Gary James' Interview With Lou Maresca Of
The Allman Brothers Tribute Band
Live At The Fillmore
Live At The Fillmore is the top Allman Brothers tribute band in the U.S. and has been touring nationally for eight years. The band takes its name from the Allman Brothers 'live' album "At The Fillmore East", which Rolling Stone magazine listed at number 49 of the 500 Greatest Albums Of All Time. In 2018 they will be part of the Southern Rock Cruise appearing alongside Southern Rock greats Lynyrd Skynyrd and 38 Special. Lou Maresca, who portrays Duane Allman in Live At The Fillmore, spoke with us about the group.
Q - Lou, you are Duane Allman in Live At The Fillmore?
A - I perform the Duane Allman guitar parts and sing a lot of the Gregg Allman vocals.
Q - Did you ever meet Duane Allman?
A - Yes.
Q - Was that after a show? Did you get to talk to him?
A - Yeah. I went to a number of shows in the early years of The Allman Brothers Band in '70 through '72. They played extensively in the New York tri-state area. I saw them at the Fillmore East in New York. I saw them in New Jersey at the Capitol and Central Theatres and a number of different places in New York, Long Island, Staten Island, but I met all the members of the band at various times back then, and since then I've met a number of them.
Q - What kind of a guy was Duane Allman?
A - I know Duane Allman better by other people's descriptions of him than actually the times I spent with him myself because I didn't have that much contact with him. The times I did meet him personally he was a very affable, engaging guy, very upbeat, positive. You just got a good feeling from him being in his company. He was just about having a good time.
Q - Did you tell him you were a guitarist?
A - I did. In fact at one of the shows I saw The Allman Brothers Band, which was in '71 at the Summer Concert series, Schaeffer Beer, in Central Park, I had a chance to talk to him after the show and I asked him for one of his Coricidin bottles, which is what he used to play slide guitar. Back then Coricidin was a cold tablet and what he would do is take these Coricidin bottles and empty 'em and use the bottle to play slide guitar with. I asked him for one and he gave me one that night in New York and I still have it.
Q - That's something I did not know, but then again that's something that a guitarist who follows The Allman Brothers would know.
A - Yeah. I think a lot of people that follow The Allman Brothers and who are guitarists and play, or would like to play slide guitar, know that about him. That's a pretty well-known thing about his equipment, if you will.
Q - If you've met all the guys in The Allman Brothers then Gregg knows about your tribute act.
A - I would have to believe by now he does, yeah. (laughs) I'm fairly certain that he does.
Q - You're probably what, the only Allman Brothers tribute group around?
A - I'd like to say you're interviewing the band that is considered the number one tribute to The Allman Brothers Band by most people's assessments. I will tell you, and I don't say that because it's my own personal opinion, owner pride speaks certain ways. If you look at the back of the "At Fillmore East" album cover, there's a photograph of all the road crew, of the original Allman Brothers. Second guy from the left is Kim Payne. Kim has become a friend over the years. Kim has said, and you can quote me any place you like, "Live At The Fillmore sounds more like the original Allman Brothers than I've ever heard since." And that's an original crew member. The other guy who says much the same thing is Bobby Whitlock, who is the keyboard player, original keyboard player for Derek And The Dominoes with Eric Clapton and Duane Allman. A few weeks ago Bobby called me up and asked me if I would like to join him and his wife and perform with them. So, I'm going to be doing that in June (2017).
Q - Isn't the Summer season a busy time for tribute acts? Will that interfere with the schedule of Live At The Fillmore?
A - Well, this is a one-off. This is a one-nighter show they're doing in the Philadelphia area.
Q - You believe that the first Allman Brothers tribute band was Skydog, a band you put together?
A - Well, I can't swear to that, but Skydog was assembled in 1971. I'm sure there were other bands back then playing the music of The Allman Brothers, but Skydog did an exclusively Allman Brothers show, repertoire. This was before there was even the term, "tribute band."
Q - Any idea of how many groups might be out there today paying tribute to The Allman Brothers?
A - There are quite a few. I know more of the notable tribute bands to The Allman Brothers around the country. Of those there are a handful. I would say any of The Allman Brothers tribute bands of note probably number less than a dozen. I'm sure there are many more than that, but as with any tribute band there are those that are considered to be at the top of their craft. If you take a band like Led Zeppelin you have Get The Led Out, which are friends of ours, friends of mine. We've played shows together. You have Zozo, which is another East Coast based Led Zeppelin tribute band, Kashmir, which is another. On the West Coast you have Led Zep Again. There are always only a few that are highly regarded as these guys really do it the way you want to see it done. Me personally, I could probably count on both hands, and not even run out of fingers, the number of Allman Brothers tribute bands that are really in that category.
