DUANE ALLMAN

©1996 Dave Kyle

THE ROAD GOES ON...

[ DUANE ARTICLES ]

 


 

DAVE KYLE:
Duane Allman - The Road Goes On...
(first published in 'Vintage Guitar Magazine', November 1996, Vol. 11 No. 2)


In this issue, VG is proud to feature the first of a series of stories commemorating the 25th anniversary of the release of the first album by the Allman Brothers Band. This month, we begin the tribute with the following historical retrospective by VG contributor Dave Kyle, as well as interviews with Joe Dan Petty, Allen Woody, and Jack Pearson. In the next two months, we will continue the series with more features and interviews with people close to the band.

Earlier this year, VG ran a piece on Gregg Allman. Although not primarily known as a guitar player, Gregg is a fine acoustic player, as anyone can attest if they've seen the acoustic segment of an Allman Brothers Band show. While researching the rest of the band, I mentioned to our editor, Alan Greenwood, that Macon, Georgia, is a musically historical place. Not just because of the ABB, but many other luminaries in the music business have either lived or recorded in Macon.

"Why don't you get down there and talk to some of the people who knew Duane," Alan said after one particularly long phone conversation. "Maybe we'll do a sidebar on him."

Well, that project grew and grew, until it took on a life of its own. Not only was I able to go to Macon and get some great stories, I also went to Muscle Shoals, Alabama, where Duane worked at the celebrated Fame Studios, playing on hits by people like Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, Herbie Mann, Boz Scaggs and a host of others. But I don't want to get too far ahead of myself.

Let me give you a little background on Duane's all-too-short life. There may be some statements included here and in previous articles that seem to contradict each other, but time and memories have a way of doing that.

Born in Nashville, Tennessee in 1946, Duane was very young when he lost his father, a military man, to a senseless murder at the hands of a hitchhiker. Before moving to Daytona Beach, Florida, Geraldine Allman enrolled Duane and Gregg in Castle Heights Military Academy, Lebanon, Tennessee.

The boys and their mother, "Mama A" as she is known to their many friends and family, then moved to sunny Daytona, Florida in 1959, where Duane and Gregg attended Seabreeze High School. As Gregg said in his interview (VG, July '96), he was visiting his grandmother in Nashville one summer, when he picked up some guitar chords from one of her neighbors, Jimmy Baine. Duane checked out the guitar his little brother bought at Sears and to quote Gregg, "...he passed me up in about two weeks. He was a natural."

Gregg says this with the conviction of one who knows, having been around many of the greatest guitar players of our time. After countless fights over the low-cost acoustic, Mama A decided to get each boy a guitar. Gregg got a Fender Musicmaster and Duane got a Gibson Les Paul Jr., which is now reportedly owned by Delaney Bramlett.

A succession of bands followed, including Escorts, Almanac, the Allman Joys, the Untils (with present day Gregg Allman and Friends sideman Floyd Myles) and Hourglass. The brothers began their career playing "beach music," a natural progression for a Florida band in the ‘60s. Gregg soon got in to the blues, thanks to Floyd, and again, brother Duane followed. He traded a wrecked motorcycle for a guitar and the rest, as they say, is history.

"One year, Gregg got a guitar for Christmas and I got me a Harley 165 motorcycle. I tore that up and he learned to play," Duane said in an early-’60s interview by Tony Glover. "He taught me and I traded the wrecked bike parts for another guitar."

The Allman Joys became one of Florida’s best-known bands. After changing their name to the Hourglass, they signed a record deal which led to an ill-fated trip to California. They spent a short time in Los Angeles making two albums for Liberty, until Duane became fed up with the scene and decided to move, "...back down South where I belong," according to Gregg, who stayed in California to fulfill contractual agreements.

The record company insisted on dictating material the band would record. Again, according to Duane, "...they’d send in a box of demos and say, 'Okay, pick your next LP.' We’d try to tell them that wasn’t where it was at. Then they’d get tough."

Duane then moved to Muscle Shoals and started his career as one of the late ‘60s most noted studio guitarists.

It was Duane's idea for Wilson Pickett to cover the Beatles' "Hey Jude." He
wasn’t taken seriously at first, an reportedly called Pickett "chicken" to try something out of the ordinary. This, of course, prompted Pickett to do the song.

