Since 1989, the Allman Brothers Band has played at the Beacon Theater 177 times; they're currently in the midst of what's become an annual tradition: a springtime, multi-night residency at the Beacon Theater. This year's run at the newly-renovated Beacon is fifteen nights long and coincides with the band's 40th anniversary. As always, surprise guests are planned for almost every night of the run, and this year the list is heavily rumored to include Eric Clapton and B.B. King.
And for the first time this year, fans who can't make it to the sold-out shows can get their faces melted at home through the wonder of the World Wide Web. Drummer Butch Trucks has been hard at work getting his Moogis website up and running; the site is hosting live streaming video of every night at the Beacon, and each show is archived on the site within six hours. So now there's really no excuse not to check out that sick rendition of Whipping Post your hippie coworker keeps blathering about.
How was the show last night? It was great. And this is wonderful having this Moogis thing because I'm sitting here this morning already watching last night's show! As we played it last night I had my doubts, you know, because the first night was just so over the top. It was kind of like, as someone said after we finished the first show, "Well, it's time to go home!" It was just so incredible and powerful and intense. And then Levon Helm and his whole gang came on and we had twelve people on stage at one point. And it wasn't a clusterfuck! Can I say clusterfuck?
Please. It's not normal that you can get that many people on stage and have it not be a clusterfuck. But it worked. And the whole first night was just so powerful. So last night... Putting together two powerful sets is always difficult. After you really pour it out one night it's hard to pour it out the next night. But I'm listening to last night's show and it was really good. I mean really tight. The songs really worked. A lot of good stuff in it. And Johnny Winter came out and I mean, Jesus, it's balls to the wall. Johnny Winter doesn't know the word "subtlety". But it works, it works. It's just the blues wide open.
And you're having surprise guests every night? So far I think the way we have it set up is every night except the 26th. The 26th is [the 40th anniversary of] the day that we actually started. So we actually had some people coming that night and we asked them to switch to another night or not come. We'd feel like that night is the night that it should be just us. So, no special guest on the 26th but at all the other shows there will be at least one and on several nights there will be a couple of different guests.
Was there anyone last night besides Johnny? Two guys from Los Lobos. In fact I had just watched up to that point on Moogis when you called. The way Moogis is working is you can watch the stream live and then by about five or six in the morning we have it archived. I can watch the first two shows now, and as we finish each show they will go to the archives and they will all stay up until September 30th. So I can watch any of these shows or all of these shows for six months after the Beacon run is over.
Was it hard to pull this off on a technical level? Unbelievably hard. I mean, this hasn't been done before. There have been some things like this done but this has not been pulled off on this scale. You know, setting up this multi-show run and tying it in with a web site, a community-based web site and everything else. The logistics and everything about it has been pretty tough. It's taken a lot of time and a lot of hard work but it's paid off. People really like it.
And all fifteen shows are sold out? Oh, yeah.
I heard there's a guy on Long Island who took three weeks off work and is going to every single show. He's been to every single show since we started playing at the Beacon! We've got to find this guy, his name is Michael Springer and he says he's been sitting in the same seat next to the sound board for every show since we've been playing back in 1989. Every show that we've ever done at the Beacon, he's been there in the same seat. So I mean that guy deserves something, you know a plaque that says, "Atta Boy" or something, I don't know.
What do you think it is? What do you think people find in the music that makes them want to come to every single night of the 15 night run? Well for one thing, it's always fresh. It's always different. There are always surprises; you never know what's going to happen. Every night, whether anybody shows up or not. This year because it is the 40th anniversary and we're dedicating all the shows to Duane, we've invited a lot of his old friends and people he played with and a lot of people that grew up listening to him and were influenced by him. Without Duane there's no Allman brothers.
So for our 40th anniversary, every show opens with a special dedication to him and a montage of pictures of him. and every show ends with another montage. Without him, none of this happens. But back to your question, you can come every night and you're going to hear a different show. The set list is different. Even the few songs that we repeat during the 15-show run, we spread them out and they sound different; they are never the same. I think that's how we've been able to maintain this for forty years and keep it fresh and keep it live and keep it fun.
