REVIEW: of Play All Night! by Bob Beatty (Charles Caramello, December 3, 2023, Washington Independent Review of Books)

Play All Night! instead weaves a complex story about Allman as a visionary “musician and band leader,” ABB as the vehicle and incarnation of his vision, and ABB’s performances at Fillmore East in March 1971 and the resulting live album At Fillmore East “the truest fulfillment” of it.

Beatty first tracks Duane through his apprenticeship with cover bands on the Southern circuit; his journeyman work with his band Hour Glass; his return to the South after a rough year in California; and his creation of the Allman Brothers Band. Beatty then tracks ABB through two years of fruitful touring and two studio albums (critical successes but commercial failures), to the seminal gig at Fillmore East and Duane’s death, on its heels, in a motorcycle accident. An epilogue traces ABB from its peak in the early 1970s through a low point in the 1980s and revival in 1989, to a second peak, with a fine new line-up, from 2001 to 2014.

In Duane’s vision, as Beatty portrays it, ABB would focus on “musical virtuosity” and on “individual expression through live improvisational music,” not on “chasing pop hits.” It would play countless (often free) concerts, using the stage, rather than the studio, as rehearsal space, and making “audiences an important part of the music.” And it would be egalitarian, each member having license in playing style and access to playing time, with Duane as “leader” but not frontman — “allies working together,” as Duane put it, “sharing a mutual love.”

As time has proven, ABB realized Duane’s vision of profoundly organic and communal music; “six musicians in deep, constant musical conversation in front of an appreciative audience,” in Beatty’s words. As Gregg Allman put it:

“We played for each other, we played to each other, and we played off each other.”

Such demanding, rigorous, and bold improvising, with each musician “staying in the moment while simultaneously anticipating where the music is headed,” when done right, resulted in “hittin’ the note,” the band’s term for the elusive moment, musical and spiritual, when all elements perfectly align.