to push each other’s buttons and when they’re truly locked in. “Derek has a way of building a solo that I’ve come to learn,” Trucks offers up as an example. “I know when he starts a solo to lay back, because it’s just got to get quiet almost to get him to start playing and let him get open and take it where he wants to go. Once you figure out what direction he’s going, you go, but you have to wait for him to start going that way. With Warren, you can be more assertive and push him. Warren is more, I would say, predictable, and I don’t mean that in a negative way. There’s at least a little bit of insecurity, most of the time you’re not 100-percent sure that you’re all right there.”

Now pay attention, because what Trucks says next may be the best description yet of what makes a great groove. “Every once in a while, however, it gets to where you’re so damn sure that you’re all right there together that you can pour everything into it, with no fear whatsoever. The other night it was like this: The essence there is that surety of knowing we’re in the same place. We can cut loose because I know we’re not separated from each other.”

“If you don’t listen,” Quiñones adds, “you’ll be off there, doing what you do. We’re all up there listening to each other all the time. Some nights it will be great, and sometimes it’s just another drum solo. It’s always evolving. Sometimes I think I’m playing more than I should, other times they’ll sit back and let me play, or they’ll lay down an interaction. Right now Derek is young, he’s experimenting, you never know where he’s going to go, and if you don’t wait, it won’t get there. You’ve got to wait for him to let you know, ’Hey, we’re going this way.’ Once you know, you can really take off and push him.”

To write their new songs, as they did for the excellent and earthy new release, Hittin’ the Note, the Allman Brothers will come up with the framework in rehearsal, then start honing them as soon as possible before live audiences, with a warning that they’re still in the early stages. At that point, their crowd decides if a song is worth recording. “The people will let you know if a song is working,” says Jaimoe. “The people I came up with, like Otis Redding, they knew how to hit audiences, what to hit them with, and when to let them rest.”

Well known for playing long past the point when other bands would be calling it a night and collecting their paychecks, the Allman Brothers believe their crowd likes to leave their concerts feeling tired and happy. “I think the audience would welcome being worn out – that’s what they’re there for,” Quiñones says. “This band, in my opinion, is the only band that will play two-and-a-half to three hours and give people more than their money’s worth. You have bands that will play an hour and a half and charge 100 bucks for a ticket. We have to pace ourselves to play all the music that we play. At the Beacon, we play 20 songs a night, and with the energy and intensity, it’s difficult sometimes not to wear yourself out.”

Ultimately, the drummers of the Allman Brothers, two of whom have been honing the art of improvisational rock together since the Summer of Love, recognize the jam above all as a fluid process where the point is to simply go with the flow. “One reason it works is that we don’t think about it,” Trucks states. “You can’t get up there and do what we do, play as fast as we play, move from one segment to another, and have to think about it. It’s not possible. We play together, but other than being conscious of what the other is saying, there’s a lot of spontaneity. We don’t tell each other, ’Play this or play that.’ Never. We just play.”

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