As I was walking to work one day with my favorite Pandora station playing in my earbuds, I heard a tune by the 1970s Dutch band Focus that I hadn’t heard in many years: “Answers? Questions! Questions? Answers!”, from the 1972 album Focus 3. Guitarist Jan Akkerman riffed and traded solos with keyboard player Thijs van Leer in a fourteen-minute jam.  It was wonderful.

Then it hit me: this was Holland’s answer to the Allman Brothers.  That’s silly, you might say; the Allman Brothers were (are) southern rock or jam-rock, and Focus was Euro-progressive rock.  But think about it: take the Allmans, swap out the (American) country influences for (European) classical, and you’ve got Focus.

Both bands were based around hard-hitting lead guitarists and singing organists who were all top-notch players.  (Van Leer wasn’t as much of a singer as Gregg Allman, but he did double on flute.)

Compare their best-known tunes.  Pretty, single-length instrumentals: the Allmans’ “Jessica,” Focus’s “Sylvia” (from Focus 3).  Mind-expanding album-side-long extravaganzas: “Whipping Post,” “Eruption” (from Moving Waves) — both featuring signature solos from the bands’ lead guitarists.  Modal jazz-blues jams: “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed”; “Answers? Questions!”.   Homages to their local roots: “Southbound”; “Elspeth of Nottingham” (from Focus 3).  Big hits: “Ramblin’ Man”; “Hocus Pocus” (from Moving Waves).

Moving Waves and the double-LP Focus 3 are the best of the bunch, particularly the former.  They are respectively the band’s second and third albums.  After that came a high-energy live set, At the Rainbow, followed by studio albums of decreasing quality after Akkerman lost interest and ultimately left the band.

The jam-band movement of this past decade offered some glimpses into the connection between prog-rock and jam bands; witness the music of bands like Phish and Umphrey’s McGee.  Anyone who listened to the Grateful Dead’s “The Other One” knows this.  Focus proves it.

P.S. other evidence that the Allmans were known among the European progressive rock scene includes the German band Agitation Free, which at times sound like Die Gebrüder Allmann (when they weren’t sounding like Die Dankbare Toten or Der Rosafloyd). Check out 2nd, their excellent second album from 1973.