Is there a more ebullient modest musician on the planet than Oteil Burbridge? When he was reminded that this year is his tenth anniversary with The Allman Brothers Band‚ he chortled and almost never stopped throughout the conversation…at least when he discussed his role in the mythic southern band.
Burbridge became solemn and soulful in his discussion to become a professional musician rather than take a working job. Yet every string of conversation led back to passion for music and warmth for his comrades‚ which are the most notable virtues he displays in whatever musical context he finds himself.
Burbridge invariably becomes a lynchpin of the proceedings at hand. His combustible exchanges with Jimmy Herring are highlights of the all-too-infrequent Aquarium Rescue Unit gigs these days. Burbridge unabashedly relishes his spotlights with the Allman Brothers Band‚ whether it's a bass solo (scat or not)‚ a turn on the drums (as happened at The Beacon this past March)‚ or the lead vocal turn where he lends due passion to Grateful Dead's "Franklin's Tower" or the more recent takes on Derek & The Dominos' "AnyDay."
Then‚ of course‚ there's Burbridge's benign leadership of the Peacemakers. Recent appearances with the band find him doing the bulk of the singing‚ while never lessening the prominence of his main axe. Given the diversity of teases and themes he is inclined to include in his bass playing‚ he is no doubt the mastermind behind the provocative setlist‚ replete with Hendrix tunes.
It was such a joy to speak with him on the phone. It almost boggles the mind to think what a delight it must be to have him as a bandmate and co-road warrior.
Doug Collette: I was reading something about you and the Allman Brothers the other day and I noticed that you actually joined the band in 1997. You've got a ten-year anniversary with them coming up.
Oteil Burbridge: I know. It's amazing isn't it?
DC: How does that feel?
OB: God‚ I don't know. It's scary that a decade went by that fast. [laughter]
DC: Yeah. I know how you feel when it comes to that. Did you imagine that you would be with the Allmans that long when you first joined them back in '97?
OB: Oh man‚ honestly‚ I didn't think it was going to last six months. [laughter]
DC: Is that right? And why is that?
OB: I guess the band was just in such a volatile place‚ but you can never tell really. I mean honestly I don't know if I had any…What's the right word? I guess I hoped that it would last‚ but you can never tell‚ especially in the music business. The music business is so unpredictable. Certainly the Allman Brothers were a little more unpredictable. [laughter]
DC: Well yeah‚ and when you joined the band that seemed to be the first step in the Allmans really starting to stabilize over the next few years.
OB: Yeah‚ because I really think that I'm probably‚ aside from the original incarnation of the band‚ I am probably one of the luckiest band members to have passed through. You know‚ if you think about all of the different guys that have played in the Allman Brothers. And it really started to stabilize right when I got into the band. It was probably during the most sane period in the band's history. Not because of me but just the timing of it.
DC: Well‚ I don't know. Give yourself a little credit there. You seem to really enjoy being on stage for its own sake‚ but also when I watch you play with the Allmans‚ you really have a good time interacting with the other guys in the band. I often see you turn around and get eye contact with Butch and really get grooving. There is a certain chemistry that you and Derek seem to have too‚ that's very unique. Had you played with Derek much before you both ended up playing together in the Allman Brothers Band?
OB: Oh‚ only since he was eleven. [laughter]
DC: Yeah‚ that's what I figured. I didn't know the exact timeline but I wanted to be sure of that because there seemed to be something very unique about the chemistry between you two.