Brown: A Summer Day’s Retrospective: The Allman Brothers, May 2, 1970 at David Dye’s Swarthmore College (2024)

Thanks to David Dye and WXPN radio, readers can now catch up on an amazing concert at Swarthmore College, recorded on May 2, 1970.

That day was historic based on President Nixon’s earlier decision to send United States troops into Cambodia, arguing that it bought six to eight months of training time for South Vietnamese forces, thereby shortening the war for Americans and saving American lives.

“When President Richard Nixon ordered U.S. ground troops to invade Cambodia on April 28, 1970, he waited two days to announce on national television that the Cambodian incursion had begun.

“With resentment already building in the country over the conflict in Vietnam, the incursion felt like a final straw.

“The news unleashed waves of criticism from many who felt the president had abused his powers by side-stepping Congress.

“By November 1973, the criticism had culminated in the passage of the War Powers Act. Passed over Nixon’s veto, it limited the scope of the Commander-in-Chief’s ability to declare war without congressional approval.”

On this lazy summer day of June 28, I am telling you this because the evening concert of May 2 heralded the Allman Brothers’ arrival north for a milestone tour.

“On May 2nd, 1970, southern rockers The Allman Brothers took the stage at Swarthmore College.

“The Jacksonville band had been around for only a couple years at this point; the tour they were on was in support of their sophom*ore album, ‘Idlewild South,’ released that February.

“Their breakout ‘Eat A Peach’ was still a couple of years in the future, Duane Allman was still living, and the band’s founding lineup was intact.

“On this recording of the concert, you’ll hear Duane on guitar, his brother Gregg Allman on keys and vocals, Dickey Betts on guitar and vocals, Berry Oakley on bass and vocals, and dueling percussionists Butch Trucks and Jai Johanny “Jaimoe” Johanson.

“What you’ll hear in this rough and roaring audience recording is a mix of Allman Brothers originals from the first two records, and covers that would wind up on later releases.

“Blind Willie McTell’s “Statesboro Blues,” which opens the set, later landed on ‘At Fillmore East,’ and Muddy Waters’ ‘Trouble No More’ was on ‘Eat A Peach.’

“You’ll also hear covers that are less heard, Albert King’s ‘Oh, Pretty Woman’ is a particularly clever response to their own ‘Every Hungry Woman.’

“Closing the show is the one-two punch of ‘Whipping Post,’ followed by an early performance of their iconic ‘Mountain Jam,’ which would later see a release on‘Peach.’

“WXPN’s David Dye is a Swarthmore grad, and was a student at the time of the concert, and had some additional details to share about the show:

According to Dye, “The recording was done on 1/4 inch tape at WSRN, the college radio station, which was 300 yards away and connected to the stage by a wire.

“It was usually used to record public speakers, but they figured what the heck, let’s record the Allman Brothers too.

“The tape itself is a thing of legend, it had disappeared for at least three decades.

“And when you listen to it, they’re so young, and so on. There are all those covers, like ‘Dimples,’ and it just sounded so bluesy and cool.

“Their first album had the famous gatefold photo of them skinny dipping in a creek. And when they arrived at the Swarthmore campus, they threatened to go swimming in the creek on campus.

“There was an intermission that was spliced out of the recording, and at the show, as the intermission started, some campus radicals got up on stage and said ‘they started bombing Cambodia, we need to meet and figure out our reaction!’

“Everybody left, and there were maybe 20 people there for the second set. That’s why you hear the band say ‘hope it was a good meeting.’

“The opener was a band called Quill, they had a Swarthmore grad as their drummer, and their only claim to fame was they were the first band to play at Woodstock, but they had a sax player that jammed on ‘Mountain Jam.’

“That’s why you hear this screechy and sort of godawful sax solo on that song where there could have been a Duane solo.

“Wild and wandering, this recording captures an iconic American band at their first peak, before they were struck by tragedies and trials and had to rebuild over and again.

“Forty-eight years plus down the road, even after the passing of Gregg Allman last year (2017), the Allman Brothers Band’s music and legacy endures; listen to the band play Swarthmore in 1970 below.”

