Live Cuts Edition #1:
“Blue Sky” – The Allman Brothers Band
Live in Atlanta, GA on September 25, 2004 at the Fabulous Fox Theatre
Article by: Chris Lee (from Moogatu)
[youtube height=”350″ width=”500″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RFZYkOK4U_Y[/youtube]
^^^^Listen Along with the video above^^^^
Let me first preface this article by thanking Taco and Elise for coming up with this great idea and giving me (of all people, haha) the platform and means to express it . Thanks guys! The basic gist of my little corner of Jamwich is that I’ll be taking a live track from a live set from anyone, anywhere and breaking it down. Whether that means highlights, theory, signature licks, tones, insane improvisations, or moments that just plain give you goosebumps remains to be seen. We’ll play it by ear (no pun intended) and warning: there will be some tech-blabble and music-talk but any intermediate guitarist (or your instrument here) should be able to follow with no problem. And actually, if you have any tracks you’d like for me to write about, feel free to email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Enough rambling, let’s move on….
Everyone has “their band”. Mine is the Allman Brothers Band. They’ve been such a huge influence on me and still are to this day (I learned how to play guitar from Live at Filmore East). I’ve rarely walked away from a show thinking I didn’t get my money’s worth and have traveled to see over 75 shows since the early 2000s. I’m too young to have seen the original band, but the quality of the current Allman Brothers, I feel has the same magic that what I imagine the original lineup had. Gregg (vocals/Hammond B-3) still sounds great (I don’t care who says otherwise, you know who I’m talking to….), the giant fire-breathing monster of a rhythm section that is not unlike what I imagine an elephant heard stomping full speed toward you in Africa, Oteil Burbridge’s cerebral earth shattering bass, and the soaring guitar interplay between Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks. I could have just said one thing. Derek F$#@’ Trucks. Enough said….he had at age 13, what most people will never have. Shit, at age 19 he was a full time member. I need to step it up. See Exhibit A.
[youtube height=”350″ width=”500″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MLQTbmUYI4A[/youtube]
Setting the Stage…
September 25, 2004 – Atlanta, Georgia. Try and do yourself a favor and see a show at the Fabulous Fox Theatre in the heart of Atlanta. The Fox is always a fun time and I love the “starry nights ceiling”. It’s Saturday night, the second night of a 3 night run, which is rare for the Allmans to do outside of their annual 3 week Beacon Theatre run in NYC. I don’t think they’ve even been back to the Fox since then. The first night was intense as usual, with a combination of fan favorites like “Mountain Jam” and deep cuts like Muddy Waters’ “Can’t Lose What You Never Had”…amidst rumors and speculation of songs, Saturday night just felt special and would be the night of the run. You could feel it in the air.
And the feelings were right. No repeats from the night before….rarely played tunes like “Good Clean Fun” and a bust of the Band’s “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” as well as some foreshadowing when the band went into Derek and the Dominos version of “Key To The Highway”. You’re thinking, “What could they do next?” A few weeks before, the band had gone into XM Radio Studios in DC to record a series called “Then Again…Now, Live” which basically was a live recreating of a classic album with today’s modern technology and with the latest band. The Allman Brothers went in to re-record 1972’s “Eat A Peach”. So rumors were flying about how they would be playing “Blue Sky” off that record.
A little backstory, Dickey Betts, a founding member of the band was fired in 2000, and as he was an integral songwriter for the group (Jessica, Elizabeth Reed, Ramblin’ Man…) the band was reluctant to bring back many of his songs. In those 4 years leading up to this show they did bring back many of those tunes, but Blue Sky was the one that still hadn’t appeared. One major factor is that is was sung by Dickey and would just be plain weird.
Back to the show….the band had just finished fan favorite “One Way Out” with the famous Gregg vocal solo at the end and the crowd is eagerly waiting what song is next. The Allmans are more of a standalone song band rather than going through numerous segues like the kids are doing these days. But this gap between songs seemed a little longer than usual. There seems to be some chatter onstage between the members (on the soundboard recording, if you listen closely, you can hear Gregg say “Oh, here goes (nervous laugh)”.
Finally, Gregg leans over to the mic and says “we get a lot of requests for this one”. Butch counts off and the band starts the opening riff to Blue Sky. You can tell it takes the audience a second to realize what’s happening but once they do, the entire venue explodes. I still don’t think I’ve heard an audience that loud. On the soundboard recording (I’m fairly certain the Instant Lives were straight soundboard), the crowd is so loud that you can hear them loud and clear once the opening riff comes in.
From 1972-2000 when Dickey was fired from the band, the song Blue Sky went through many changes, the biggest one being in the 70s, Dickey moved the key of the song from the original E major way up to G major, which in my opinion takes away a lot of the happy, joyful vibe of the original album cut, which up until this point, is my favorite version. It is perfection. The first thing I noticed was that the band was playing it in the original key of E! The joyful vibe seems to have returned (at least for me). Is E major the happiest of all keys? We all know about Dee-Mynor. Anticipation was running through my veins as I was even wondering who was going to sing. Maybe Warren? He’s sang it with the Dead and Phil and Friends. I couldn’t imagine Gregg doing it as this would be the first time, ever. But Gregg sings the first line “walk along the river, sweet lullaby” and to me it sounded like he had been singing it for years.
