The second of two benefit concerts for ailing Southern Rock icon Scott Boyer was held on Wednesday, April 18th in Birmingham, Alabama, and was a rousing success.
I had driven down to Alabama a day early to meet up with friends, swap road and fish stories, and perhaps snag the stray interview. It was a beautiful drive all the way down, and even my pass through Atlanta (seems every trip I go on, I am required to strap on my NASCAR helmet and drive through Atlanta) was relatively easy.
Tuesday night ended up being a laid back evening, which was nice, because the next day would be a wide-open journey in the fast lane.
I met up with Dave, Peggy and Rob from Peckstervision Video, who would once again be filming the show for an upcoming DVD release. We went over to the Alabama Theatre at about 10 am. Now, The Alabama Theatre is one of the most breathtaking venues I have ever seen in my entire life. It was built back in 1927 by the Paramount Motion Picture Company, and served as the definitive venue for movie premieres in the South. Inside, there are wrap around balconies, opera boxes and ornate decor that looks like a cross between the Vatican in Rome and a castle from the Harry Potter movies.
The crew busied themselves getting the stage ready for sound check, and we all hacked around and talked, watched video of Marshall Tucker from last week and drank bottle after bottle of cold water.
Just before sound check, the various artists began to drift in, and before long we were in the midst of a true Southern-fried rehearsal, with The Decoys, The Capricorn Rhythm Section, Paul Thorn, Bonnie Bramlett and many others. Soon we received word that neither Butch Trucks nor Wayne Perkins (previously announced in SWAMPLAND) was going to make it to the show. In losing them, we gained a few unplanned guests, including Allman Brothers Band bassist Oteil Burbridge, who just dropped in.
After a few hours of sound check jams, it was time for the show. All sorts of SWAMPLAND friends showed up, and I happily spoke with each and every one of them about the website and all of our huge plans. (And we do have some big ones, folks!)
The Decoys opened the show, and things got to rocking straight away. They rocked through “Shot from The Saddle,” with Kelvin Holly’s Telecaster complementing Scott Boyer on rhythm guitar. The band was red hot and smoked through about four songs. The sets would be short on this evening in order to allow time for everyone to shine. This all-star band is simply amazing. if you get an opportunity to catch The Decoys, don’t duck out-go!
The Capricorn Rhythm Section was next, featuring Boyer, Tommy Talton, Paul Hornsby, Bill Stewart and Johnny Sandlin were great as always, churning out “Everybody Needs Love,” “Don’t Cry Baby,” and Cowboy’s biggest hit, “Please Be With Me,” among others. They were joined by Randall Bramblett on a couple of tunes as well.
It was indeed a pleasure to see Russell Smith and other members of The Amazing Rhythm Aces perform again, and Smith pulled out the big guns for “The End is Not in Sight” and “Third Rate Romance,” sounding excellent.
Nashville Star first runner up Zac Hacker rocked the stage, backed by an all-star band. Throughout the night, there was a never ending cycle of great musicians stepping out to jam, including harp virtuoso Topper Price, former Bama Band member Billy Earhart, guitarist Rick Kurtz, bass legend David Hood, percussionist Mickey Buckins, and another surprise guest, Wet Willie’s Donna Hall.
Paul Thorn came onstage and dominated, as always. While I myself have been a huge fan of Paul’s for several years now, it still amazes me that many folks don’t know who he is. Still, at every show I have attended, I have watched him win over the entire audience, and this short set was no different, Backed by a band that included members of the CRS and The Decoys, and with Scott Boyer III and Kelvin Holly playing lead guitar, Paul ripped into the up tempo “Rise Up.” He was joined for the whole set by Scott Boyer and Bonnie Bramlett on backing vocals.
Rapping between songs and getting his usual laughs, Thorn commanded the attention of the audience, playing “I Have a Good Day Every Now and Then,” and following it up with a pair of his most popular songs, “Ain’t Love Strange” and “Mission Temple Fireworks Stand.,” which brought the audience to their feet for a standing ovation. I must add here that it was great to hang out a little with Paul again, along with his road manager/song writing partner Billy Maddox. Two great cats.
Funky Donnie Fritts repeated the glory of his amazing set from the first benefit two weeks ago, and once again ended it all up with “Memphis Women and Fried Chicken,” bringing a massive all star band to the stage. It was musical history unfolding before my very own somewhat tired eyes.
Sweet Bonnie Bramlett took to the stage and burned white hot on “Atlanta Georgia,” Eddie Hinton’s “Cover Me,” “It’s Time” and more, and the audience loved every minute of it. With Bonnie Bramlett, what’s not to love? She is the best, hands down. One of this writer’s all-time favorite singers. The lady had more soul than Don Cornelius at an Aretha Franklin concert. Have mercy. Can I get an “Amen?” I love you Bonnie.
Next up was truly the man of the hour. A true Southern Rock icon, and another of God’s near perfect vocalists, Gregg Allman. Scott Boyer introduced him as an “old friend,” and Gregg stepped out onto the stage looking happy and healthy. I believe in my heart of hearts that he sounds even better now than he did back in the day.
Gregg picked up an acoustic guitar, and backed by Johnny Sandlin, Tommy Talton and the whole Capricorn Rhythm Section, blew everyone’s mind with some ultra-rare performances, beginning with a breath taking “All My Friends,” a song written by Boyer. After a few minutes of tuning problems, Gregg hit the familiar lick to open “Midnight Rider,” and the crowd was screaming. Deviating from the set list, Gregg was ready to have some real fun. With a coy smile on his face, he strapped kelvin Holly’s Telecatster on, turned to the horn section and asked “Do you guys know “I Can’t Turn You Loose?” In mere moments, the band kicked into the Otis Redding classic and Gregg was belting out the vocal and having a great time doing it. It was a magic moment. Backstage where I stood, mere feet away from Allman, everyone was dancing. It was amazing.
Gregg took over the B-3 duties previously handled by Paul Hornsby, and played a magnificent version of the song he once told me in an interview was his favorite that he’d ever written, “Queen of Hearts.” Boyer thanked everyone for coming, and it was all over. Another page in Southern Rock and Soul history had been written, to be sure.
There were so many friends at the show, but I just wanted give a little GRITZ shout out to my friends Mitch and Cheryl Lopate (who kindly put us up at their farm in Boaz last show); Carl Weaver of Rockin’ Camel Music; Gregg’s assistant Chank, my buddy; Mighty Field of Vision members Sonny Edwards, Big Kahuna, Sabrina, Melissa, Louie and two others whose names escape me at the moment; and of course, my friends Dave and Peggy Peck and Ron. Dick Cooper, you are the best. Take a nap, you deserve it.
We stayed at the coolest hotel after the show. A place built in the 1920’s called The Tutwiler. Not unlike Alabama Theatre, it is historic and beautiful, with amazing rooms and suites, helpful and kind staff and an air of spirits and shadows of the past.
Much like the first benefit, the entire road trip was a sheer joy. Look for a continuous stream of up close interviews with many of these players, coming soon to the SWAMPLAND. Meanwhile, check out the music of all of these great artists. It’s all the real deal.
Keep it Real. Keep it Southern.
All Photos by The Buffalo!