Duane laid down a deep groove, and the song re-wrote itself. That, along with the slide work on Aretha Franklin's cover of the Band's "The Weight" propelled Duane into a category of guitar greats. For the first time to anyone's knowledge, outside of people like Chet Atkins and Duane Eddy, a guitar player who couldn't really sing was offered a recording contract.

Rick Hall, proprietor of the well known Fame Studios, in Muscle Shoals, heard him play on a demo recorded by Johnnie Johnson, another stalwart guitarist, and signed him, later selling his contract to Atlantic Records. This was unheard of at a time when psychedelic music was becoming the vogue. Phil Waldon, who had booked the likes of Otis
Redding and many other great R and B act's of the day, heard him play and bought the contract from Atlantic.

Not really knowing what to do with what they had, a recording project was started with Duane as an artist. Duane had a vision of the kind of band he wanted to create, but he wasn't able to tell the powers that be what that was. The project., which was scrapped but eventually saw release as the posthumous Duane Allman, An Anthology turned into what we know today as the Allman Brothers Band. Duane rounded up several musicians he had worked with in the past, including Jai Johnny (Jaimo) Johnson.

He and Duane paired up and hit the Muscle Shoals scene like a June tornado. They were a legendary jamming team that knocked out the musicians there. Not an easy feat, considering they’ve played with the who’s who of music for several decades. Going back and forth between Jacksonville and Muscle Shoals, where he continued to record, Duane eventually found the other members of his dream group. Claud Hudson "Butch" Trucks, a native of Jacksonville, became the other half of the drumming duo. Gregg recalled meeting Butch in Daytona "out on the street, with all this equipment, "where he
and his band, the 31st of February, had just been fired.

One person Duane’s heart was set on was Berry Oakley, originally from Chicago, Illinois. Berry had played guitar with Tommy Roe and the Roemans and was now playing bass in a band with his friend Dickey Betts on guitar. Dickey was another Florida guy, born in West Palm Beach. The two were inseparable at the time and Berry would not leave his friend's band. Duane had not originally planned on having two guitar players n the band, but Berry's fierce loyalty led him to decide that if he had to take Dickey to get Berry, so be it. That decision made for one of the most unique sounds of the day, with twin guitars played in harmony as they had never been before. Reese Wynans (later part of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s Double Trouble) played Hammond B-3 with the band until Duane convinced Gregg to come back to Florida. Gregg showed apprehension at the lineup, but being homesick and frustrated with the L. A. music scene, he jumped at the chance. It has been reported many times that when the band was finally assembled and sat down to jam in the Green House, magic happened. Hours after the first song had started, Duane supposedly made a move for the door.

"Anyone who doesn’t want to join my band has to fight his way out!" he said.

Phil Waldon started Capricorn Records and Capricorn Studio in Macon, and the band moved, enmassé, to southcentral Georgia, which in the late ‘60s was not accustomed to seeing a band of five longhaired hippie types and a black guy move in together. They found a large house at 309 College street, where a month after they moved in, everybody else moved out. The place became known as the Hippie Crash Pad. The band lived well below the poverty level, surviving primarily on VA checks and a small salary provided by Twiggs Lyndon, their future road manager, and whatever else they could scrounge up.

At a local meat and three (vegetables, for you non-Southern types) restaurant called the H & H Diner, a matronly black lady, know affectionately to the band as "Mama Louise" (Hudson, one of the Hs) took pity on the poor musicians and fed them even when they didn’t have money. The band would rehearse a while each day, grab a bite at the H & H, rehearse some more and party all night. After a late-morning wake up, they’d do it again. If you’re interested, the H & H is still open and serves a great meal. I highly recommend it.

One of their favorite spots to party was the beautiful Rose Hill Cemetery in Macon. There, straight through the main gate and along the river, is the burial site of one Elizabeth Reed Napier, who was immortalized in Dickey Betts' beautiful tune, "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed."

As the band got tighter and tighter, doing covers of old blues songs by people like Muddy Waters and adding Gregg’s originals, they started playing road dates, traveling in very humble conditions, as did most of the bands of the time. Each weekend, they set out for parts unknown, crisscrossing the country, making friends and fans wherever they went..

One of the venues was Bill Graham's Fillmore clubs (East and West). Graham loved the band and would help them fill out their schedule when they needed more dates. In the meantime, two albums emerged, The Allman Brothers Band and Idlewild South, which was
named after a farmhouse outside Macon where the band and friends partied. Each album sold respectively, but no big hits were forthcoming.

