The Allman Brothers Band performs “Don’t Keep Me Wonderin’, a tune from their Idlewild South album, for a September 1970 show at the Fillmore East in New York. I was a latecomer in appreciating this group — chalk it up to coming of age in the years when Gregg Allman was better known as Cher’s drug-sozzled paramour — and the appreciation has been spurred mainly by Duane Allman’s distinctive guitar backup for the likes of Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin, King Curtis and Boz Scaggs. And, of course, Layla — the only Eric Clapton record I have much use for. You can’t judge artists by their imitators, and if the Allmans gave rise to legions of long-haired Southern rock boogie bands ramblin’ their way through endless blues cliches at top volume, that doesn’t diminish the quality of Idlewild South or The Allman Brothers at the Fillmore East one iota. But there’s still no getting around the fact that I would happily spend the rest of my life without ever again hearing “Whipping Post,” much less “Free Bird.”
This clip, taken from unused PBS footage, is one of the few bits of film capturing the Allmans in their early 1970s prime. That’s Duane Allman on the Les Paul, meshing his sound wonderfully with Thom Doucette’s harmonica. As was his wont, Duane is playing slide with a Coricidin bottle. (Coricidin was a high-octane decongestant Allman used for recreational purposes — one of many pharmacological amusements that could have killed him if he hadn’t died in a motorcycle accident in 1971.) The muddy sound is unkind to Gregg’s singing and it doesn’t so much for their two-drummer lineup, which was a pretty advanced idea for any rock band at the time. As the two-volume anthology series demonstrates, Duane Allman was a one of a kind talent who should have stayed around a lot longer.