Just an Almost Local Band From Macon

Vanderbilt University had a concert during Homecoming on October 30, 1970, that featured the Youngbloods as the headliner.  The Youngbloods had a stalled career that flamed up briefly and then died out, and that concert was close to the end.

After playing in clubs for a few years, the group hit the pop charts with Grizzly Bear, a song that fought up to number 52 in the national charts near the end of 1966.  While that doesn’t sound like much, it was enough to get them booked on American Bandstand in 1967 ( here’s Dave Clark interviewing them before they sing their almost-hit record).  The album they released also contained the single Get Together which charted all the way up to 62, but they had little chart success with their follow-up album and singles.

And then, in 1969, a disc jockey at WABC-AM radio in New York City used parts of the song Get Together as background music for a public service announcement.  Awareness of the song followed, and the National Council of Christians and Jews used the record as their theme song on numerous national commercials.  The sleepy single was rereleased and was an overnight success in the Summer of 1969, and the Youngbloods were able to line up a string of concert appearances based on its success.

I bring them up not because of anything special, but because of their warm-up act.  Before the concert, news leaked out that a band that was playing at a club in downtown Nashville would be the warm-up act.  The band was fronted by a pair of brothers who were born in Nashville, although the band had coalesced in Macon, Georgia.  It was Duane and Gregg Allman and the Allman Brothers Band.

Note to self: I really do need to do a list of my top ten favorite concert warm-up acts.

After playing together and recording their first album in New York City in November 1969, the band decided that part of the country was nowhere they wanted to be and relocated to a small building near Macon to work on their career.  Our radio station at Vanderbilt had a copy of their first album, but I don’t recall anybody playing anything from it on the air before they showed up on campus.  Part of the reason we missed the album may have been the single the record company sent us: Black Hearted Woman was the release instead of Tied to the Whipping Post.  The real reason was something different: the studio albums failed to capture the sound of the live band.

A little more than a month before the concert, the band released their second album, and their record company released Revival (Love is Everywhere) as a single, ignoring two standards that were on the album as well: Midnight Rider and In Memory of Elizabeth Reed.  We were fortunate at that concert to watch the band all but invent Southern Boogie as they played a number of long versions of their songs.

And it was live performances that finally helped the band achieve the success they so justly deserved.  When they performed at the Fillmore in February 1970, a few of the songs were recorded, but those recordings were not released until 1996.  Fortunately, in March 1971 band returned to perform at the Fillmore East in New York, and this time the performances were recorded and several of them were put onto a double album that is included on many lists of the top ten live albums of all time.  Top 40 success eluded them for a few more years (their sole top ten single was Rambling Man in 1973), but they were one of the most influential bands throughout that decade and dominated radio airplay in at least the southern states.

The Youngbloods?  They were okay to listen to, but when fans called out for Grizzly Bear they refused to sing it, with one of them telling the audience they had outgrown the song.  Apparently, they had also outgrown Get Together, as they refused to play it until the end of their set, telling the audience, “Don’t worry, we know why we’re here.”  Wikipedia tells a story of them losing a chance to perform on the Tonight Show because they wanted to play a new song but the show only wanted to schedule Get Together.  I played their singles Darkness, Darkness and Sunlight on the air on my afternoon show, but almost nobody else in the country did and their group had no real success after 1970.

Gregg Allman wrote and sang lead on many of the Allman Brothers cuts, and with Duane Allman and Dickie Betts around to play guitar it’s easy to understand why Gregg was playing the organ.  It turns out he is also talented on the guitar himself, as demonstrated in live concerts.  Here’s the band in 2011 performing Van Morrison’s Into the Mystic.  They could make anything sound special live!

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