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Allman Brothers Founding Drummer Brings a Jazz Celebration to Tarrytown Music Hall

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January 29, 2022

By W.B. King —

One day in the spring of 1959, 14-year-old Jai Johnny “Jaimoe” Johnson attended a jazz festival near his hometown of Ocean Springs, Mississippi and was “tapped on the shoulder” by the music of Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald and Benny Goodman.

“Until then, I never really paid any attention to music other than listening to stuff that was on the radio and that was pretty much Elvis Presley, B.B. King and the Everly Brothers,” recalled Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Jaimoe, who is best known as a founding member of the Allman Brothers Band.

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“But [at the time] I had no interest in music. I was busy in the street playing ball,” recalled Jaimoe, who later traded in his bat and glove for drumsticks and joined his high school band.

By 1966, Jaimoe, who counts drummers Gene Krupa and William Randolph “Cozy” Cole as influences, was touring with Otis Redding. The gig came about somewhat unconventionally.

“One of the other drummers didn’t show up to rehearsal one day and I was told to play behind Otis,” said Jaimoe, who added that he and the tardy drummer would soon play dual roles in the band.

“Otis was a great musician and a funny guy. During our tour he was going to do a fake boxing match with Muhammad Ali in August 1966. The two of them – they liked to do pranks,” Jaimoe recalled with a laugh. “They were just alike. Otis was actually bigger than Ali. Ali was taller but Otis was a big guy, man.”

A band with two drummers, which would later be a defining aspect of the Allman Brothers sound, was something Jaimoe had experienced before playing with Otis Redding. The famed singer with hits like “Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song)” and “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay” tragically died in an airplane crash in 1967.

“When I was in high school, I played with two drummers, actually four – one was a girl. The other two guys also played football [so they got busy]. It’s so interesting if you look back at your history – it’s all lined up. You see things that never really made any sense to you before,” said Jaimoe, who, before co-founding the Allman Brothers Band, went on to play with rhythm and blues icons Percy Sledge and Sam & Dave.

Big Band of Brothers

On February 24, 2022, “Big Band of Brothers: A Jazz Celebration of The Allman Brothers Band” kicks off its 10-date tour at The Tarrytown Music Hall. Jaimoe is the featured performer.

“I’m looking forward to it,” he said. “It will be really fun and interesting.”

And this won’t be his first visit to The Tarrytown Music Hall. His other longstanding band, Jaimoe’s Jasssz Band, opened for Gregg Allman and Friends on January 1, 2011.

Often wrongly categorized as just a southern rock band, the Allman Brothers incorporated a mélange of genres, including jazz, which is attributed, in large part, to Jaimoe’s influence.

“Jaimoe turned all of us on to so much neat stuff. He gave us a proper education about jazz and got us into Miles Davis and John Coltrane,” Gregg Allman once said. “Kind of Blue was always on the turntable — [Duane Allman] really got his head around that album — and he also seriously dug Coltrane’s My Favorite Things.”

The upcoming tour is inspired by the acclaimed album “Big Band of Brothers: A Jazz Celebration of the Allman Brothers Band,” which was released in February 2020 in celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the Allman Brothers Band’s self-titled debut.

“For the Big Band of Brothers album, we began with timeless Allman Brothers Band classics, commissioned brilliant big band arrangements for them, and brought them to life through passionate performances – all sweetened by contributions from distinguished guest artists,” noted project creator and co-producer John Harvey.

The musicians on this tour, including Jaimoe, didn’t perform on the Big Band of Brothers album. But joining the legendary drummer on stage will be Sammy Miller and The Congregation, a seven-piece jazz band that the Los Angeles Times dubbed “Joyful jazz with lots of laughs and theatricality.”

“Our agent mentioned they were putting together a project, a touring version of the album and asked if we would be interested. They were looking for a jazz band to fill out this big band [sound]. They had me at Jaimoe,” said Miller, drummer and bandleader.

While Miller said this will be his first time playing with Jaimoe, he grew up playing along with Allman Brothers records. “He has never played with me, but I know we work well together,” Miller noted, adding that the band is currently gearing up for rehearsals in advance of the tour.

