During my many years as the town's head music critic, the only advice my editor at the Athens Banner Herald ever gave me was, "Don’t write in the first person." While I have always tried to adhere to those words, the views expressed herein are deeply heartfelt, and come from years of attentive reflection upon this music scene that I have followed so passionately. Given that, these thoughts could only be expressed from a personal perspective.
During the early 1990’s, a musical renaissance was upon us. As young "jam bands" such as Widespread Panic and Phish were cutting their teeth, touring relentlessly to earn their places in history, the Allman Brothers Band were enjoying a long-awaited second creative peak, thanks in large part to the influx of two new "Brothers" – Allen Woody and Warren Haynes. At the time, Panic was the band that earned my loyalties, and was closest to my heart. Yet, every time I would go see an Allman show, I left knowing that I had just seen the world’s best live band.
For me, the Allman experience changed drastically on September 27,1997 at Universal Studios in Hollywood.
I went, curious to hear how my old friend Oteil Burbridge would fair as the newest Brother, and wound up leaving before the show was over. Not only were Warren and Woody long gone, having left the band in March to concentrate full-time on Govt Mule, but Dickey Betts was a no show, replaced for the evening by Jack Pearson. The show fell severely below expectations.
Before I proceed, I should add that Oteil is not only one of my favorite bass players; I also think he is one of the top all-around musicians on the planet. That said, there is flat out no way that he can ever bring it to an Allman Brothers show like Woody did. Not just Oteil – no one seems capable of filling the void left when that beast of a bass player departed. His bass was deep, it was heavy, and it filled the bottom end the way it was meant to be filled – a mean and wicked sound that resonated from within the soul in a way only Woody could play.
As I sat in the Beacon Theater on March 20, my first experience of the Allman’s traditional March Madness run, I was thrilled to see Warren pushing the band to yet another creative peak. The experience of watching as he and Derek Trucks traded leads was nothing short of delightful. As the performance unfolded, a thought that had been brewing in mind suddenly became crystal clear.
It would seem a forgone conclusion that most fans would cite the dearly departed Duane Allman as the most missed Allman. With no disrespect towards Duane, or anyone else intended, the Allman Brothers Band that toured from 1989 to early 1997 were, for my money, not only the best collection of Brothers ever, they were the best band alive. Watching the latest rendition of Brothers surge once again, I came to the realization that, from my perspective, Allen Woody was the most irreplaceable member the band has ever lost. In fact, his loss seemingly took more from the Allman’s than it did from Mule, who have soldiered valiantly on, to the point that they have actually become a much better band than they were during their earlier years with Woody.
True, it did take nearly 18 years to replace Duane, but Warren Haynes eventually came along, and few would argue that he filled the void unlike anyone who had previously attempted to replace dear Duane. In addition, would anyone really argue that Derek, a second generation Allman by birth, has quickly proved up to the task of replacing the legendary Dickey Betts? Derek may not sing, but, as usual, there is Warren to fill the gap, keeping the band churning right along.
Back to the Beacon, where the latest version of this American institution is suddenly mixing up their set lists more than any time in their career. As the first set is coming to a close, the band begins to play "No One To Run With," and there he is – larger than life – Allan Woody, being shown on the screen behind the stage. Interestingly enough, Duane also made an appearance during this video clip, but was given far less time on the screen, and received but a fraction of the crowd reaction that Woody received.
A deafening roar exploded from the crowd when Woody first appeared. Warren turned to look at the screen, only to see his old friend. He then turned back to the crowd, with a huge expression of joy on his face for the reception that had been given to his pal. For a brief moment, the slow happy boys were back on stage together, and Warren couldn't have looked any happier.
Neither could I. It was an emotional moment for this fan and, seemingly, for the band as well.
As the video ended, Woody still on the screen, I was left with one last thought: God bless Allen Woody! We miss you brother…