Up close and personal, yes, that is what I remember and the “intermission” occurred after Quill played and minutes after the Allman Brothers took to the stage.

When the college students came in and took over, I had to look for a bathroom in the historic Clothier Hall. I remember wandering around the first floor a bit and saw a light and open door, figuring that it was the rest room.

Well, indeed, it was a rest room, i.e. the lounge occupied by the Allman Brothers who all greeted me and welcomed me in, especially Duane.

So, since I had a date and two other friends with me, I snuck back to the concert hall and whispered to my date to follow me.

Well, talk about what happened. Duane Allman invited me and my date into their trailer and the three of us sat for maybe forty-five minutes, sharing wine and conversation about music, life, and the politics of the Vietnam War. It was breathtaking to be in Duane’s company.

Regarding how I found out about the Allman Brothers. In the summer of 1969, Woodstock, I was working at a club with live bands nightly from NYC, The Airport Inn in Lake George, and after my sophom*ore year at Villanova.

During spring break, I took a trip to Columbia to visit a friend from Lake George and there is where I first saw the Allman Brother’s album, purchased it, and later took it back to Philly and my friends.

Long story short, back at Villanova, I bought the four concert tickets, we all stayed for the entire concert and were literally amazed not only by their repertoire, versatility, finesse, but by their endurance, athletic musicianship.

As I write, I am listening to the David Dye/Swarthmore recording and despite its limitations, and that scratchy sax, it is an absolute trip and musical adventure.

First, before you hear the bad news which happened on Friday, October 29, 1971:

“Duane Allman was born, November 20, 1946, Howard Duane Allman, an American rock and blues guitarist and the founder and original leader of the Allman Brothers Band, for which he was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995.

“Born in Nashville, Tennessee, Allman began playing the guitar at age 14. He formed the Allman Brothers Band with his brother Gregg in Jacksonville, Florida, in 1969.

“Duane Allman, a slide guitarist and the leader of the Allman Brothers Band, was killed on October 29, 1971 when he lost control of his motorcycle and slid into the side of a flatbed truck in Macon, Georgia.

“He was 24 years old. After Allman’s death, his band continued to tour and record. In 2004, Rolling Stone declared that the Allman Brothers were one of the greatest rock bands of all time.

“Before he formed the Allman Brothers Band with his brother Gregg, a singer and keyboard player, Duane had made a name for himself as a session musician for Atlantic Records at Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama.

“There, he played with artists like Wilson Pickett, Clarence Carter, Aretha Franklin, King Curtis, John Hammond, Ronnie Hawkins, Boz Scaggs and Herbie Mann.

“In 1969, the Allmans put together their own band and moved to Macon, Georgia. “They released two promising studio albums and a live album, ‘At Fillmore East,’ that many people say is among the best concert recordings ever made.

“When Duane Allman died, the band was working on a new studio record, ‘Eat a Peach,’ which would eventually hit No. 4 on Billboard’s album sales chart.

“On the afternoon of his accident, Duane Allman was speeding along Hillcrest Avenue on his Harley-Davidson Sportster when he slowed to let a flatbed truck carrying a huge crane boom make a left-hand turn in front of him.

“Allman pulled his bike toward the center of the road so he could swing around the outside of the truck, but in the middle of its turn the flatbed suddenly rumbled to a stop.

“Unable to maneuver around or under the giant obstacle, Allman ran right into it.

“The crane’s weight ball knocked him off his Harley, which bounced up in the air and off of Allman’s chest before skidding to a stop along the curb.

“The guitarist was not killed instantly, in fact, he had no visible injuries except some bumps and scrapes, but died in surgery later that evening.”

Such was the great loss to the music world then and now.

Mary Brown, a weekly columnist for Main Line Media News, in the early seventies, worked at The Main Point in Bryn Mawr.

Brown: A Summer Day’s Retrospective: The Allman Brothers, May 2, 1970 at David Dye’s Swarthmore College (2024)
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