Sunday, February 12, 2012

Forty Years of the Peach Corps

Today is both the birthday of a very good friend of mine (happy birthday, Brady) and the 40th birthday of an album that played an important role in my teen years — "Eat a Peach" by the Allman Brothers Band.

All sorts of celebrations have been and will be held to mark the occasion, not the least of which is a special radio program that is being aired nationally. The hoopla is well deserved. "Eat a Peach" is often said to be the Allmans' best album.

It was tragic that "Eat a Peach" was the last Allman Brothers album to include one of the brothers, Duane Allman, who died in a motorcycle accident in 1971. He would be 65 if he hadn't been killed, but he is eternally in his mid–20s.

Duane died during the final recording sessions, and the surviving band members decided to re–name the album. Originally, it was supposed to be called "The Kind We Grow in Dixie," but, after Duane's death, they decided to adapt a comment he made to an interviewer who asked him what he was doing for the revolution.

"There ain't no revolution," he said, "it's evolution, but every time I'm in Georgia I eat a peach for peace."

That resonates with me.

I grew up in the South, and there were many times in my childhood when I ate fresh peaches from roadside stands in the summer. My mother was fond of east Texas peaches, and we always managed to get some in late June or early July when that year's crop was starting to come in.

She would then make the sweetest refrigerator peach pies I've ever tasted, and that is one of my favorite food memories from my childhood. I don't think Mom ever made the connection between peaches and peace, but she was certainly an advocate of peace during her lifetime so I don't think she would have objected.

I often wish I had that recipe, but it was lost long ago.

But even if I didn't have such pleasant associations with peaches, I still would count "Eat a Peach" among my favorite albums.

First of all, it was a double album — and that was something special in the 1970s.

To put things into context, the storage capacity for a CD is probably two or three times what it was on those old vinyl LPs. Therefore, when you buy an album on CD that was originally released as a double LP, every track from that album usually will fit on a single CD.

That's a distinct advantage with "Eat a Peach" — as anyone who ever owned the LP will tell you.

Two whole sides of that double album were devoted to a single track that went on for more than half an hour. It was a concert track called "Mountain Jam," which was recorded at the Fillmore East in New York in the spring of 1971.

Since it was divided into two sides, there was always a strange gap in the middle of the recording when the turntable changed records. On the CD, it is played continuously. No awkward interruptions.

That's great for someone like me. I was an Allman fan in the 1970s. Might be a bit tedious for more casual listeners, though.

There were eight other tracks on the album, and I always thought the best were blues–rock songs like "One Way Out" and "Trouble No More."

Those tracks were on the third side, where the recordings that Duane completed before his death could be found.

The whole album was a tribute to Duane's memory. He was a participant in the "Mountain Jam," and the final side, as I say, was exclusively tracks that included Duane.

The first side, though, was kind of the band's affirmation that it would move forward, ever mindful of Duane's contribution to the past but eager to embrace the future.

That attitude was summed up in the first song, "Ain't Wasting Time No More," and what might be called a kinder, gentler Allman Brothers seemed to be emerging in the track "Melissa."

"Sometimes it all seems to come down to the question of survival," wrote Tony Glover in Rolling Stone, "and learning to live with loss."

The album was "a simultaneous sorrowed ending and hopeful beginning," Glover wrote, and I believe that is true.

The Allman Brothers survived. I can't imagine what my teen years would have been like if they had not.

As far as I was concerned, that certainly was hopeful.