Q - When you saw The Allman Brothers Band for the first time, what was it about the band that so appealed to you that you wanted to play their music?
A - Just the cohesiveness of the band and the fact that the band really performed as a band. The sum was greater than the parts, whatever that expression is. The interaction between the band members and the communication musically between the band members along with the guitar work. Duane Allman and Dickey Betts, they are regarded as two of the Top 100 Rock guitarists of all time. You put a bass player like Berry Oakley, who is regarded as one of the best Rock bass players of all time, two drummers, Jaimoe and Butch. You put all these people together; it wasn't a super-group. There have been super-groups like Blind Faith with Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood. This was a band. They lived together. They played together. It was all about the community of the band on and off stage. You could pick that up immediately at one their shows. It was just like one Vulcan mind melt musically between those six guys.
Q - Were you in a band at that point in your life when you were going to see The Allman Brothers?
A - Oh, yeah. I had been musically involved from the time I was four years old.
Q - Four years old? How'd you get into clubs?
A - (laughs) Well, it wasn't all that easy. I did get into clubs. At the age of four I was in an Italian-American family in Northern Jersey, Nutting New Jersey is my hometown. I started with the accordion. A few years into playing the accordion, when my parents wouldn't get me the monkey to go along with the accordion, I gave it up. (laughs) I moved to the guitar about seven and the guitar has been my main instrument ever since.
Q - You were playing what kind of music in these bands? Were you in a cover band?
A - I was a teenager at the time. When I first saw The Allman Brothers it was '70 or '71, so I was like 16 or 17 years old. Prior to that I had been playing cover music, a lot of the music of the '60s, some of the music of the '50s, but more of the '60s, The Young Rascals, early Rock 'n' Roll, The Beatles of course, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, late '60s, onset of the British Invasion.
Q - Was it not difficult for audiences to adjust from hearing Top 40 music to extended jams from groups like The Grateful Dead and The Allman Brothers?
A - I worked with The Grateful Dead for a number of years.
Q - In what capacity?
A - I owned a company in Philadelphia called Tek Com Corp. We were one of the major suppliers of professional sound and recording equipment in the country. Between myself and friends of mine out on the West Coast, who I'm actually going to see in a week and a half when we go out to California to play in San Francisco, we supplied probably the majority of the equipment The Grateful Dead bought over a period of time from maybe the mid-'80s to the early '90s. When the band would come into the area they would come in to visit me, hang out at my place of business. We'd go out and have dinner with 'em. My wife and I were actually on stage with the band during some of their performances in Philadelphia. There's a big difference between The Grateful Dead and The Allman Brothers in terms of this notion of being a jam band. Gregg Allman in an interview once said "We're not a jam band. We're a band that jams." I understood immediately what he meant by that. He went on to explain it. He said a band like The Grateful Dead, which people compare us to, you never know when you go to a show exactly what you're going to hear that night because it depends upon a variety of things that we don't necessarily have to specify in this interview, (laughs) but you can imagine some of the things I'm referring to. They were really much more impromptu, spontaneous ad-lib in a lot of their playing. The Allman Brothers on the other hand, what might seem to somebody as completely improvisational and long jams, those things had been worked out over months and months of playing together. As someone who heard them over that period of time, you could go to see The Allman Brothers show five nights in a row and you would hear very much the same playing throughout all five nights and the songs that they played. The jamming went on back home in Macon, Georgia, at their house, the big house which is now the official museum of The Allman Brothers Band. Through those jams at home they found parts that they liked and retained. Those are the things you heard The Allman Brothers Band play in 'live' performance. I think Bobby Whitlock said about Duane Allman in his biography, Eric was much more spontaneous in what he would play, but Duane was very meticulous and really had worked to refine a lot of his parts. So, it might sound like it was just inspired at the moment, but it was really very much worked out in advance and orchestrated.
Q - Were you at the Watkins Glen Jam with The Grateful Dead, The Allman Brothers and The Band?
A - I wasn't there, but I wish I had been.
Q - I think they had something like 500,000 people in attendance.
A - More. It was over 600,000. That was the largest festival in the United States.
Q - Ever?
A - Yeah. It dwarfed Woodstock.
Q - Do kids today even know who The Allman Brothers are?
