Reflecting on a most underrated Allman Brothers Band LP
Of all the classic rock bands I listened to in my formative years — Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, the Who — that shaped my taste in music and, in many circumstances, my way of looking at the world, there was none more impactful or well-loved than the Allman Brothers Band.
I grew up less than two hours away from Macon, a city that remains unchanged by the years, seemingly planted comfortably in 1971. The Allman Brothers Band were the kings of the world; the long-haired hippies in the integrated band moved as a unit, haunting H&H Soul Food, where Mama Louise and Mama Inez made sure the sextet had plenty to eat, Grant’s Lounge, and the legendary Big House. The Allman Brothers Band’s influence — not the mention the legend and superstition that surrounds the group and their untimely tragedies — was as much a part of the mythos of my childhood as the rumored sacrificial pool in the Okefenokee Swamp and the constant, inevitable power of the railroad.
Of course, the albums featuring Duane Allman were played the most in my home. Duane was a hero of ancient mythology to me: red-haired, idealistic, fiery–a born leader with an otherworldly ability, loved unconditionally and unquestionably by his followers. And Berry Oakley…my adoration of the soft-spoken bass player was matched only by my admiration of Duane Allman. The entire band was a miracle and a tragedy, left to unfold over five decades as the remaining members struggled and fought and, at times, gave up, only to start all over again.
While Enlightened Rogues was never on constant rotation, as I got older, I found a distinct appreciation for the record. The first to be recorded following a split in 1976, Enlightened Rogues is equal parts nostalgia and comfort to me; the title was taken from a quote Duane used to describe the band — “The world is made of two great schools, enlightened rogues and religious fools.” — and the sound is, of course, distinctly ABB, reuniting the remaining four founding members in Criteria Studios in Miami.
“We were a little rusty — maybe a lot rusty — and we were playing with some different guys, but it felt good to be together,” Jaimoe, half of the original dynamic drumming duo, said of the band’s reunion in author Alan Paul’s One Way Out: The Inside History of the Allman Brothers Band. Produced by Tom Dowd, who worked with the group in their early years, Enlightened Rogues was less than forty minutes long and comprised of just eight tracks, but to the band — and to their fans, in 1979 and forty years later, in 2019 — it was like a sigh of relief, a reassurance that life, and the band, would go on.
Falling into place easily beside the groups’ legendary albums, like The Allman Brothers Band, Idlewild South, and At Fillmore East, Enlightened Rogues trod the path that Duane blazed in the band’s inception, but there was a new weight to the group, displayed profoundly in Gregg Allman’s vocals.
Before, the singer’s voice was raw, raucous, a terrifying roar that welled up from the slim figure of a blonde-haired, cherub-faced, twenty-something. As he settled in his third decade on the earth, having suffered the loss of a brother who was equal parts friend, father, and guru, a marriage that turned into a mockery in the eyes of the world, and the vice-grip of addiction, he lost none of the raw power that set his voice apart. Instead, it was matched by a world-weary humility and throbbing, intense emotion. His sole lyrical attribution to the record, “Just Ain’t Easy,” sums up his exhaustion and grim determination: “You want so bad to leave this whirlwind storm / But you can’t find no place to grab on / So ‘round and ‘round you go again / And it just ain’t easy.”
With five songs either written or co-written by guitarist Dickey Betts, Enlightened Rogues showcased a shift in dynamics as well, as Betts’ contributions and influence increased, partially due to the inclusion of his Great Southern bandmates, guitarist Dan Toler and bassist David Goldflies. Even so, there’s no denying the spirit of Duane Allman woven through the songs and showcased in the intricate harmonies, jazz-infused melodies, and long, winding instrumental sections.
It would be at least another decade before the group found stability, namely in the way of guitarists Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks, but for a band that had already been to the breaking point and kept soldiering on despite bumps in the road and personal tragedy, Enlightened Rogues was, in many ways, the light at the end of the tunnel.