Maplewoodstock co-headliner Friends of the Brothers stays true to spirit of Allman Brothers Band

friends of the brothers

JAY BLAKESBERG

From left, Friends of the Brothers members Andy Aledort, Craig Privett, Junior Mack and Alan Paul.

Maplewood resident Alan Paul has been to many of the shows in Maplewoodstock’s nearly 20-year history. But this year he gets to co-headline the festival with Friends of the Brothers, which plays the music of The Allman Brothers Band.

“It’s really a point of pride,” says Paul of Maplewoodstock, adding that his fellow Friends are “thinking of it as a nice little local town gig, which it is. But it’s also more than that. So I’m really excited to show off Maplewood and this event, a little bit, to my bandmates.”

Maplewoodstock, a free event at Memorial Park that regularly draws crowds in the thousands, features two full days of music plus art and food vendors and children’s activities. Friends of the Brothers will take the stage July 10 around 6 p.m., before the festival-closing set by the band Galactic. Funk Yeah!, Alexander Kariotis and Autumn Jones will be among those performing on July 9. For the full schedule and more information, visit maplewoodstock.com.

Friends of the Brothers, whose members hail from various towns in New Jersey and Long Island, is rare among tribute bands in that some of its members have direct ties to the original creators of the music. I saw them recently at the Stanhope House and was impressed at how effectively they evoked the spirit of the band without being a note-for-note recreation.

Guitarist-singer Junior Mack (of Rahway) has fronted Allman Brothers Band drummer Jaimoe’s Jasssz Band for more than a decade. Guitarist-singer Andy Aledort has played extensively with Allman Brothers Band singer-songwriter-guitarist Dickey Betts. Guitarist-singer Paul, primarily a music journalist, has interviewed Allman Brothers Band members extensively and wrote the definitive Allman Brothers Band biography, “One Way Out: The Inside History of the Allman Brothers Band.”

ARNIE GOODMAN

Andy Aledort, left, and Junior Mack.

Mack and Aledort have also performed with The Allman Brothers Band itself. One of the group’s co-founders, Peter Levin, toured with Gregg Allman for three years and appears on his final album, Southern Blood. And singer Lamar Williams Jr., son of the 1972-76 Allman Brothers Band bassist, has often performed with the group (though he won’t be in Maplewood).

Friends of the Brothers also features drummers Lee Finkelstein (formerly of Maplewood) and Dave Diamond, bassist Craig Privett and keyboardist Mike Katzman.

The group first came together in 2017 to perform at a tribute to Allman Brothers Band drummer Butch Trucks, who died that year. Though a lot of different musicians have performed with Friends of the Brothers since then, the seven who will be in Maplewood constitute the band’s core.

“For the first couple of years, we were in a bit more of a rotational thing,” says Paul. “As we’ve been playing more, we’ve been able to book further in advance and lock everyone in.”

Band members know the material so well they don’t really need to rehearse.

“There is a fair amount of planning, which is usually some combination of me, Andy and Junior talking and working it out,” Paul said. “Whenever we add a new song, we discuss it, we let everyone know, and everybody is sort of so seasoned and professional and used to learning songs for last-minute gigs … everybody works it out on their own and we’ll rehearse it at soundcheck.

“It really began as a side project for everyone, and everybody felt really good about it, so we have been slowly ramping it up. Then in the last six months, we’ve gotten an agent. I was doing everything myself up to that point in terms of booking, which was useful for me: I learned a lot. But it’s never going to be my full-time job.”

MICHAEL JON PHOTOGRAPHY

ALAN PAUL

The Allman Brothers Band has obviously played a big part in Paul’s life, as both a journalist and a musician. What is it about their music that makes it resonate with him so much?

“I listen to more jazz and blues, really, than rock,” he said. “Because of my interest in the Allman Brothers, a lot of times people think that I would have a lot of interest in Southern boogie bands and stuff, and I certainly like ZZ Top, I like some of that stuff, but it’s not really what I listen to. For me, the Allman Brothers are just the one band that always threaded that needle of having the power and urgency of rock that hits you in the gut a little bit, with some of the limberness and improvisational feel of jazz and the emotional depth of blues. To me, they’re one of the few bands of their era, late ’60s/early ’70s … a lot of people had that idea to sort of modernize blues, and they did it in a way that, to me, is very true to a blues feeling and roots, but very original. It’s a very difficult balance to hit both of those.

“It just always resonated to me. I mean, in eighth grade … I forget what the class was called, but it was basically social studies, and everybody had to write an essay about a great American. And I wrote about Duane Allman. Everybody was writing about George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. I grew up in Pittsburgh, so there were some (Pittsburgh Pirate) Roberto Clementes and (Pittsburgh Steeler) Franco Harrises. And I wrote about Duane Allman.”

Paul has also written the memoir, “Big in China: My Unlikely Adventures Raising a Family, Playing the Blues, and Becoming a Star in Beijing,” and co-wrote “Texas Flood: The Inside Story of Stevie Ray Vaughan” with Aledort. His next book, he says, will focus on the 1973-76 era of Allman Brothers Band history, and be released in July 2023. That month will also mark the 50th anniversary of the Summer Jam at Watkins Glen, a concert in Watkins Glen, N.Y., that featured The Allman Brothers Band, The Grateful Dead and The Band, and attracted 600,000 people.

The book is “both more narrow (than the ‘One Way Out’ book), because it’s covering a limited time span, but much broader because it’s not just about The Allman Brothers,” said Paul. “There’s a lot about the Grateful Dead and about Watkins Glen, which is still the largest rock festival ever in America; and about Lynyrd Skynyrd and Southern rock, that whole world; and about Jimmy Carter, because they were very involved in his presidential campaign.”

For more on Maplewoodstock, visit maplewoodstock.com.

For more on Friends of the Brothers, visit friendsofthebrothersband.com.

For more about Paul, visit alanpaul.net.

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