A - There are two segments of kids today. There are the kids today that listen to current music and there are kids today that I think are more musically open-minded and want more of a musical background. They're a little more open to music that preceded them. Among that group I think those kids listen to the music of the '60s, '70s. One of my Godsons is a guitarist. He's 16 years old and the kid plays great. He has taken upon himself to study the great Rock guitarists over the decades. Among them Duane Allman, Dickey Betts and Jimmy Page and Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton. At our shows parents often bring their kids. Our age group for a typical concert is from the 30s to 60s. So, if they're bringing their kids, the kids could be teenagers. It's funny, one friend of mine came to a Live At The Fillmore show at the Fillmore in Philadelphia, a Live Nation venue, back in January. He brought his son and his son is in his 20s. After the show I went over to talk with 'em and his son said to me, "What is this madness?" Talking about our show. He said, "I had heard of The Allman Brothers and I had heard The Allman Brothers' music because my dad plays it, but coming to the show tonight and actually hearing it performed 'live', it's just amazing stuff." A lot of younger people coming out to our shows, that's the typical comment, "I didn't know much about The Allman Brothers Band." The Allman Brothers Band has been around for forty-five years, twice as long as some of these kids have been alive. But the quality of the music speaks volumes louder than anything else. When it's performed and it's performed well, anybody who listens to it has to appreciate the beauty of it. Look, it's like Classical music from 500 years ago. Beethoven or Brahms or any Classical composer. I've made the analogy to the guys in Live At The Fillmore when they have come in to the band. I said, "Look, we're here to imitate, not to innovate. This music has already been set in stone and it's as good as it needs to be. We don't have to make it better. We just have to be faithful to the original performances of it. What I expect is we're going to treat it as if it were a Beethoven score. The notes are on the page. They don't have to be changed. They stand on their own. So, your job is to interpret this music as if you were one of the original members of the band playing this music in 1971 and to try and present it as authentically, as realistically in every regard as you can." That's really what this band has become known for. You come to see us and you're going to hear The Allman Brothers Band from 1971. It's funny because we've had some moments that we had to just laugh. We've played three times at Darryl's House, Darryl Hall from Hall And Oates. We've sold out three shows there. I think we're the only band to do that since they've been open. We went into the control room at Darryl's House after the show. Peter Moshay, who's a great engineer, award winning studio engineer who's worked with Hall And Oates for probably twenty-five years, he was playing something and Rick, my other guitarist and I walked in and we listened. It was an Allman Brothers song. We listened to it and said, "Where'd you get the recording of The Allman Brothers?" I'm not making this up or to be smart of anything, it's a true story. Rick asked, "Where'd you get the recording of The Allman Brothers?" and Peter said, "That's you guys from tonight." In all earnest, there have been times when we've listened to recordings of ourselves that other people have put up on YouTube or SouncCloud or other internet sites for music, where it has taken us awhile to get to a certain place in a song where you might hear something that will clue us to the fact that it's one of our shows and not one of theirs. When you can fool yourself that way, I think you did a pretty good job of tributing the original.
Q - The Allman Brothers should be happy that there are guys like you out there because you're really promoting their music every time you set foot on stage.
A - We've been to Macon, Georgia and Atlanta, Georgia a number of times where The Allman Brothers performed and where they lived. They lived in Macon, Georgia. We've always been welcomed like family every time we go there. It's interesting when we go out and play, especially in the southeast where they're from. People will come up and say, "Thank you so much for keeping this music alive. It's really great that you're doing that." We id a benefit concert in Macon, Georgia and the benefits all went to the Big House Museum. Recently we did a concert and the proceeds are going to the Big House in memory of
Butch Trucks, who passed away little over a month ago, one of the original members. I happened to be chatting with him the night before. It came as quite a shock to me because I found out the following night, not long after it had happened. But yeah, these are people very close to The Allman Brothers, people that grew up with, lived with and are still friends with members of The Allman Brothers Band. First thing they say is, "Thank you for keeping this music alive."
Q - How many guys are in Live At The Fillmore?
A - We have seven. We're the same line-up basically as the original Allman Brothers, two drummers, two guitarists, bass, keyboards, and we also have an acoustic guitar player and a harmonica player who plays the part of Tom, whose nickname was Ace Doucette, who played harmonica with The Allman Brothers a lot. He wasn't a regular member of the band, but he played with them quite a bit back in the days of the original band. Our drummers are Dennis Barth and Don McCormick. Keyboard player is Jeff Quattro. The other guitarist who plays a majority of the Dickey Betts parts is Rick Baldassari. Bass player is Mick Mahomet. Our acoustic guitarist, harmonica player is Barron Chandler, and you have me playing the Duane Allman guitar parts and Gregg Allman vocals. Now Barron sings the Dickey Betts vocals. Jeff, our keyboard player, also sings a couple of the Gregg Allman vocals.
Q - When you have that many members in the group, is it possible to actually play a gig and make money?
