Recorded Live: The Allman Brothers’ ‘At Fillmore East’ Turns 50

allman Brothers At Fillmore East

Today, July 6, 2021, marks the 50th anniversary of the release of the Allman Brothers’ touchstone live album At Fillmore East. Recorded in March of 1971, this platinum album’s searing and indelible performances set a high bar for live recordings. In recognition of the importance of this classic recording, Pollstar today is launching a new editorial franchise, Recorded Live, which will examine historically important performances recorded live that transcend the test of time.

As live albums go, few — if any — records have held as much sway over a band’s multi-decade career as At Fillmore East sat as the cornerstone of countless Allman Brothers Band concerts.

Recorded at three shows on March 12 and 13, 1971, the Capricorn Records-released album consisted of seven songs, two of which ran the entire length of album sides: their cover of Willie Cobbs’ “You Don’t Love Me” and Gregg Allman’s “Whipping Post.” Unlike most live albums, this was no collection of live interpretations of studio tracks; only two songs, “Whipping Post” and Dickey Betts’ instrumental “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed,” had appeared on their studio albums.

At Fillmore East, more than their two studio sets, revealed the elements that gave the band its unique strength, chiefly the dual attack of the guitars of Duane Allman and Betts. At times they echoed the tag team of Muddy Waters and Jimmy Rogers, a sound of heartbreak and exaltation, and stretched the limits by peering deep into the boundary-busting inner-workings of John Coltrane and Miles Davis from the late 1950s. The tags of blues-rock and Southern rock came up shy in defining the ABB after the release of At Fillmore East.

There’s no let-up in the intensity across the four sides, from the opening riffs of “Statesboro Blues” to Gregg’s final howls of desperation at the conclusion of the 23-minute “Whipping Post.” At Fillmore East, which led some reviewers to herald the sextet as the best American band of the young decade, was the first album of theirs to reach the Top 40 and give them some commercial footing.

Duane Allman
Don Paulsen/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Duane Allman (1946 – 1971) performing at the Fillmore East’s closing show on June 27, 1971 in New York City, shortly before the band’s seminal “At The Fillmore East” came out.

They won more fans and kudo with the follow-up, 1972’s Eat a Peach, though the deaths of Duane and bassist Berry Oakley forced them to venture into new directions. The new edition of the Allman Brothers that emerged in 1973 with Brothers and Sisters — Betts as the lone guitarist and focal point, Chuck Leavell on piano and Lamar Williams on bass — established them as not only the premiere rock band from the South but the most popular band in the U.S. They had a No. 1 album, a hit in “Ramblin’ Man” and a developing FM staple with the instrumental “Jessica.”

But as different as the new version was, the repertoire remained. Brothers and Sisters peaked on the Billboard album chart in August and September of 1973, yet every set they played easily had four Fillmore East tunes with “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed,” “Statesboro Blues” and “Whipping Post” as common as their lone AM radio smash “Ramblin’ Man.” (Their Sept. 19, 1973 show at L.A.’s Forum included “Stormy Monday” and “You Don’t Love Me” along with the mainstays “Elizabeth Reed” and “Statesboro Blues.”

In October 2014, when the Allmans called it a day with a six-show run at New York’s Beacon Theater, they were still reaching back to Fillmore East. Derek Trucks and Warren Haynes, together for 15 years, led the unit almost nightly through “Hot ‘Lanta,” a jam credited to all the guys in the group back in ’71, and “You Don’t Love Me,” along with “Elizabeth Reed,” a song that could stretch beyond a half-hour some nights. It seemed so appropriate that the Allmans, who had used their March runs at the Beacon as a warm-up for spring and summer tours, would wrap things in New York, 43 years after Bill Graham shut the Fillmore’s doors.

They would issue more than 15 albums while together, some of them live naturally, yet At Fillmore East remains their peak. Rolling Stone put it No. 2 in 2015 on their multi-genre list of the greatest live albums and the U.K.’s The Independent had it at No. 1 on the list they printed last year. It is also the Allmans’ lone entry in the Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry as a work “culturally, historically or aesthetically important.” Few would argue it fits all three criteria.