How Founding Allman Brothers Band Drummer Jaimoe Celebrates the Past While Making Way for the Future

May 03  / Thursday

Jaimoe was the first member Duane Allman hired for his fledgling Allman Brothers Band, shortly after the drummer and guitarist met in 1968 at Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, where Duane was playing sessions. Jaimoe, a native of Gulfport, Mississippi and a veteran of Otis Redding, Percy Sledge and other r&b bands, was on his way to New York City to try and fulfill his dream of being a jazz drummer. Instead, he became a cornerstone of a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame band as they launched a 45-year career that ended at the Beacon Theater on October 29, 2014.

Ahead of Jaimoe’s Jasssz Band Friday May 4 show at Garcia’s, the drum great spoke to Allman Brothers biographer Alan Paul.

You came up as a R&B and soul drummer, then made the jump into the world of rock 'n' roll with the Allman Brothers Band in 1969. How did your formative years of drumming prepare you for playing in the Allman Brothers?

You can go from the Otis Redding and blues to rock, no problem. It’s all raw, open notes. I wanted to be a jazz player only knowing what I heard on records. I was schooled in music and drumming by a great music teacher and high school marching band and I learned how to play; what you do with it doesn’t matter. All this music came out of the same place: churches. Last night on The Voice a guy did [Otis Redding’s] “Try a Little Tenderness” and I told my wife, “You hear that horn? It’s straight from the church.” It’s traditional spiritual music.

Blues this and rock that, whatever someone stuck a name on, it’s coming from the same place and you go up the ladder to try and become what you want to be. I once heard BB King say that the only difference between blues and gospel was the words. My spiritual godfather Antonio DaSilva, a shaman voodoo priest, told me the same thing when I asked him how I know what to play: “The only difference in the music is the words. Don’t say the words.”

What was it like in the initial stages of the Allman Brothers Band, especially gearing towards the band’s first, self-titled release in 1969?

For me, it was like everything I ever wanted to play. I discovered that the first time I ever played with Duane in Muscle Shoals. Duane got done with a session and rolled that Fender Twin amp out of the main room next door where I had my drums set up and we just started playing. Then he called Berry [Oakley] to come and once he joined in, I was in heaven. And it wasn’t like something I learned over time or had to think about it. It was immediate: this is the shit I’ve wanted to play all my life.

But you had never known it!

Yeah. Or maybe I did. Once you hear what you’re searching for, you immediately know what it is. It’s not like something that’s foreign to you. You knew it all your life. Everything had been building to that and when you find it, you know it.

Berry was a real blues guy. Duane and I were just two adventurous cats and we just played, and what was so interesting to me is we scared the shit out of the cats in that studio, man. They just had never heard it approached like that. They were used to “play so many bars of this and so many bars of that.” We just played, no talking. These were natural things like breathing. When you started playing with someone like that you knew what to play. It was all right there. So the only development from there to the Allman Brothers Band and our first album was the development of the ideas of six people playing in together a style that as Duane said, moved it forward. We just had the right chemistry with the right people and it was like breathing.

In the 1990s, the Allman Brothers Band came back and gained a new, younger audience. Do you feel that that time and the jam band world you guys were leading helped bring a new dimension to your sound, and ultimately shape your legacy?

Yes and no. It was just another step because you take what you heard all your life and hear it being approached differently because there are people who came from another place. So guys like Warren [Haynes], Derek [Trucks] and Oteil [Burbridge], shit they knew the Allman Brothers but they had different experiences than us. They had played with different people, listened to different music and had different ideas. And everything affects everything, so I took a different approach and we all did, I guess.

I was just relating to what I was hearing, which is all you can do. When you really understand music, it’s like the wind. It goes this way, it goes that way. You have your base and it’s never going to move from 1969 to 1995 to 3005. It’s like “Thou shalt not steal.” People in 3005 might not know the 10 commandments, but there’s never gonna be a time when motherfuckers should steal. Things advance, but the rules don’t change.

Sadly, with the passing of Butch Trucks and Gregg Allman last year, you and Dickey Betts have become the last remaining original members of the Allman Brothers Band. Do you feel as though you now have this great responsibility to carry on the music of the band?

I felt that way when the band existed and even more so now. I believed that the legacy was a serious thing way before Butch or Gregory passed and even Duane or Berry! I said, “We are now the people that we looked up to.” That means that when you go on stage, you better be jamming and playing your ass off. We are the masters that we looked up to and when you hit the stage you cannot be out there shucking. Whatever you do, do it as a master.

As soon as I started playing with Duane, we set out to be great and it’s something to live up to, but it’s not hard. It’s what you do. I picked up a drumstick inspired by Gene Krupa, Elvin Jones and Max Roach and I’ve been trying to play great since the first time I played along with their records. Other people have done that playing to Duane or whoever what else. That’s an honor!

You started Jaimoe’s Jasssz Band as a side project during your touring years with the Allman Brothers Band, but now it’s your primary band. How did you come about forming this collaborative group and how has your tenure in the Allman Brothers Band shaped the direction of this group?

We can continue to play and not go through some shit. I love the band I got together. We’ve changed a little, lost one horn player which makes it easier to try different things and improvise, and added a new keyboard player, Brian Charette, who plays some great jazz licks. The other guys have been with me a long time: Reggie Pittman (trumpet), Kris Jensen (saxophone), Dave Stoltz (bass) and Junior Mack (guitar, vocals).

We play Allman Brothers music – maybe more than we did before, I don’t know – but our own way. We added Coltrane’s “Africa Brass” to “Ain’t Wasting Time No More” and I want to do more of that. Dave doesn’t play like Lamar or Berry. Junior doesn’t play like Duane or Derek. He’ll play their music, of course, but he’s coming from his own place, and a lot of it was gospel and spiritual. Junior is a huge talent and he knows a lot of music: blues, progressive jazz, gospel. He brings all that stuff to the Allman Brothers songs and that’s how it should be.

Last year, you received the prestigious Harriet Tubman Medal of Freedom for your progressive role in civil rights activism. What was your reaction to receiving this award?

I was knocked out. I thought, “Is this a joke?” it’s the biggest award I’ve ever seen.

Does civil rights activism play a role in the music that you play?

I really don’t know. It comes from a different place, but I’ve always felt good about the freedom of music.