Allman Brothers At Steel Pier: July 1971
Read all about the original Allman Bros. in Atlantic City and see a photo gallery from their shows at Steel Pier and in Atlantic City.
During a career that now spans 42 years, the Allman Brothers Band has shared a stage with such musical luminaries as the Grateful Dead, B.B. King and Jimi Hendrix.
Forty years ago this summer at the Steel Pier in Atlantic City, the band shared a bill with another legendary performer — a four-footed one.
"They used to talk about opening for a diving horse," recalled Kirk West, an archivist and former road manager for the band.
An airborne equine and a boardwalk environment created an atmosphere far different from the clubs and theaters the group would normally play.
The six days of shows at the Steel Pier — July 5-10 — were not the standard type of concert for the Georgia-based band. The engagement was the longest in one place for the original lineup featuring slide guitarist Duane Allman and bassist Berry Oakley.
Before arriving in Atlantic City, the band had its highs and lows on the road, just like the ocean tide. Promoter Bill Graham, an avid fan, had selected the group to close the Fillmore East in New York City on June 27. An eagerly awaited concert set for Independence Day weekend at the prestigious Newport Jazz Festival in Rhode Island was canceled due to a major crowd disturbance, a big letdown for the group.
Money was a prime factor in bringing the band to South Jersey as part of a tour to promote Idlewild South, the group's second album.
"We got a pretty good fee," recalled Willie Perkins, the band's road manager for the tour. The band received $12,500 for the concerts under the contract that was signed in February 1971.
The Steel Pier performances meant a change in the band's routine. While the Allman Brothers would normally play concerts of more than two hours and occasionally more than twice that length at the Fillmore East, the contract called for "3 shows daily, 30 to 40 minutes each."
The shortness of the set required an adjustment. "One song could normally last 30 minutes," Perkins said. Performances of "Whippin' Post" and "Mountain Jam," could surpass the half-hour mark, thanks to extended solos.
Billed in a newspaper ad as a "popular rock group," the Allman Brothers performed in the Golden Dome Ballroom. Receiving top billing in the same ad and performing in the Music Hall were the Cowsills, a different type of sibling act. Admission, which included the bands, two movies, children's theater, the diving horse and water show, was $3 for adults and $1.50 for children.
The two musical acts never crossed paths, Perkins said. "We never saw them and they never saw us."
Faced with a time limit on their sets, the band performed their shorter songs, including Muddy Waters' "Trouble No More" and band originals, including Gregg Allman's "Don't Keep Me Wonderin' " and Dickey Betts' gospel-tinged "Revival."
A recording made by an audience member of an opening-day concert shows the group previewing songs from their forthcoming At Fillmore East double live album.
"Statesboro Blues" and "Done Somebody Wrong" feature the dazzling guitar interplay between Duane Allman and Betts. Allman's slide work is showcased on One Way Out, which would be included on the album Eat a Peach, the follow-up to At Fillmore East.
Offstage, Perkins recalls the band members taking in the sights and attractions of the Steel Pier and occasionally interacting with fans.
The band and crew stayed in a hotel along the Boardwalk. "We were able to walk to work," he said.
The band enjoyed not having to travel between shows and met up with some female fans. West said one woman photographed the band in concert and offstage relaxing during their time in Atlantic City. About 60 black-and-white photographs are at The Allman Brothers Band Museum at the Big House Museum in Macon, Ga.
No photos exist of the band on the beach. "They all had studio tans," West said.
During their free time, Perkins and Duane Allman went to see Summer of '42 at the Roxy Theatre on the Atlantic City Boardwalk. "Duane was especially moved by this bittersweet nostalgic tale of a teenager coming of sexual age during summer vacation and his adolescent crush on an older war bride," Perkins wrote in No Saints, No Saviors, his 2005 memoir. "I think we both fell in love with the natural beauty of Jennifer O'Neill."
Life would change dramatically for the Allman Brothers Band after leaving Atlantic City. "At Fillmore East," released days after the Steel Pier shows, would catapult the band to national stardom and Duane Allman would die in a motorcycle crash on Oct. 29, 1971.
Despite some detours, the band plays on four decades later.
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