And I'll be honest with you, I go to the show and I'm so damn tired right now after all the work and stress putting this Moogis project together and we play and we play... Especially that opening night, I mean I poured everything I had into it. I got blisters where I didn't know I had places! And then last night I looked at those three steps going up to the risers and I was like, "I can't make it up those stairs, much less play the drums!" But then we start playing and something happens. The magic kicks in; I feel like I'm a teenager. And when we finish playing the show, I'm just going, "My God, they pay me for this!" I would pay them to let me have this much fun. It is still that intense after forty years.
And I mean, during the last few years it just seemed to have picked up a whole other level, a whole other notch. Every night is fun. We don't have bad nights anymore. Last night didn't quite have the intensity of the opening night but it had it's own feel, you know. There was a lot more subtlety; it was a lot more song-oriented and the songs worked. These are songs that people know and that they really get into and they were all tied in a groove. And it's all we can do. We can change gears from night to night and it seems like right now with this band that we have now, every gear that we use works.
How is it playing in the newly-renovated Beacon Theater? You know, once they turn the lights off it doesn't make a damn bit of difference. What I like most is they put a bathroom in my dressing room. So now I don't have to walk in on Marc [Quiñones, percussionist] in his underwear so I can take a shower. Every night I finish a show I used to have to go to Marc's dressing room next to mine to get a shower but now I've got my own shower. That's the best thing about the renovation of the Beacon as far as I'm concerned. The rest of it, you know, it's the same place. It's the Beacon, you know, it's the Beacon! This is home! This is where we've been forever. You go out when the house lights are up and you can see that it's nice and fresh and it really looks spectacular and everything else but we don't do that. I mean by the time we get on stage the house lights are down. So the feel of the place from our vantage point is the exactly the same as it's been for twenty years now.
I always liked going to the Beacon as an audience member in part because the experience is quite different from other big rock venues. At the Beacon, I don't feel like they're treating me like a number, like nothing but a dollar sign. That's what we love. It's intimate.
I can't say that that's the case in other places. Is there any place you guys have decided not to play because you don't like the way they run it? Yeah, you know. We quit playing Madison Square Garden years ago. For a lot of reasons. It's the same people [who manage the Beacon]; it's not the promoters, it's just the venue. When you have the option of multiple shows at the Beacon or a couple of nights at the Garden, to me that's a no-brainer. The Beacon is just, like you say, it's fun, it's personal. It's like the family is there for a visit. You're free to open up and experiment and try different things. If you're playing at the Garden, first off the union kills you with the costs. It actually reached the point where it became financially better for us to go to Long Island and play at Nassau Coliseum, which is smaller but better because of the union bill in New York City. And so that became an issue and it's just, you know, we play enough of those big venues for the rest of the year. So, the Garden is one of them and there's a couple of places that over the years we've run into that really had more to do with the acoustics than anything else. The acoustics were just god-awful. Like the Macon Coliseum. You hit a note there and it comes back to you half a second later louder than when you hit it! It's really bad. And there are several others like that but not many. We get along with most people in things and places.
I regret not being about to go to the Filmore East. I wasn't alive at the time. Yeah, it would have been hard for you to make it.
But a lot of the people who were around then are also gone now. Who do you miss? Duane [Allman]. He's probably the most important person in my life. If I hadn't met Duane I'd probably be teaching math somewhere. And we may need more math teachers, but I think I've had a hell of a lot more fun and a fuller life doing what I've done than teaching math. And Duane is the reason for that. I still have dreams in which I'll run into him somewhere. There's a part of me that hasn't really let go of him. And that part just refuses to accept the fact that he's dead, and in right behind him is Berry [Oakley]. Berry was such a joy, you know, he was the kind of guy who wanted to take care of the world. And to the extent that he could, he did. I think more than any of us, he couldn't accept the fact that Duane died. And the year after Duane died until Berry died, it was so hard to watch Berry try to make it day to day without Duane. Just two very, very special people.
And then Tom Dowd. Tom's maybe the second most important person in my life as far as influence. A father-figure, a guy who just taught me, you know, it's all about people, it's all about music and all the rest of the stuff is just background noise. And I've never seen anyone live that philosophy more than Tom Dowd. And to the extent that I can, that's what I try to do. I can't always do it but I try.
