The date was the 11th March 1971, and The Allman Brothers Band were in New York City to begin their three night stand at the legendary Fillmore East on Second Avenue near East 6th Street. Out of these shows would come the greatest live album ever released, At Fillmore East. The venue itself needs no introduction, it was simply where music royalty came to play.
Before March 1971, the venue had witnessed the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Grateful Dead, Derek and the Dominos, The Doors, The Who, Janis Joplin and Miles Davis all grace its stage. But The Allman Brothers Band were no strangers to the venue, after all they first played there just over a year earlier on the 26th-28th December 1969. More shows at Fillmore East followed in 1970 on the 11th-13th February, 23rd September and 11th-12th December. But the shows in March 1971 were by far the biggest they had played at the venue.
March 11th: First Night (Thursday)
The two shows the band played on the 11th March to open the three night stand are a thing of legend, firstly because no recordings have been made available from either show and secondly because after a couple of songs had been played during the first set, the band brought on the horns. Tom Dowd could not believe what he was hearing, as the horns began to bleed into microphones all over the stage which essentially ruined the recordings that were being made. Initially it was his hope that he could isolate the horns but that wasn’t going to work. At the end of the first set, Dowd convinced Duane to leave the horns out for the second set and he obliged with only Thom Doucette remaining on harmonica.
In terms of the actual quality in playing during these two shows, we’ll probably never know. The only thing we have to go by are first hand accounts from people who were in attendance, roadies and the band members themselves.
Vincent Lanza – Audience Member, Present At All Three Nights
“I wish I had taken my camera to a lot of the shows. I did later on in the 70’s but nothing of Duane. I got there late for the first show and I only caught part of In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed with the horns, and you could barely hear it.”
Henry Hatt – Audience Member
“In March 1971 I was there three nights in a row. The horn section (first night) was ok to me, but I would of liked them better without the horns. I just wanted to hear the Allman’s wail. Sometimes horns work for a band, but the Allman’s were not a band that needed horns. The shows were the best when Duane was a driving force like no other. I never left an Allman Brothers show at the Fillmore East feeling like I didnt see their greatest work. I was in the front row for a couple of shows and could feel the electricity from the band. Many things I don’t remember, because Sunshine and Window panes were a regular thing at the shows. The nights that I didn’t have a ticket I had friends from my neighborhood that worked security, so I was there almost on a nightly basis.”
Gary Seaman – Audience Member
“I and we thought they were amazing, horns and all. I was very disappointed that the tapes don’t exist. (Sax played) on the 11th and the early show of the 12th. I thought the sax added nothing. He really should have learnt the material first. 3/11 had a 2 or 3 piece horn section. No set list exists (but) they sounded huge. I remember our seats, and they did a long slow song, either In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed or Stormy Monday. I had just started listening to them so I was familiar with their songs. Johnny Winter Band, whom we absolutley loved, sounded tiny and thin by comparison.”
Jerry Wilder – Fillmore East Usher
“Horn section? Sorry, no recollection of that, I do remember their harmonica player, however. Me, I was totally focused on Duane Allman, I knew as I was watching him play that every note was incredible! Now we’ve all heard those notes, I can tell in an instant if it’s Duane or Dickey. Sorry to say I didn’t find the rest of the band very interesting, if Duane was playing, great, if not, break time! Off to the ushers’ lounge!”
“Horns were a band decision,” says Willie Perkins. “The two players, friends of Jaimoe, had performed live with the band at several concerts previously. They were mostly a jazz embellishment. I, for one, never really cared for them, but I knew what the band’s idea was.” It was also the plan to feature the horns on each night at Fillmore East, not just the first. And even though a sax would play during the final two songs of the first set from the 12th, the horn section as a whole would not feature again at Fillmore East.