Thursday, April 13, 2017

"Back Where It All Begins"

I like to mix it up as much as possible for this acoustic project and create something different from what I've just done. Last month I finished The Grateful Dead's "Franklin's Tower", which came together fairly easily, which you would expect from a loose jam song. After noodling on my mandolin for a few days, I decided I wanted to feature it in order to add some variety to the instrumentation. I really hadn't used it as anything more than an additive to date, learning chords and parts as they were needed. The mandolin sounded pretty good as the backbone of the Allman Brothers' "Back Where It All Begins" adapting the song to a rootsier palette that still retained the song's bright essence. But recording it right after "Franklin's Tower" presented its own challenges. The two songs are in some ways related - their basic chord progression is basically the inverse of each other, only "Begins" has a more complicated bridge and instrumental section. It was going to be a fun challenge to separate these two songs from each other. (Coincidentally, the Allman Brothers began playing both songs in the mid-1990s)

"Back Where It All Begins" was released on 1994's Where It All Begins at the height of the Allman Brothers' Warren Haynes & Allen Woody era. At the age of 13, I just happened to be getting into the band, so with the band peaking, it was a perfect time. "Begins" was one of my first introductions to witnessing the band play. I tuned in to The Late Show with David Letterman expecting to see Gregg belt out their latest hit , "No One to Run With" (as he had done a week prior on Jay Leno's Tonight Show), only to see the cowboy guitar player singing a much sweeter tune. "Begins" is a mishmash of folk and jam music infused with desert drifter iconography, which is exactly what you would expect from Dickey Betts, yet still be blown away by. "Begins" takes you through 10 minutes of high peaks and quiet valleys. The set piece features Warren Haynes' blistering guitar playing that will make guitar players either want to practice their guitar or burn it (to quote a friend).

Allman Bros on David Letterman; first time I "saw" them play.
The song starts out simple enough, an inverse of "Franklin's Tower" circular major progression up from I and back instead of down to it. This is common in many popular songs ("Louie, Louie", "Wild Thing", etc), so it is a testament to Dickey's playing that he is able to make it unique. Superficially, the bridge could be mistaken for "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star", which I'm not sure is intentional (Dickey would later change a lyric from "and the stars up in the sky" to "tell her one more goodbye" and I always wondered if it was to distance it from the nursery song or was just a more evocative line).

The instrumental section seems simple enough at first glace, but the jump into an E>D chord progression keeps a player on their toes. Well, it kept me on my toes, and to further separate the arrangement from my "Franklin's Tower", I decided to do a dobro solo which was even more challenging. The second solo section bring the song back to the A>D>E>D>A and is more traditional and mercifully more forgiving.

I recorded the tune in its native key of A, but it was too low for my voice, so I moved it to C, which moved the solos to a little more challenging spot on the neck of the guitar. It also meant the harmonies were pushed higher, so they certainly suffered. I won't lie, it got frustrating along the way, but at the very least, it definitely doesn't sound like "Franklin's Tower".