The two harmony lines by Warren and Derek are seamless and weave in and out between the verses and choruses with perfection. These are classic Allman Brothers harmony lines. The two passages outlined below (fig. 2 and 3) are based mostly on the Major pentatonic scale (fig. 1), with some extra notes in the E major scale. The harmony like most Allman Brothers harmonies is a mixture of 4th intervals as well as 3rds. This one is no exception.
At 1:53, the chorus comes “You’re my blue sky, you’re my sunny day….” With Gregg’s B-3 and Leslie throbbing heavily in the background. If there’s anything that gives me goosebumps, it’s a soulful Hammond/Leslie ramping up and pulsating in the background of a tune. Again, you can hear the crowd singing along loud and clear. Warren’s harmony vocals are on point as usual and at the perfect volume, not mixed too loud in the mix as were common in that particular year.
At 2:04, the last line of the chorus “Turn your love my way” segues into the first guitar solo, done by Derek Trucks. The first guitar line he plays is almost note-for-note what Duane Allman played on the original recording. What’s great about Derek (and Warren for that matter) is that they will always take the vibe and feel of the tune and maybe do that signature lick, but also take it in their direction. Duane Allman wrote the book; Derek is taking it to new levels. Derek takes a very dynamic solo, starting off slow and melodic, gradually building up to more intense runs….but not intense in the way of face-melting, but in the way you want to just close your eyes and take everything in. Mr. Trucks gets a lot of praise for his slide playing (and well deserved) but in my opinion, his straight playing is just as impressive.
At 3:37, you can hear Derek start to play the high E and B strings open while he puts on his slide. He makes it look and sound so easy doesn’t he? Son of a b$#@ plays while he’s putting on his slide!!!! Derek seems to be signaling with both his body language and with his playing that he wants to band to fall back to a quieter state while he builds up to a second climax. For the next minute Derek plays the most soulful licks you will hear. Gradually rising his playing leading up to the classic transition riff that signals the end of his solo and the beginning of Warrens at 4:37. See fig. 4.
In typical Allman fashion, Warren starts his solo off slow, quiet, and melodic. Always telling a story, always going somewhere, and always with a purpose. Again, paying homage and respecting the tune by playing a lot of Dickey Betts style guitar passages, but also putting the Haynes spin on things. The guitar tone from Warren is so creamy and thick, you can almost hear the juices expelling from the strings. Gradually Warren picks up his speed with his melodic E major pentatonic runs and then hits a peak at 6:13, where he “hits the note” and the crowd erupts in joy. At 6:41 there is great interplay between Warren and the drummers and he is playing a simple E major arpeggio and Butch is matching up hits on the kit perfectly. Finally at 7:09, Warren signals for the end of his solo and Warren and Derek both go into the classic harmony line that signals the end of the solo section and into the last verse and chorus (see fig 5).
The crowd erupts as Gregg starts singing the last verse “good old Sunday morning, bells are ringing everywhere”. Finally the last chorus plays and it’s one that you don’t want to end. The band picks up the main theme that starts the song to finish it and slowly eases into a big E chord signaling the end of the tune.
Holy shit. Magic. Play it again. How could they top that? Pretty much every fan that has/had followed a band around has been “chasing a song” or two and Blue Sky is no exception. To this day, this is my favorite Allman Brothers show and maybe one of my favorite live sets of all time. And to think, what they busted out for the encore was just as ridiculous (but maybe that’s another article).
To buy the official live recording, you can go here: http://www.hittinthenote.com/cart/p-318-allman-brothers-bandbrinstant-live-2004brfox-theatre-92504.aspx
The Allman Brothers Band has a policy of not allowing trading to take place online/digitally so I cannot upload anything and you likely won’t find their stuff on archive or etree. What I CAN do, is maybe do a B+P (blanks and postage) or maybe something like a “Pay It Forward” thing where I can send out a copy of the show (or the XM Eat A Peach show) so you all can enjoy it. It’s also available at the link above if you can support the band.
Chris Lee is the guitarist in VA/DC-based progressive rock group Moogatu. He has been playing and studying guitar for 15 years and is avid fan/supporter of the “jam” scene as well as music in general. Generally nothing is off limits. Moogatu is on tour throughout the year at many summer music festivals as well as keeping busy in the DC/VA/MD area as well as expanding into the Mid-Atlantic and Midwest regions.
Check out MOOGATU’s website at: www.facebook.com/moogatuband
Be sure to catch the band playing 2 nights at Appalachian Jamwich’s Mad Tea Party II! Purchase tickets here: http://www.appalachianjamwich.com/products/#category=mad-tea-party-jam-tickets
Words and music by: Dickey Betts
Originally released on “Eat A Peach”
Copyright Unichappel Music, Inc. and F.R. Betts Music (BMI)