3-19-09 Photo – Kirk West

It’s March 19. On this day in 2009, Eric Clapton played the first of two nights with the Allman Brothers Band, the emotional and musical climax of an incredible 40th anniversary Beacon run.

I was in the house for night one, one of the handful of most exciting concerts of my life. I have often been skeptical of Eric Clapton and have found myself pretty dang bored at his shows a few times, but every time I’ve seen him with someone on stage who pushed him, he’s been damned good: Steve Winwood, Jimmie Vaughan, B.B. King, Stevie Ray Vaughan – and Derek Trucks. So my hopes were very high for this, and I knew exactly how much it meant to everyone in the Allman Brothers, especially Warren, a died-in-the-wool EC fanatic in his younger days.

The excitement around this show was contagious and the joint was buzzing and hopping long before Clapton took the stage. The first set was a superb, no-guests affair: Little Martha, Statesboro Blues, Done Somebody Wrong, Revival, Woman Across the River, Don’t Keep me Wondering and Whipping Post – a first set ender that signaled serious business.

At the break, a grand piano was rolled out and Gregg opened the second set with a solo “Oncoming Traffic” that was just gorgeous. The tension and the energy just kept building and after a few more songs, Clapton strolled out. The complete video of the performance is below – thank you Butch Trucks and Moogis! – and there’s so much to love in this performance. I give Clapton made props for learning the ABB songs and embracing the role, instead of just playing Stormy Monday and Key to the Highway, which still would have been cool. Most Beacon guests did not take their gig so seriously. 

Watch the end of “Why Does Love Got to be So Sad” and  the beautiful, aching interplay between Warren, Derek and Eric. As it ends, Clapton smiles with such contentment and when the final flourish hits, Butch thrusts his arms in the air in triumph. They all knew what they had just done… and then they go right into “Little Wing.” Please enjoy the  One Way Out section about how this all came about:

GREGG ALLMAN: The one guy who of course my brother had a real thing with and had never played with the Brothers was Clapton and it was just real good to have him there. That was a long time coming and really fun and meaningful.

Derek Trucks, who spent a year touring the world with Clapton in 2006-07, facilitated the British guitarist’s appearance.

DEREK TRUCKS: I had mentioned it to him a few times, but the band wrote a letter – it was really important that it come from them – and I just made sure it got delivered. It was a group effort that basically said, “This is the Allman Brothers Band and we are paying tribute to Duane to celebrate our 40th anniversary. Please join us.”

BUTCH TRUCKS: We’ve been trying to jam with Eric for years but have never been in the same place at the same time. Eric is a big fan of the Allman Brothers, and when Duane died, probably his three best friends outside of our band were Eric Clapton, John Hammond and Delaney Bramlett. Eric and John were at the Beacon and Delaney had sadly died a few months earlier. That’s why it was so important to us to have Eric there.

WARREN HAYNES: It was a really big deal to the Allman Brothers Band because that had never happened, which is pretty incredible given the history between Duane and Eric. We were so honored to have him there and the fact it turned into seven or eight songs, going well beyond what we originally agreed upon, was icing on the cake. He was great to work with, he played great and everyone was on his best behavior because we all knew what a special moment it was.

We were all very impressed with Eric’s desire to learn Allman Brothers songs rather than just get up and jam and not just choose ones that would make it easy on everybody. We were hoping for the opportunity to play some of the centerpieces, like “Dreams” and “Liz Reed” and Eric was more than game. “Little Wing” was an afterthought and the coolest part of the rehearsal. Everything went very smoothly and when we had basically played through all the songs we agreed upon, Eric looked around and said, “Is there anything else we should think about? What about ‘Little Wing’?” Our group reaction was, “Well, we’ve never played it, but sure.” We started working it up from scratch and I thought it was one of the highlights.

Clapton’s “Little Wing” suggestion was particularly profound since it was Duane Allman’s idea to record it on Layla. Clapton and Haynes sang harmony vocals on the song. On Thursday, March 19, 2009, Clapton joined the band for six songs: “Key To The Highway,” trading vocal verses with Gregg, “Dreams,” “Little Wing” and Derek and the Dominos’ “Why Does Love Got To Be So Sad?”, “Anyday” and “Layla.” The next night, he also played “Stormy Monday” and “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed.”

ALLMAN: He took a private jet in from New Zealand or some place to be with us and then took it back to resume his tour. When he was here with us, he just gave it all. That was special, man.

DEREK TRUCKS: I knew he would come prepared but I was still a little taken back by how much energy he had put into it. He had only hung with Gregg once or twice and obviously Duane was very important to him. He told me that the time he went and saw the Allman Brothers in Miami he was blown away by them – what they looked like, how they sounded. It was a part of his life that he had never put away and he came loaded for bear.

HAYNES: Eric Clapton was my first guitar influence, along with Johnny Winter and Jimi Hendrix, so it was a very big personal moment for me as well. I sometimes forget how much I learned so much from him in my formative years, but it certainly came back those nights! And on top of that I sang a duet with him on “Little Wing,” I was just emotionally ecstatic.

DEREK TRUCKS: Afterwards, when we were hugging, Eric whispered in my ear, saying something like, “I haven’t played like that since 1969.”

Excerpted from One Way Out: The Inside History of the Allman Brothers Band (St. Martin’s Press). Copyright 2014, Alan Paul. All rights reserved.

Here’s the whole sit-in, from the first night, the night I was there, 3-19-09: