My Top 5 Live Albums Turning 50

Three make a charm. Here’s my third and probably last look for now at 1971. Previously, I mused about my top 5 studio records and my top 5 debut albums that appeared during this remarkable year in music. Now it’s time for my top 5 live albums turning 50 this year.

Similar to debuts, narrowing the universe to live albums substantially reduced the choices compared to studio albums. That being said, I was surprised how many live albums appeared in 1971. For the purposes of my fun exercise, I considered 14 live records. Here are my five favorites. This time, I decided to list them according to their release date.

Elton John/17-11-70

This early Elton John album was new to me. Released on April 1, 1971, it was John’s fifth record overall and his first live release – and, boy, what a great album! It captured a live radio broadcast from November 17, 1970 – hence the title. This was an unplanned album, which was triggered by bootlegs. From a strictly commercial perspective, it turned out it didn’t quite work. A 60-minute bootleg, which included 12 more minutes of John’s music than the officially sanctioned live album, is believed to have impacted sales of the latter. An extended 2-LP edition was released for Record Store Day in 2017. Regardless of the original album’s commercial performance, the music is fantastic. Here’s closer Burn Down the Mission, a tune John initially included on his third studio album Tumbleweed Connection from October 1970. As usual, he composed the music while his long-time partner Bernie Taupin provided the lyrics. This is an extended version that incorporates parts of Arthur Crudup’s My Baby Left Me (starting at around 10:30) and The Beatles’ Get Back (starting at about 14:10). At 18 minutes plus, it can compete with prog rock, but listening to John demonstrating his rock piano chops is a lot of fun! BTW, the guy playing that groovy bass is Dee Murray, who was a longtime member of John’s backing band.

Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young/4 Way Street

4 Way Street, released on April 7, 1971, is the first live album by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. It includes footage from gigs at Fillmore East (New York), The Forum (Los Angeles) and Auditorium Theatre (Chicago) recorded during CSNY’s 1970 tour. By the time they played these shows, tension between the members had grown to intense levels, and the band dissolved shortly after the double-LP’s appearance – egos in rock! Sides one and two are acoustic and are primarily focused on the individual members, while sides 3 and 4 are electric, featuring the full band playing together. Here’s Ohio, written by Neil Young, and first released as a single by CSNY in June 1970 to protest the Kent State shooting that had occurred on May 4 of the same year.

The Allman Brothers Band/At Fillmore East

At Fillmore East by The Allman Brothers Band is perhaps the ultimate southern and blues rock album and one of the best live albums ever. Released on July 6, 1971, it features music from three of the band’s concerts at the legendary New York City music venue that occurred in March 1971. The Allman Brothers’ third album overall also marked the band’s commercial breakthrough, climbing to no. 13 on the Billboard 200. As of August 1992, At Fillmore East has reached Platinum status. In 2004, it was selected for preservation in the Library of Congress, deemed to be “culturally, historically, or aesthetically important” by the National Recording Registry. Rolling Stone ranked the album at no. 49 in their 2003 list of The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. In the list’s latest revision from September 2020, it still came in at a respectable no. 105. Here’s Hot ‘Lanta, an instrumental the Allman Brothers debuted on this live album. It is credited to all members of the band at time: Duane Allman (lead guitar, slide guitar), Gregg Allman (organ, piano, vocals), Dickey Betts (lead guitar), Berry Oakley (bass), Jai Johanny Johanson (drums, congas, timbales) and Butch Trucks (drums, tympani). These harmony guitar parts combined with Greg Allman’s Hammond are just out of this world!

Chicago/Chicago at Carnegie Hall

Chicago’s fourth album overall and their first live release, Chicago at Carnegie Hall, released on October 25, 1971, falls into the band’s early period, which is my favorite. As such, it immediately made my list of live albums I considered for my top picks. The 4-LP set was recorded from shows Chicago played at New York’s prominent concert venue for a week in April 1971 during their supporting tour for Chicago III, the band’s third studio album that had come out in January of the same year. “The reason behind the live record for Carnegie Hall is, we were the first rock ‘n’ roll group to sell out a week at Carnegie Hall, and that was worth rolling up the trucks for, putting the mikes up there, and really chronicling what happened in 1971,” co-founding band member Walter Parazaider told William James Ruhlmann, who wrote the liner notes for the 1991 Chicago compilation Group Portrait. Not all members were happy with the outcome. James Pankow, one of three co-founders who remain in the current line-up of Chicago, felt the venue’s acoustics weren’t made for amplified music, comparing the sound of the brass to kazoos. In 2005, a remastered version of the album with improved sound quality appeared. And earlier this month, Rhino Records announced a 50th anniversary 16-CD box set titled Chicago Live At Carnegie Hall Complete. It’s slated for July 16. Meanwhile, here’s the amazing 25 Or 6 To 4. Written by Robert Lamm, the tune first appeared on Chicago’s eponymous second studio album from January 1970 (also known as Chicago II).