I read a really great book about Bill Graham and the Fillmore; it was an oral history. Oh my god, of course there's Bill Graham. Oh yeah. Bill was the best. He was the best. But you know, he wasn't a part of our day-to-day life like Tom and Duane were. But still, Bill kind of gave us a shot at making it. He just fell in love with the band from the first time we played and we became the Fillmore East house band and we closed it.
From what I read, he seems like a really incredible individual. He absolutely was. Toward the end he hardly did any shows that weren't for charity. And I talked to him about it a lot. He said, "It's all been so good to me and I feel like I'm in a place to make the world better and that's what I'm trying to do." He spent most of the latter part of his life giving back to help things out and to make things better. He was a really great man. When I first met him it was unbelievable; I mean we had been around the Fillmore East, we had played quite a few shows but I didn't really meet him until the night before it closed. He was a very, very intense personality. Mostly, what I heard was him screaming at someone in the back room because they were doing something wrong. He did not allow for people to mess up at the Filmore East. If you've got a job to do, dammit, you better do it. And you better do it on time and professionally. If not, then your ass is out of there.
The night before the closing, we played this show that lasted until about 7:30 in the morning and it was just probably the greatest show we've ever played, you know, a six, seven hour show that was just unbelievable. When we finished playing there was no applause, nothing. I mean, we had played maybe a three or four hour encore! It just didn't stop, it kept going from place to place, it went on and on and on and the crowd was just right there with us, every step of the way. Somebody got up and opened the doors and the sun came pouring in and the crowd got up and just slowly and quietly walked out. I remember I was sitting there just spent, just drained, just going like, "God." And Duane came walking in front of me dragging his guitar behind him, and he said, "Damn, it's like leaving church."
And then the next night we got there for the closing night and we walked to the front of the stage and here comes Bill Graham—who I had never really met—and he comes running up to me, grabbing me around the neck and squeezing me. He was a big, strong man; I mean he was hurting my neck. He went on and on and said, "Man, thank you, thank you for last night. It made all the years of bullshit worthwhile." And I'll never forget this, he said, "If I'd had my way when you guys finished that show last night, I would have been sealed off in my bubble and gone off to wherever I'm going." From that day forward, Bill was one of the best friends I had. What can you say, he was the best.
I feel like the spirit he tried to bring to attending a rock concert is really gone; it really got turned into this big business operation in which the ticket buyer is treated like dirt every step of the way. Exactly. He insisted on making everything perfect for everyone who came without gouging them. One of the reasons he shut the Fillmore down is because operation costs got so high. And he said, "I'm just not going to charge these kids that much money." That was one of the reasons he shut it down. The artists just started raising prices, the costs of the Fillmore itself started going up and up, and for it to stay afloat would have meant getting ticket prices up to a point where he just refused to go. Not at the Filmore anyway. And so he just shut it down.
I wonder if that sort of spirit of putting the audience first, if you see it coming back a bit with the jam band scene? Yeah, absolutely. It's about being real, it's about being honest. I'm not saying that other genres of music—pop, rap, that, this and the other—don't have their place. I think they're much more about show business, about putting on a show rather than playing music. And I'm not saying one is better than the other, it's all entertainment in its own way. I feel that when music really works then it moves into the realm of art. And whereas I don't see a great deal of art in Britney Spears. But it's entertaining; the kids like it. With the jam bands I've seen, it's about music and it's about theory and it's about making everyone feel better with music.
Which of these new bands do you like? I like Widespread; they're fun. To be honest I don't listen to much music! I've been so engrossed in it my whole life that when I drive around in my car I'll listen to college lectures on philosophy and literature and world history, things like that to kind of catch up on the college experience I missed. When I do listen to music it tends to be more the old jazz guys. Miles Davis and Coltrane and Herbie Hancock. Probably the most contemporary thing I listen to is Mahavishnu Orchestra's The Inner Mounting Flame or Chick Corea and Return to Forever, Hymn to the Seventh Galaxy, those things. I really don't listen to much contemporary music and I really never have. I don't like being influenced by my peers.