DUANE ALLMAN

©2019 Alan Shaw

THE MISFITS  

 

 

  ALAN SHAW:
The Misfits
(June 2019)

  Alan Shaw - Drums

(senior)

     
  Pat O'Quinn - Rhythm Guitar

(junior)

     
  Duane Allman - Lead Guitar

(freshman)

     
  Dave Johnson - Sax

(junior)

     
  "Tex" Lanier - Lead Guitar

(sophomore)

 

A FIRST MEETING:

Well, I met Duane in the fall of 1961, a full eight years before he and Gregg formed the ABB with Dickey, Berry, Butch and Jaimoe. At the time we were both enrolled at CHMA [Castle Heights Military Academy] in Lebanon, Tennessee. Our chance meeting occurred in Tex Lanier's dorm room where Duane and Tex were jamming. This was in September, so it was still warm and everyone had their windows open as we didn't have any a/c in those days. Anyway, I was walking past this dorm where we both lived and I heard this music coming from one of the rooms on the side along which I was walking. I stopped for a moment to listen.

Then I really got excited when I realized this sound was live. I knew I had to locate its source, which was no real problem; I simply followed my ears which led me to the room where the music was coming from. I hesitated outside the open door as I didn't want to interrupt them . . . they were playing . . . I don't know a song by the "Ventures" as I think, but I'm not certain of the title. If I had to guess I'd hafta say, "Walk, Don't Run." Anyway, I wanted them to finish playing before going in. When it got quiet, I stuck my head in the door and said, "That sounded really cool. Y'all mind if I come in and listen?" Not waiting for an answer, I stuck my hand out and introduced myself. "Have a seat," one of them said. The two-man rooms in our dorm had beds on opposing walls and Duane and Tex were each sitting on a bed opposite one another.

As I settled in next to Duane, one of them asked me if I played guitar and I answered, "No . . .Man. I play drums." "Cool!" they replied. Then they turned their attention to the necks of their guitars as they had been struggling to sort out some chord in a piece they wanted to play. Tex was playing a Strat and Duane was playing a Gibson. I want to say a Les Paul, but I can't confirm that. However, both were worn and showed plenty of playing time.

As I sat on the bed next to Duane and watched, they appeared equally matched in terms of skill level and knowledge of music in general and R&R in particular. At some point I asked, "Are you guys brothers, or what?" Laughingly they both responded, "Naw." Then one of them added, "I guess we could pass for brothers, though" that was followed by a nod to each other in agreement. I thought the same thing as both were redheads, like me, yet both were slight of build and of normal height, in the five foot eight range. Both had delicate features, with a splash of freckles running across their faces. I remember thinking . . . this must be destiny. Where else are you gonna find three redhead boyz from three different states in the same room playing music.

I sat there for some time captivated by their playing and joining their conversation only when I had something really relevant. The session was cut short as the supper hour was approaching. Before thanking them for permitting me to sit-in, I asked when they would be getting together again. Glancing at each other they responded, tomorrow . . . same time same place. I knew when I returned that I would have with me my snare drum, a pair of drum sticks, and a pair of brushes. The session with the percussion added by me filled out the songs we performed and made the whole experience more enjoyable.

In the few weeks that followed we discovered a couple of things. The first being, none of us could sing, that is to say . . . carry a song from beginning to end. As a result, we tended to gravitate toward and play only music that was instrumental. The second thing we discovered was that we needed to form a band. We discussed some possibilities of who we might include. It was a short list, but two others were ratified that afternoon; Pat O'Quinn, who played a descent guitar on a Les Paul (Gibson), and Dave Johnson, who played a hell of a tenor sax.

At the first session, that included Pat and Dave, we discussed a name for our group. Several names were mentioned before I suggested "The Misfits?" which was the name of a recently released movie starring Clark Gable. We whole-heartedly approved of the suggestion and agreed that in one way or another we were all definitely misfits!

As I mentioned earlier we had no vocalist, per se, therefore we had no frontman. And, to that end, Duane and Tex served as dual frontmen, if you will. This tandem, in my opinion, was another progenitor for the tandem / dual / multiple guitar frontmen made popular by ABB, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Outlaws, and numerous other Southern bands. But, in an effort to address our lack of vocalizations, we finally decided that we couldn't escape them altogether, so it was decided that each member of the band would have at least one song they could limp through. I don't recall who did what, but mine was a song titled, "Money (That's What I Want)", by Barrett Strong. And . . . with practice and time I was able to deliver a relatively good version of it.

We played for every school dance that year with the exception of one. Major "Hornblower" (not his real name which I have now forgotten) was the band director for the academy and he asked me if I would stand-in as drummer for his dance band that was scheduled to play at a dance being held at the Junior School. He had managed to put together a decent group of musicians from the school band, but nobody signed up to play drums. Since I was playing regularly using a collection of drums and cymbals from the music department to fill-out my drum kit, I knew that to decline meant the end of my playing for the "Misfits". Therefore, I agreed to his request. Boy did I take a ribbing from the "Misfits" on that one. They had a great time poking fun at me. They even came around on the night of the affair standing outside heckling and taunting me through the widows of the conservatory where we were playing.
Apart from that, I actually enjoyed the evening as the good Major had chosen a list of tunes from the "Big Band" or "Swing" era. I had grown up listening to that music . . . in fact it was Gene Krupa's iconoclastic performance at Carnegie Hall with Benny Goodman and his Orchestra in 1938, of foot-stomping, "Sing-Sing-Sing" that propelled me into drumming.

