Reviews: Opening for the Allmans in 1992
Two new soundboard-quality recordings have surfaced recently to shine light The Red Devils’ 1992 opening slots for the Allman Brothers. The Sept. 1 Richmond, Va., and Sept. 4 Charlotte, N.C., recordings represent the band’s sixth and eighth opening spots (by our count) for the Brothers.
These recordings document the band working through their setlists, and winning over crowds with their hardworking blues. From the very top, the audio quality is quite high, making these discs an audio treat. That there is no crowd noise coming into the mix is unnerving, as it sounds as though the band finishes songs to complete silence.
Both shows begin with a sturdy shuffle, here called “Hey Baby,” but in reality a mad-libs version of the warhorse “Riding in the Moonlight.” The Richmond gig finds the band sounding quite tentative — solid blues to be sure, but no real fireworks. Just three days later, however, the same tune is crunchier and bouncier, with a pounding two-handed shuffle by Bill Bateman, hot turnarounds and leadwork by Paul Size and a much more confident vocal performance by Lester Butler.
Both shows continue with “Shake Your Hips,” a bold choice for its reliance on dynamics, a rimshot boogie and guitar pyrotechnics. The tune becomes a rockabilly stomper that builds the tension until the turnaround release later made popular on “The Backstreet Crawler.”
One of the group’s unheralded reworkings is Bo Diddley’s “Who Do You Love?,” just a great, tasteful groove that sounds fresh — which is hard to do given the ubiquity of The Beat. The lyrics have the perfect swagger for Butler’s personality and cadence. Come Charlotte, Butler plays with the lyrics some:
Got a tombstone hand and a graveyard mind
Thirty years old man I don’t mind dyin’
I’m eatin’ mushrooms now I’m fine
Tell me who do you love?
In Richmond, a three-song section from the just-released “King King” is a mixed bag: “Goin’ to the Church” is a rush job, while “She’s Dangerous” doesn’t quite drive, and ends abruptly. There are flashes of brilliance, however, on a jam-length “Devil Woman.” Jonny Ray Bartel’s bass is dirty and rubbery, giving the tune a grinding funk feel. Size plays with the groove, until his ecstatic solo. Butler even raps a new verse to the song, hitting on many of his favorite stand-by lyrics. “Devil Woman” is even stronger a few days later, as the band pushes it past the eight-minute mark.
More fun are the tunes we’ve not heard in better form elsewhere. In Richmond, it’s the closing shuffle “I’m Tryin’,” a lumpty-lump, Texas-sized tune that owes a debt to “Wait on Time.” “I got places to go now, and money to waste,” Butler hollers, “I can’t find another, to ever take your place.”
The Charlotte set also features “Red Headed Woman,” a fun shuffle in Hollywood Fats mode. The disc wraps up with a frenetic, ringing “Backstroke,” Butler seemingly grabbing words out of the air to keep up. The song fades out just as it’s warming up, so no telling if Butler and Bateman pulled off the same harp/drums breakdown that would blow away the PinkPop crowd in Europe some seven months later.
It’s only right that listeners might hear a nervousness in these discs. While their headlining gigs found the band preaching to the choir, and their festival slots were in front of open-minded audiences ready to be blown away by new music, warming up for the legendary Allmans couldn’t have been easy for the Devils.
The quality of these performances, however, most assuredly won them new fans.
Richmond, Va., Sept. 1, 1992:
1. “Hey Baby” (6:04)
2. “Shake Your Hips” (5:43)
3. “Who Do You Love?” (5:30)
4. “Goin’ to the Church” (3:34)
5. “She’s Dangerous” (3:40)
6. “Devil Woman” (6:37)
7. “I’m Tryin'” (5:32)
Charlotte, N.C., Sept. 4, 1992:
1. “Hey Baby” (6:19)
2. “Shake Your Hips” (6:12)
3. “Blackwater Roll” (5:30)
4. “She’s Dangerous” (4:05)
5. “Devil Woman” (8:23)
6. “Red Headed Woman” (5:43)
7. “Who Do You Love?” (5:19)
8. “Backstroke” (3:51)
If you’ve made it this far, enjoy this edit of all of Butler’s between-song patter from the Charlotte performance.