Transcendent Rock & Roll Moment #10: “Mountain Jam”

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This is the first of a series of posts that I originally wrote for http://www.listverse.com.  As I started writing, I realized that the individual entries were almost as long as most of Listverse’s articles, so I never posted it there.

I’m an amateur rock music historian, musician, and lover of all things jam.  What are the greatest moments in rock music history, IMNSHO?  Number 10 …

10. “Mountain Jam,” The Allman Brothers Band, Eat A Peach. The Allman Bros Band formed in 1969.  The members were all veteran performers who had paid their dues in one dead end band after another.  When they joined forces, coalescing around the ferocious slide guitar of Duane Allman and the eerie, haunted vocals of his younger brother Greg, their collective career took off like a rocket.

Equally at home with soulful pop (before guesting on Clapton’s “Layla,” Duane established himself as a session guitarist at Muscle Shoals, recording with Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin, Laura Nyro, etc.), straight blues, and Eastern-tinged jazzy improvisations, the ABB cracked and rumbled like a lightning storm in an earthquake.

The apex of their recorded career is a series of live recordings from the Fillmore East in New York City, taped in March 1971.  The Rolling Stone Record Guide, not noted for praising extended psychedelic improvisations, noted that on this album of extended tunes there were “no pointless jams, no wasted notes”: this about an album with two songs clocking in at over 19 minutes.  But as great as At the Fillmore East is, the ABB’s greatest moment came on a leftover track from these concerts, “Mountain Jam,” which was featured on their follow-up, the mostly studio LP Eat a Peach.

Built around a piece of psychedelic fluff from the British singer, Donovan, “Mountain Jam” is 34 minutes of percolating jams.  Duane solos like a man possessed, improvising gorgeous motifs and then turning them inside out with altered passing tones.  Berry Oakley’s bass solo and the drum duel (the ABB, like their contemporaries the Grateful Dead, had two drummers) that follow are also monumental.  Then Duane takes the wheel again, calming the band, floating through space in a Dead-ish freeform sequence, and then …

… then (at 27.20) Duane drops the band into a perfect, gently grooving instrumental rendition of the Southern Gospel standard, “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?”  It’s a moment of electric, hair-raising beauty and perfection.  Two choruses later, the opening theme returns and the song (and the concert) comes to a thunderous conclusion.

“Mountain Jam” is essentially the epitaph for both Duane Allman and Berry Oakley.  Seven months after the Fillmore concerts, on 29 October 1971–before Eat a Peach was released–Duane was back in his hometown of Macon, Georgia, on a break from recording.  He was driving his motorcycle and collided with a flatbed truck, loaded with lumber.  He died of his injuries at a local hospital.  Thirteen months later, Berry Oakley drove his motorcycle into a Macon city bus; this collision took place less than a quarter mile from the scene of Duane’s fatal collision.  Oakley died of severe head trauma later that day.

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