Driving Blues Into Your Soul
ELECTRICITY-CHARGED Southern country blues are the order of the night at Winterland.
Neither the Allman Brothers Band nor Elvin Bishop’s Group can trace any direct roots into the Yazoo delta or Brazo bottomlands but both aggregations are steeped in the musical traditions of such blues wellsprings areas.
And geographically the bands’ leaders aren’t too far off — Bishop is from Oklahoma and the Allmans are Georgians.
Both Allmans played hereabouts in a band called Hourglass about three years back but finally returned home and emerged almost two years ago with the present organization.
The Allman Band features the brilliant slide-electric guitar sounds of Duane Allman, some equally impressive guitar by Dicky Betts and the keyboard and vocals of Gregg Allman.
There are two drummers with the Allmans, a strong, fine bassist (Berry Oakley) and a recently added reedman who plays soprano and baritone sax, sometimes concurrently, a la Roland Kirk.
The Allmans produce powerful, substantial stuff, often based on old blues masters like Blind Willie McTell, Elmore James, T-Bone Walker and Muddy Waters. Duane’s shimmering solos wail out over the churning ensemble like a fire siren, and on ‘Done Somebody Wrong’ (I think) Betts played an absolutely perfect solo.
The band is “heavy” in all respects. They are very much into their music and tend to drive very deeply into a listener’s soul.
Somehow last night I had trouble catching much of the vocal effort. The sound was there but not the words. It is possible, however, that I was so engrossed in the Allmans’ instrumental lines that my head couldn’t handle any oral sounds.
The Elvin Bishop Group, in contrast to the Allmans, begins loose, plays loose and gets even a nearly-filled Winterland crowd loose as a goose after just a couple of numbers.
Elvin is personally incapable of formality or even much artistic discipline. He sits on the stage skirting, wails on his guitar, leaps to his feet shaking his mop of hair, generates clapping, whooping and an old-fashioned eight-to-the-bar jubilee.
Two saxophonists have joined Elvin, Ron Stallings and Dennis Marcellino. The sound is good. Steve Miller’s organ work was in great form last night, Jo Baker sang strong and clear, and the crowd had a grand time.
If the Allmans are more musically diverse and intriguing, then Bishop was more exciting and entertaining.
It all happens again tonight at 8, with the Cowboy group beginning the show.
© Philip Elwood, The San Francisco Examiner, 9 October 1971