It’s been 40 years since the Allman Brothers Band released their album Eat a Peach. In celebration the band has named 2012 “The Year of the Peach.” This is also the year they’re going to be given the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, which, according to the Recording Academy, “honors performers who have made contributions of outstanding artistic significance to the field of recording.” (I know some people are cynical about the Grammys, but I can’t be cynical about the Allman Brothers Band – and there are too many people who are the same.) Eat a Peach is a double album that was recorded after what critics call the group’s “breakthrough” album, At Fillmore East, and contains live tracks that didn’t make it onto that album, including “One Way Out,” a blues song that the Allman Brothers made popular with rock audiences. The Allmans knew blues music, and had been playing it from the time they began forming bands in the early 1960s. After making it to Southern California where they opened for acts like The Doors and Buffalo Springfield, the Allmans moved back South, to Macon, Georgia. That’s where they began to put together the group of players who would join them in forming the Allman Brothers Band: guitarist Dickey Betts, bassist Berry Oakley, and drummers Butch Trucks and Jai Johanny Johanson – a Black drummer who had started out in R&B and had toured with such acts as Otis Redding and Sam & Dave. According to one chronicler:
At the same time, Duane Allman began doing session work at the Muscle Shoals studio in Alabama, where this skinny White hippie quickly earned a reputation as a stinging, soulful accompanist. Duane and Gregg both exhibited a natural feel for Black music that the much-hyped British “blues masters” of the period couldn’t begin to match. Growing up in the South, they absorbed gutbucket R&B and sanctified gospel along with the more common influences of soul and freedom jazz and came up with an unprecedented sound…
It was a sound that combined “deeply Southern” strains of music – blues, country, and gospel – with rock and roll. Some called it New South. Critics and fans love Eat a Peach, but the album cover art is famous, too. The album cover includes a gatefold mural featuring a “fantasy landscape of mushrooms and fairies and folklore,” as described by one writer. It is the work of brothers James Flournoy Holmes and David Powell, from Spartanburg, South Carolina. The brothers were in their early twenties when they went into the graphic design business. James had a fine arts degree from the University of Georgia; David was a photographer and businessman who had a degree in sociology from Limestone College in Gaffney, South Carolina. Their association with the Allman Brothers began, according to a Billboard piece written back in May of 1974, after the band played in Spartanburg, noted the brothers’ talents, and asked them to do an album cover for their Capricorn release. Eat a Peach was among the album covers displayed in an exhibit of J. F. Holmes’ cover art that ran a couple of years ago at Spruill Gallery in Atlanta. Bo Emerson wrote about Holmes and some of the bands he did work for (like the very first cover he did, for Wet Willie), groups on the Capricorn label and elsewhere – like Charlie Daniels and the Marshall Tucker Band.
“He would maybe take the feeling that the band gave you musically and develop it into something that you could get by looking at the album cover,” says Dick Wooley, who was vice president of promotion at Capricorn during the 1970s. “A lot of the bands didn’t have an identity, and he’d come up with something.”
Holmes was talented in watercolor, airbrush, and ink and pen, said Emerson, and his style depended on the music inside.
The clear, spare rendering of the postcard joke on the front of Eat a Peach ( a flatbed hauling a house-sized piece of fruit) contrasts with the crowded, trippy landscape on the gatefold interior, with its mushrooms, dragons, and grotesque figures that he says, “I stole, sorry, ‘borrowed,’ from [Hieronymus] Bosch.”
All of Eat a Peach – the music and the cover art – came from the imagination, skill, and artistry of Southerners. David Quantick calls this album the work of “Southern rock” pioneers at their creative peak. But Gregg Allman has often been quoted as saying:
Well, to say “Southern rock” is kind of redundant, isn’t it? It’s like saying “Rock Rock.”
This is because, as Swampland puts it, rock and roll and all of its precedents – blues, gospel, jazz, country, bluegrass – are products of the American South.