In 1973, the Allman Brothers were the biggest band in the land. Sure, Duane had died two years before, not long after the commercial and artistic breakthrough known as “Fillmore East,” but the band carried on, ate a peach, lost Berry and emerged with an album so ubiquitous, we were all ramblin’ men and women.
They headlined Watkins Glen, the biggest rock festival to that date, “Brothers and Sisters” ate up the chart, and then Gregg Allman dropped a solo LP.
It was not like today, where we don’t expect anybody to step out and do anything good, and if they release product, we check it out, shrug and move on. No, music used to be a commitment, you had to go to your local store and buy the record, and having laid down your cash you dropped the needle and digested it.
And there’s not a soul alive who didn’t see “Laid Back” as a disappointment, only because of the high quality of what had come before. But all these years later, one can see it’s peppered with highlights, like the definitive version of Jackson Browne’s “These Days,” in the incarnation that most people heard it first, and also “Queen of Hearts” and “Please Call Home.” But the track that got all the airplay opened the album, yes “Laid Back” started with a version of “Midnight Rider.”
It was many people’s introduction to the Allmans, the third cut on “Idlewild South” that galloped like a horse, that was so infectious you could never burn out it.
But Gregg’s version was different.
It was slow and swampy, all about the groove, but one thing remained the same, Gregg Allman’s voice.
Now that’s a rock star.
He was good-looking and reticent, tall and charismatic, and not only could he sing, he played, he was an integral part of the band, back when you led with your music, not your appearance.
I’ve got to run to keep from hidin’
And I’m bound to keep on ridin’
I get the urge to hide away on a regular basis, the feedback blows me away, both negative and positive, once I labored in obscurity, now I’m an international punching bag, but when you’ve got more questions than answers you’ve only got one choice, to keep on ridin’.
But I’m not gonna let ‘em catch me, no
Not gonna let ‘em catch the midnight rider
America is an outlaw culture, baby boomers understand this, the great American pastime was to get behind the wheel of your automobile when gas was far short of a buck a gallon and set off across this great country of ours, where you might call home collect every once in a while, but truly you were off the grid, no one knew where you were going, where you were, which is exactly how you liked it, because we don’t really want to be caught, we want to be free.
I’ve gone by the point of caring
That’s who I was worried I’ve become, a member of the over-the-hill gang, yes the baby boomers have a handful of years left at the helm of this country, and then we’re done, the music business transition is almost complete, if you’re not running the company, you’re not older than sixty, maybe fifty. And then I hear something like “Midnight Rider.”
This was back when all the swagger was in the grooves. When the goal was to drop the needle on your big rig and get closer to the music, fire up a doobie, drink some Jack or Bud, and settle into the most important thing in life, the elixir, the glue, music.
And I’m driving east on Pico, pushing the buttons on the satellite since Howard is on reruns, and I hear this.
And I’m brought back to art class at Middlebury, with this playing in the background, when you connected with the opposite sex not on what you wore, but what was between your ears.
Music was our soundtrack, our most valued companion, we went nowhere without it, even if it meant listening to the radio.
And the road goes on forever
I realized this afternoon that the road really does go on forever. That you’ve got no choice but to keep on keepin’ on. That around every bend are not only unforeseen potholes, but pleasures. That within the grooves of our old favorites is hope, as powerful as it was back in 1973.
Laid back my ass, we’re still groovin’, we’re still setting the pace, because we’ve got the power of music in us, no one is going to catch us midnight riders!