The Allman Brothers Band’s
At Fillmore East wasn’t rock and roll’s first live album, and it wasn’t the first double album, but it gave both formats a cachet neither had enjoyed prior to its release in the summer of 1971. In its wake came a host of similarly packaged performances—from Humble Pie
’s Rockin’ The Fillmore to Peter Frampton
’s Frampton Comes Alive!—that sought to duplicate the six-string magic of guitar greats Dickey Betts
and Duane Allman
and their respective Les Pauls. A tour-de-force of Southern-based blues rock, much of it improvisational, At Fillmore East also became a primary template from which future “jam” bands such as Widespread Panic, Gov’t Mule, and even the Black Crowes would draw. The passing of time has done nothing to diminish the album’s power.
Beginning with “Statesboro Blues,” the Blind Willie McTell song that inspired Duane Allman to take up slide guitar, At Fillmore East kicks into overdrive and rarely lets up. Fresh from a star-making role as second guitarist on Derek and the Dominoes’ Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, Allman powers the track (and its follow-up, Elmore James’ “Done Somebody Wrong”) with stinging bottleneck runs—played on a 1958 Sunburst Les Paul—that punctuate Greg Allman’s muscular, gospel-tinged baritone.
While the Brothers offer up the occasional change of pace (most notably on the smoldering blues ballad, “Stormy Monday"), more common are extended jams that set new standards for dual-guitar blues-rock. Tethered to a powerhouse rhythm section (the band employed two drummers, a format later adopted by the Doobie Brothers). Allman and fellow guitarist Dickey Betts alternate between stepping into the solo spotlight (“You Don’t Love Me”) and locking into the sort of cosmic interplay that’s often associated with great jazz artists (“In Memory of Elizabeth Reed,” “Whipping Post”).
The album’s brilliance notwithstanding, when the Allman Brothers Band delivered At Fillmore East to the powers-that-be at Atlantic Records, the executives balked at releasing a two-album set that contained three songs with double-digit running times. The group held its ground, however, and in the end even convinced the company to price the set at a figure only slightly above that of a single album. Tragically, Duane Allman lost his life in a motorcycle accident just a few months later, but At Fillmore East stands as a crowning achievement for Southern rock’s finest band.
“In a subtle way, we were trying to suggest that the Allman Brothers Band was the people's band, and we wanted the album to carry a price tag that reflected that,” the group’s late manager, Phil Walden, reflected years later. “The album spawned a whole gang of imitators, but I still think At Fillmore East is one of the finest live albums ever made—in its conception and execution. In my opinion, it’s one of the foundation albums of modern music.”