My college town had just three total bars; the one I most cared for was called the Back Bacon. For one, they served draft beer out of glass Byrne Dairy milk jugs. Also, they had a jukebox. For the underfunded, there was a trick to getting the most out of your song choices: Locate the Allman Brothers Live at the Fillmore East. “Mountain Jam” lasted for 34 minutes, and it counted as a single play.
It’s a long song.
The Allman Brothers based it off an innocuous little hippie ditty called “There is a Mountain” by Donovan, (which my friend Paula referred to as the happy song.) Duane Allman turned it into something more edgy, intense and rife with electric blues licks.
Who has time for long songs these days? I do, in the right moment. Almost always while driving. That’s about the only time when there’s actual time to examine every note and remember certain ones or even associate certain others with a specific time, place and emotion in a personal history.
Recently, when I plug my iPod into the car jack–which sounds as antiquated as using eight tracks in the age of Spotify–“Mountain Jam” has inexplicably started popping up in shuffle mode. The first few times I skipped over it and then I didn’t and it reminded me why the reconstituted Allmans, with Warren Haynes in Duane Allman’s stead, were probably my favorite band to see live.
It’s easy to be dismissive of the jam band scene because at it’s worst there’s a layer of ritualism more complex than a cricket match, centered around baseless noodling. But people who dismiss the art of jamming at its best are missing the point.
In a live setting, it’s all about momentum. The Allman Brothers could build it as well as anyone and sometimes, in those long stretches on the Interstate, you need that to start moving downhill.