Monday, May 22, 2017

"Mountain Jam"

When I first started this acoustic project about 2 years ago, I scribbled down about 20 songs I might want to include. The Allman Brothers' "Mountain Jam" was on there towards the bottom, but I don't think I ever seriously thought I'd put together an acoustic version. But while noodling on Jimi Hendrix's "Third Stone From the Sun", which is prominently featured within the winding movements of "Mountain Jam", I figured why not take a stab at it the whole thing.

"Mountain Jam" was a showcase for the whole band, a lengthy instrumental that was born from The Allman Brothers and The Grateful Dead jamming together on a riff from Donovan's "There is a Mountain". For anywhere between 10 and 45 minutes "Mountain Jam" weaves through melodies from "Third Stone From the Sun" to "Will the Circle Be Unbroken" to "What I Say". The version on Eat A Peach (33 minutes, originally split across 2 LP sides) gives everyone in the band a few minutes in the spot light: the melodic and funky drumming of Butch and Jaimoe and even a sweet and bouncy Berry Oakley bass solo. But it was different every night.

The Grateful Dead and The Allman Brothers jam at the Fillmore East
As the band's line ups changed and their song catalog grew, "Mountain Jam" would pop up in sets less and less. By the time the Allmans reunited briefly in 1979, "Mountain Jam" was played even less (a truncated version closes an epic 1979 Passaic NJ encore), which isn't surprising since long extended jams weren't exactly en vogue. But even when the band reunited again in 1989, "Mountain Jam" was mostly sidelined save for a tease in the middle of "Jessica". It wasn't until the Summer 2000 tour, the first without without guitarist Dickey Betts, that the band dusted it off so they could give Gregg Allman's voice a rest since Dickey's departure made him the sole singer. It remained in the rotation until the band called it quits in 2014, and was typically an epic set piece that could open and close the same show.

I drew on a few different "Mountain Jam" performances for my version. I needed a framework, so I picked the essential pieces from the band's 2004 In The Studio performance of Eat A Peach as a jumping off point. From there I had to figure out what I could perform and adapt. I wanted to add keys since Gregg Allman's hammond organ is such a presence, but it quickly became too busy. Plus I'm not a good enough keyboard player to justify that much bad piano playing. But I did throw in a few of those keyboard licks on the dobro solo. Same thing happened to the drum section. If I had more time, I might have been able to put together a something more interesting but there is a big gulf between being able to keep a beat and being able to put together a few bars of funky, interesting percussion solo. I initially intended the bass solo to be longer, but as I tried to figure out what to do there I realized I would have just been copying Berry Oakley's licks. So that got cut down considerably. The bass part is actually super simplified. Berry Oakley's bass playing on "Mountain Jam" is relatively busy, moving freely along side Dickey and Duane's guitar themes. I tried playing bass with a little more freedom but it just didn't fit (probably because he was an amazing bass player and I'm not), so I simplified the bass line to something less distracting.

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