The show will include tracks off the album, including staples such as “Statesboro Blues,” “Whipping Post” and “Dreams,” but Miller said they will also dive deep into the Allman Brothers’ catalog dating back to 1969.

Vocalist Lamar Williams Jr., lead singer of The New Mastersounds and the North Mississippi Allstars, and son of the Allman Brothers Band’s second bass player, Lamar Williams, completes the ensemble.

“This will be a jam-packed show with incredible musicianship paying tribute to the Allman Brothers,” said Miller. “The Congregation performs an interactive experience. You never know what is going to happen.”

Listening for What Parts are Missing

Like many musicians, Jaimoe has been off the road mainly due to the pandemic. He hasn’t performed live since the March 10, 2020 sold-out “The Brothers” reunion concert at Madison Square Garden. The nearly four-hour show celebrated the bands history and also featured Warren Haynes, Derek Trucks, Oteil Burbridge and Marc Quiñones who are the surviving members of the final Allman Brothers lineup.

Singer and multi-instrumentalist Gregg Allman passed away in 2017 as did founding drummer Butch Trucks. Founding members Duane Allman and Berry Oakley tragically passed away from motorcycle accidents in 1971 and 1972, respectively.

“That was the last time I played [live]. I was in bed for two weeks after that [Madison Square Garden] gig from the whooping little Trucks gave me,” Jaimoe said with a laugh. He was referencing fellow drummer from that performance Duane Trucks, who like his brother Derek, are nephews of Butch Trucks.

When reflecting on his 44-plus year drumming career with percussive partner Butch Trucks, Jaimoe said his impact was immense. And not unlike his other Brothers who have since “departed,” Trucks’ spirit is always with Jaimoe when he performs.

“Without Butch Trucks, there would be no Johnny Johnson,” Jaimoe said. “Because he allowed me to be able to try anything I wanted to try. I listen for what parts are missing or what parts would make it sound better — that’s what I do. What makes the music sound better is the most important thing.”

Free-Floating Music

After 56 years of recording, gigging and traveling the world, Jaimoe stressed the importance of listening, especially when it comes to the music of the Allman Brothers Band. He calls it “free floating music.” But all-American music, in his opinion, should be categorized as jazz.

He recalled one day before a Percy Sledge concert when the band was warming up —consummate musicians jamming and waiting on their band leader.

“He was the best boss I ever had — just a great man. He was the Sledge and we were the Sledgehammers. One night before a show he said, ‘Your jazz tunes — your instrumentals sound really good and everything, but when you all play When a Man Loves a Woman tonight, you play it just like the record,’” Jaimoe recalled with a snicker.

After his stint with Percy Sledge, Jaimoe was enroute to New York City when a friend said he should stop by a studio to meet a young guitarist who had made a name for himself playing with the likes of Wilson Pickett, King Curtis and Aretha Franklin.

“He said, ‘Go down to Muscle Shoals and meet Duane [Allman]. Just go in and talk to him. I did and I never left. And then Berry [Oakley] came along and it felt like I was playing with these people all my life,” Jaimoe said of the happenstance that led to forming the Allman Brothers Band. “You find those people who make you do what you do.”

Not unlike most families, the Allman Brothers Band has a sordid history, but their Grammy award-winning music, which today is celebrated world-wide, has eclipsed most misgivings.

Along with Jaimoe, 77, Dickey Betts is the only other remaining founding member. Betts, 78, who played The Tarrytown Music Hall in 2012 and continued to perform with his Great Southern band in subsequent years, recently experienced sidelining health issues. Aside from his signature guitar playing and singing, he is responsible for penning classic tunes like “Ramblin’ Man,” “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” and “Blue Sky.”

“The Allmans Brothers Band was just a great, great group of guys,” Jaimoe said in reflection, adding that he is fond of each member equally.

And while a difficult question, when asked if he had a favorite Allman Brothers song, he responded: “No man. All of them makes you who you are.”

So as Jaimoe excitedly looks forward to his first gig in nearly two years, he said those making the trip to the Tarrytown Music Hall can expect to hear “good music” because the band will be playing “Allman Brothers music.”

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