George Harrison & Friends/The Concert for Bangladesh

I trust The Concert for Bangladesh doesn’t need much of an introduction. This 3-LP album captured the pioneering music charity event that had been organized by George Harrison to raise money for war-ravaged and disaster-stricken Bangladesh and took place at New York’s Madison Square Garden on August 1, 1971. The two concerts conducted for UNICEF, which raised from than $243,000 at the time, featured an incredible line-up of artists, who in addition to Harrison included Ravi Shankar, Bob Dylan, Leon Russell, Ringo Starr, Billy Preston and Eric Clapton, among others. The event brought Harrison and Starr together on stage for the first time since 1966 when The Beatles had stopped to tour. It also marked Dylan’s first major concert appearance in the U.S. for five years. I recall reading somewhere Harrison literally didn’t know whether Dylan would show up until he walked out on stage. Here’s Harrison’s While My Guitar Gently Weeps, which was first appeared on The Beatles’ White Album from November 1968.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

Allman Betts Band Release New Album Bless Your Heart

While Devon Allman and Duane Betts don’t deny their famous fathers, they continue to forge their own path on band’s sophomore album

Even though my streaming music provider had included Pale Horse Rider in their latest new music mix, I didn’t pay full attention to the The Allman Betts Band at first. Thankfully, Max from PowerPop recommended them to me – yet more proof how remarkably similar our music taste is! Earlier today, I checked out the band and their sophomore album Bless Your Heart, which appeared on August 28. I really like what I heard, including the fact this band is clearly forging their own path, not trying to be a continuation of The Allman Brothers Band.

Before getting to some music, I’d like to provide a bit of background. In December 2017, songwriter and guitarist Devon Allman, a son of Gregg Allman from his first marriage to Shelley Kay Jefts, decided to organize a tribute concert at the Fillmore in San Francisco to honor the music of his father. The show also marked the debut of his new band, Devon Allman Project, and featured a notable guest: Songwriter and guitarist Duane Betts, son of guitarist and Allman Brothers founding member Dickey Betts.

Devon Allman and friend at the Fillmore in San Francisco, December 2017

Following the tribute show, the Devon Allman Project embarked on a year-long world tour, with Duane Betts opening for the band and joining them for Allman Brothers songs. While they played some tunes by the Brothers, the Devon Allman Project was not a tribute band. In fact, Devon and Duane mostly performed songs from their respective solo careers. Inspired by the favorable audience reception, they decided to take things to the next level by writing songs together.

They also reached out to Berry Duane Oakley, son of Berry Oakley, former Allman Brothers bassist and another founding member, to ask whether he would join them. All three had known each other and been friends since 1989 when they met during the 20th anniversary tour of The Allman Brothers Band. Oakley was on board. Johnny Stachela (slide guitar), John Lum (drums) and R Scott Bryan (percussion) were brought in to complete the lineup, and in November 2018, The Allman Betts Band was officially announced.

The Allman Betts Band (from left): front: Devon Allman & Duane Betts; back: John Ginty, R Scott Bryan, Johnny Stachela, Berry Duane Oakley & John Lum

Subsequently, the band worked with producer Matt Ross-Spang to record their debut album Down to the River at Muscle Shoals Sound Studios. Guests included keyboarder Peter Levin, former member of Gregg Allman’s band, and pianist and organ player Chuck Leavell, a current member of The Rolling Stones’ touring band. The album appeared in June 2019. For a subsequent world tour, the band brought in John Ginty as keyboarder, who remains part of the current lineup.

This brings me to Bless Your Heart. While you can hear traces, just like the Devon Allman Project, The Allman Betts Band does not try to be a continuation of The Allman Brothers Band. I think it’s a smart choice they want to find their own way. It seems to me this reflects what Devon and Duane set out to do from the beginning of their careers in the early ’90s and late ’90s, respectively. Time for some music.

Here’s the aforementioned Pale Horse Rider, the album’s opener and second single. It’s a great example of a tune where the twin lead guitars are reminiscent of the Allman Brothers but that otherwise doesn’t sound much like them. “‘Pale Horse Rider’ was a really fun one to write,” Devon Allman, told Rolling Stone Country, as reported by Rock & Blues Muse. “Duane had this almost vertigo-inducing descending melodic pattern that was so unique. Once I started the lyric about a man feeling so lost and isolated with the world out to get him, the story just kind of wrote itself. The Wild West seemed like the perfect setting to tell the tale.”

Carolina Song is one of my early favorite tracks on the album. It’s got a great sound. Johnny Stachela’s slide guitar, John Ginty’s keyboard work and the singing including the backing vocals stand out to me in particular. BTW, just like their debut, Bless Your Heart was recorded at Muscle Shoals Sound Studios, with Matt Ross-Spang serving again as producer.

On King Crawler, things turn honky tonky. With Art Edmaiston’s saxophone work, the band almost sounds like The Rolling Stones – great tune!

Things get personal on Southern Rain, were Devon is singing about the death of his father and his mother, who had passed shortly before Gregg had died. “There’s elements in there of being OK with the lumps we’ve taken,” Devon told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. He noted the song had come to him while being on the road on a tour bus. He also shared the last time he saw Gregg his dad told him how proud he was of his son. “It was amazing to finally hear that from my dad. The chorus is ‘I believe in you and I will be with you,’ from my dad’s perspective. That was a heavy day when my dad told me that. I left his house, and I knew I would never see him again. It’s a pretty cathartic experience to put that in a song, and it felt good to share that with people.”

I’d like to call out one more tune: Magnolia Road, another standout on the album that also became the lead single. It was written by Los Angeles singer-songwriter Stoll Vaughan, who also had collaborated with the band on five tracks from their debut release. Here’s the official video.

Asked by Cleveland.com how the band is planning to deal with the legacy of the Allman Brothers, Devon said, “I think that you’ve got to be careful. You can dip into the well a bit, but it’s also important to balance the visitation of nostalgia with stepping forward into the future because we don’t want to be just some kind of rerun band. We really want to have a legacy of our own music and our own exploring. We’re getting to a place where we can rise to this challenge, we can throw some stuff into that long body of work our heroes did and feel good about it.” While I’ve yet to listen to the band’s debut album, I think they off to a very promising start.

Sources: Wikipedia; The Allman Betts Band website; Rock & Muse; St. Louis Post-Dispatch; Cleveland.com; YouTube