The Misfits also played for a couple of local dances as well as a hay-ride which turned out to be just great, with one exception. A bandstand had been setup in one of the Pavilions in the town park where we played for the dance. It was a terrific time, the weather was cool and the kids were loving us. At some point we were playing Ray Charles, "What'd I Say" part 2, when somewhere out of the crowd, a college guy or let's just say a college aged guy, appeared and ended-up talking to or intimidating Tex into letting him sit in on that number. Before we knew it, this guy was playing Tex's guitar, singing lyrics and attempting to set the tempo by driving us to play faster and faster. Duane got pissed and just stopped playing. We all followed suit and cut the number short. The college guy started to Bow-up on Duane, which didn't bother Duane one bit, but Mr. College boy must've realized that he was gonna have to fight Pat and me together as well. He soon disappeared into the crowd and we went back to playing without further ado.



RICKENBACKER:

As I mentioned earlier, Duane was playing a Gibson and Tex was playing a Stratocaster, but Duane wanted to move up. A friend of the Allman family gave Duane a Tricked-out, cherry red, 1961 Fireglo Rickenbacker, I mean a badass guitar, over the Christmas Holidays. When he returned to Heights he was walking on a cloud. He couldn't wait to break that bad boy out . . . I think he slept with it the remainder of the school year (HA!).



BROTHER TO BROTHER:

Duane was a complex character. First of all he was a redhead which meant he had a special temperament, it's interesting to note . . . that the word . . . temperament has as its root the word TEMPER, a trait that defines all redheads and I should know. I am a redhead. My mother was a redhead; my daughter and son are redheads as well as my wife. Boy-Howdy! Anyway he had that . . . but it was mostly in check 'cause I never saw him really lose it. Duane was mostly quiet and modest, even a little on the shy side depending on present company. He had a great smile and laugh and loved to kid around. But he rarely kidded around when it was time to play, practice or performance.

He and his brother Gregg were brought up by their mama, a sweetheart of a lady. The boy's father had been murdered by a friend, yeah, some friend. Anyway, Duane was like three I think. But the stigma of that event always followed them. I think at some level Duane had a disconnect, a point where distrust would override personality. With Duane it was always about the music. He lived it, breathed it, and was nurtured by it. I don't think he ever did anything that would come between him and his music. Any decision he made figured in his relationship to music. He filtered everything through music . . . Dave Johnson, our sax player had become real close to Duane, so in '63, when Duane bugged-out and suddenly left Castle Heights without notice, Dave took it hard. As Dave said to me much later, "After that (after Duane left), school was never quite the same. I did continue playing with a group of guys, but again . . . it just wasn't the same." End quote.

When Duane strapped on that guitar, man, he became someone else, Mr. guitar-man, an alter-ego, a kid with a mission. As an aside: It's interesting to note how he would make comparisons to Gregg. In Duane's eyes his younger brother was superior as far as music was concerned. He'd say things like, "Man you should hear my brother Gregg play". Or "Ya' know my brother could figure this out" referring to some particularly tricky chord or phrasing. Yet his references were never said with jealousy or envy. I think the brothers were different in that Gregg's approach was more analytical, whereas Duane's was more intuitive, which is why they worked so well together. That and the fact they both thought the other was a better musician.



HEARSE:

We had decided that we would buy a hearse and would embark on a self-promoted tour of the USA during the coming summer vacation. A hearse seemed the perfect "spoof" vehicle whereby we could fit most of the band members as well as our instruments. To that end we actually located a hearse in Lebanon that was for sale and we went out and talked with the seller and informed him of our intentions, but as with the best laid plans of mice an' men . . . these never materialized.



REEL-TO-REEL:

Tex called me one day late in the summer of '62, after I'd graduated from Heights. He was on his way to New Orleans and he had something he wanted to drop off. When Tex arrived we enjoyed a few minutes of talk. He had another year at Heights and I was off to LSU [Louisiana State University] in the fall. "I got something here I want you to have." Reaching into a bag he produced a reel-to-reel tape containing "Misfit" music. I was ecstatic and thanked him profusely. He had enlisted the aid of a friend to record one of our early sessions in the auditorium. Three numbers stood out. "Run Donít Walk", (Ventures), "Cherry Pink & Apple Blossom White" (Perez Prado) which was pure Dave Johnson on sax, and a rousing, balls to the walls, "Hell Yes!" All three were in excellent condition, but the "Hell Yes" had a smattering of distortion in one small part, but not enough to detract. Long story short, I had my buddy, Walt convert the reel-to-reel to cassette for me for safe keeping. I kept it safe for many years, but too many moves I'm afraid consigned it to the mystery file. Making matters worse, Walt's version suffered a similar fate. What a joy it would be to have that tape again.



WAREHOUSE- NEW ORLEANS:

I spoke to Duane one time after that when the newly formed ABB band was playing at "The Warehouse". We reminisced about our "Misfits" days and how naive we had been, but how much fun we had had. Duane confided in me that those days were the best times he ever had in music. He died the next year!



There were many other special moments we all shared as "Misfits", but these seemed to be the one that have stood the test of time, so to speak.
Duane Allman, RIP, Gregg Allman, RIP, Tex Lanier, RIP, and Pat O'Quinn, RIP.
Of the original "Misfits" there remains only Dave Johnson and me. But, we were all fortunate to take the ride no matter how brief it may have been.

Alan Shaw
2019

 

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