Missin’ Woody

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…

Whole Lotta Herring: Taking to the skies with one of the premier guitarists of our time

When it came time to go to the airport on November 13, little did I know what the journey held in store.


Just moments after stepping in to the security line of the Atlanta airport, I soon came to realize that this, like so many journeys before, was about to become another in the long line of my memorable adventures with the notorious Rev. Buddy Greene.


Before Buddy arrived, I turned around to see Jimmy Herring stepping in line just behind me.  While I thought it seemed obvious that I, too, was heading to Denver for the weekend run of Phil and Friends shows, Jimmy’s first question to me was “Where are you going?”  Before long, the friendly hellos turned to talk of music, which led to my asking if Jimmy was heading to Boulder after the flight to sit in with Govt Mule.


Much to my surprise, Jimmy was completely unaware of the show.  By the time we made it through security and headed to the Crowne Room, my campaign to drag him along with the Rev. and I was in full swing.  While Jimmy was unable to make a definite commitment at the time, not knowing what was in store for him once we landed, I knew the groundwork that had been laid would somehow lead to his appearance that night.


As we said goodbye leaving the Denver airport, the Rev. and I put forth one last attempt at hijacking Jimmy to come with us to Boulder.  Unsuccessful, we persisted with “We’ll see you there,” “It’s going to be a blast,” “That Paul Stacey in Chris Robinson’s band is great, you’d love playing with him,” and anything else we could think of in an attempt to pique his interest in joining our journey.


We then headed to Boulder, where we were promptly greeted with, “There are no tickets for you” at the box office.  Freezing cold, and surrounded by ticketless fans trying to get in, we soon wondered if this trip was going to become the antithesis of our amazing trips throughout the previous year.  As we were told that the show was over sold, and that 25 names had been dropped from the guest list to keep the crowd within legal limits, our concern grew greater.  However, we kept in mind the fact that, even under much more daunting circumstances than this, neither the Rev. nor I had ever been shut out of a show.


And then, the moment we were waiting for – the sign of a final guest list being bought to the ticket window.  Suddenly, all of our concerns were eased, tickets and passes were in hand, and we headed in to the show. 


And what a show it was.


Robinson and New Earth Mud opened with the best set I’d ever seen them play.  By the time Mule worked their way down “Monkey Hill”, I realized they were playing their self-titled debut album. From beginning to end, a near flawless set, and, before it would end, the Rev. and I were rejoicing on many accounts, including the fact that much of the crowd joined us in chanting, “Jimmy, Jimmy, Jimmy” as our friend was suddenly spotted on the side of the stage.


The New Earth Mule Unit

The reaction on the faces of each member of Mule as they looked over and saw Jimmy told us all that no one, except for the Rev. and I, was expecting his arrival. As he looked in our direction and smiled with that infectious grin, our anticipation of the next set grew all the more intense.


While set two would bring forth no more (original) Mule, it did bring Chris Robinson back to the stage.  The set opened with a pair of classic covers, “Hard To Handle” and “Almost Cut My Hair”, and the show would only get better from there.  “Sometimes Salvation” has long been one of my favorites, whether performed by Mule or by the Black Crowes.  Having Robinson on stage to share the vocals with Warren only made it all the better. 


Then, the moment we had cheered for was upon us as we looked behind Warren and saw Jimmy strapping on a guitar, all the while looking our way, continuing to grin, and giving us a thumbs-up sign as he walked on to the stage for “Dreams.”


“Let Jimmy sing,” a chant that will seemingly follow this stellar musician through the rest of his career, rang through the crowd between songs.  This left Jimmy shaking his head “no” as he gazed down laughing at the perpetrator, none other the Rev.  Then, Jimmy and the rest of the band raged through a memorable cover of the Cream classic “Politician.”  From there, an all out jam, Mule style, ensued, starting with a great “Drums” in which Matt Abts was joined by New Earth Mud’s Jeremy Stacey.  This was followed by a battle of dual lead guitars as Jimmy and Paul Stacey took the stage, leaving Warren in much the same state as us, a smiling bystander, watching as these two sensational players matched each other note for note.


Through years of touring with bands such as the Aquarium Rescue Unit, Jazz Is Dead, and Project Z, Jimmy Herring has always remained somewhat of an underground secret, a man who, with a guitar in his hands, can fill a room with emotion, joy, and pure musical bliss. I have seen Jimmy take the stage with some of the most famous names to ever play guitar, and without fail, his playing has always rivaled that of his more famous counterparts. On this night, it was Jimmy who was the better known of the two players on stage. And, although his playing was every bit as good as ever, for once he was not the most outstanding player on stage.  Stacey took control of the jam and, from my perspective at least, actually outplayed the man who is rarely outdone by anyone once he straps on a guitar.  While listening to discs of the show at a later date did not necessarily leave me with the same impression, on this night, I was certainly more impressed with Stacey than either of the other guitarists on stage (which is saying a lot, as Warren and Jimmy would both rank in my Top 5 favorite players of all time).


But, in the end, the most lasting memories of this, the first of a remarkable four-night run through Colorado with Govt Mule and the Q would always be the story of getting to the show, the feeling of excitement we felt when we finally saw Jimmy enter the Theater, and the pure joy of seeing him take the stage, joining a collective group of musicians from two bands, playing as one, who all seemed to be having every bit as much fun as those of us in the crowd.


Now, if we could only get Jimmy to open up those vocal chords…