A - We perform primarily at venues that also feature national acts. Many of the places we play you'll also see Gregg Allman playing with his band. You'll see Jaimoe's Jazz Band, Jaimoe from The Allman Brothers. When Butch was alive you'd see Les Brers and The Freight Train Band, Government Mule, which is Warren Haynes' band. So, we're playing the same venues as national, headline bands would play. Can you make money? You can. It ain't easy. People have seen our success, and I often get asked by other guys in bands, "What do you need to do to play the places you're playing and get to where you are?" I say, "First thing is, how long have you been together?" And they'll tell me maybe they've been together a year, two years. I'll say, "You have another five years to put into this?" And they look at me sort of shocked. They say, "What do you mean?" I'll say, "If you don't have another five years to devote to this, there's not much chance that you're going to see that level of success." "Really?" "Yes, really." Other people in this business who are a lot more experienced than I am have said to me much the same thing. When Live At The Fillmore was in its third or fourth year I talked to a major agency head and he said, "How long have you guys been together?" I said, "We're probably approaching around our fourth year." He said, "That's all?" I said, "What do you mean that's all?" He said, "You guys are doing really well for being together only four years." I said, "Only four years? It feels like an eternity to me." He said, "That's because you're the guy working to make it happen. I have not worked with any band that's seen any level of success, if you want to consider success being able to play and be profitable, I don't work with a band that's done it in less than five to seven years."
Q - It this agent booking strictly tribute acts or is he booking original acts?
A - He books both national recording artists, original bands, and he has several top tribute bands. The agency we're with is Skyline Artists and the only other tribute that Skyline represents is The Machine that plays Pink Floyd. Other than those two tribute bands it's all national or international recording artists. It doesn't really matter. I think if you're an original band and you're an original band that's recording and on a label, you have a leg up on a tribute band because now you have the support of radio and the record label. A tribute band doesn't have that. A tribute band does not have records to sell, radio air play to promote them. And in fact, a lot of radio stations early on when we approached them would not bring us in, would not interview us, and would not play any of our 'live' material. I found it a little bit arrogant frankly. I took it a little personally perhaps. I said, "We're playing the same places and larger places as a lot of the bands you're playing on your radio station." "Well, it just not what we do. We just don't deal with tribute bands." It's kind of a looking down your nose perspective I thought. I've worked with many, many very well-known recording artists. I really think that they have an advantage of they have a marketable act. Obviously any band, whether it's an original band, a tribute band, a cover band or otherwise, if you don't bring the goods, if you don't step on stage from the moment you hit the stage you hit it hard and you put people back on their heels, it doesn't matter how long you're doing it, you may never achieve a level of success that you want because frankly the presentation isn't high enough quality. That's the first place you have to begin. You have to have a product at a certain level of quality. Beyond that it's really a war of attrition. You have to be willing to do it for long enough and hard enough and make a strong enough commitment to it, to weather that inertia. It's like any other business. Harvard School Of Business says most any business is not going to become profitable in less than three to five years and most of them, 80% of them, fall by the wayside. They fail. It's not different with any band, whether it's an original band, a wedding band. What compounds the difficulty is the nature of creative people. It makes it even more complex. Creative people tend to be very narcissistic, very self-absorbed, have a certain entitlement, think they deserve more than they do if they believe they're as good as they think they are. The dynamic there makes it really challenging to keep the band together because of the personalities involved. It's as much a job of psychology as it is music. You can throw great players in a room together and they just won't play well together. The trick is to find the right people to come together and make the result what you want it to be. With Live At The Fillmore that was as much of an issue as anything and I'm sure it's no different if you talk to other tribute bands, other original bands. They would tell you the same thing. You go through a period where people come and go because they're just not the right people. They're not the right people musically. They're not the right people personality wise. I've had people come and go in Live At The Fillmore that had an attitude of that was then and this is now. I gotta be me, man. I've had to step in and say, "Listen, by all means if you have to be you then I appreciate and respect that. This isn't the band for you. If you want to go off and do your own thing then go off and do your own thing, but this is the number one tribute band to The Allman Brothers Band and that's really where you need to be."
Q - Besides the theatres and festivals, do you guys perform on cruise ships?
A - We're going out on the next Southern Rock Cruise. It's on Royal Caribbean, on one of their big ships, Oasis Of The Seas class ships. We're co-headlined along with Lynyard Skynyrd, Marshall Tucker Band, Atlanta Rhythm Sections, Molly Hatchet, 38 Special, Jaimoe's Jazz Band. Jaimoe is hopefully going to get up and a play a couple of sets with us. It's a five night cruise. It goes out of Tampa, Florida to Key West, Grand Cayman and Jamaica. You look at the other bands on the roster with us and there may be only one or two original members in those bands. A lot of 'em are gone. So there's a real fine line difference between tribute bands today for some of these classic bands and the actual bands themselves. The personnel has changed so much over the last forty-plus years.
Q - How much work is there for Live At The Fillmore?
A - It varies during the time of the year. We've gotten busier over the last couple of years as recognition of the band has increased. I would say we're approaching somewhere between, we're past a hundred shows a year.