The tours continued and a Winnebago finally replaced the van,
much to everyone’s delight. In 1971, they recorded several live shows at Graham’s Fillmore East in New York, which later became The Allman Brothers, Live at the Fillmore East. This double album probably seemed like a risk at the time, but as any true ABB fan will tell you, you haven’t really experienced the band until you’ve heard them live. This album captured that feel like none before, and was probably their biggest breakthrough. In this time of album rock radio stations, it looked like they were finally catching on with the public and getting their well-deserved recognition.

At about that time, the band was doing a show in Florida when their producer, Tom Dowd, said
Eric Clapton was recording at Miami’s Criteria Studio. Duane asked if it was possible to meet him. Dowd said he would see what he could do.

When he heard, Clapton said he was a fan of Duane’s since Pickett’s "Hey Jude" record. He and Dowd attended an outdoor gig the band was playing. The place was packed, so they crawled under the stage and sat down in front between the audience and the band. When Duane saw Clapton staring up at him, he froze in midsolo. The band covered for him and looked to see what had caught his attention so abruptly. They were all a little nervous at the prospect of having one of the world’s most well-known guitarists sitting front and center, but they continued the concert, then met Clapton after the show.

This "mutual admiration society" led to one of the most acclaimed albums of all time, Clapton's Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs. The two monster players collaborated on the album's title song and several others. Although Duane did not play on the entire album, due in part to the Allman Brothers' touring schedule, he was responsible for the signature lick on "Layla," which nearly every budding guitar player has studied.

The two styles melded into one huge guitar sound that was sometimes confusing for the uneducated listener Ever the guitar-oriented guy, Duane tried to explain it by telling people "...I played the Gibson and he played the Fender." Guitarheads understood, but the general listening public was still unsure, and unfortunately, many still don't realize that one of the most recognizable licks ever was Duane Allman's. Most agree that this was a high point, if not the high point for both of these world-class talents.

Duane, Gregg and Berry had moved into what came to be known as the Big House, a large, old Southern mansion at 2321 Vineville Avenue in Macon. They and their wives, girlfriends and children lived there eating large family-style dinners in the huge dining room, and rehearsing in the front two rooms, generally living as one big family. Dickey and his wife lived not far away and he would spend time there when Duane and Gregg were having difficulty. Dickey wrote "Ramblin' Man" in the kitchen and "Blue Sky" in the living room of the Big House.

At some point, Duane and his common law (according to Georgia statutes) wife, Donna, moved to an apartment on Bond Street, just a block or two from the original Hippie Crash Pad on College. Gregg moved to an apartment with his wife, Shelley, at 839A Orange Terrace, overlooking downtown Macon, just a block away from the Medical Center of Central Georgia, the hospital that would play a vital role in the band's near future.

After the success of Fillmore East the band decided
to stay off the road for awhile and relax in Macon while working on their new album Eat A Peach. The title came from a comment Duane made to an interviewer who asked the question "...what are you doing for the revolution?"

"There ain't no revolution, just evolution," Duane reportedly said. "When we come back to Georgia we eat a peach for peace. That's what we're doing."

Most of the songs were cut for the new album and the relaxation was beginning to relieve the pressures of road life. Berry's wife, Linda, was having a surprise birthday party on the 29th of October and Duane drove his motorcycle to the Big House to attend. The band was going to get together that evening for a jam session, so Duane left for home.

On the way, at the intersection of Hillcrest and Bartlett, his motorcycle collided with a flatbed truck. His girlfriend, Dixie (Duane and Donna had since gotten a divorce) and Candace Oakley, Berry's sister, were behind him and witnessed the accident. His Harley Davidson Sportster
crashed down on his chest, crushing him. Although he reportedly looked okay at the scene, he was not conscious.

He was rushed into surgery at the hospital. When Gregg got the news, he ran down the street to be with Duane, who died three hours later, at 8:40 p.m. He was 24 years old, and his death left a gap in the leadership of the Macon musical community and beyond.

Disbelief is a word often used when talking to those who were a part of that community. This young, talented spark had ignited the band to levels none dreamed possible. But life goes on.

The funeral was attended by several musical luminaries who, along with the Allman Brothers Band, performed at the service. Dr. John, who had toured with the band and lived in Macon, and Delaney Bramlett, who had hired both Duane and Clapton as guitar players for his band, were among these performers.

Duane’s beloved ‘59 Les Paul was placed in front of the floral-wreathed casket. This proved foreboding. For people like myself, who naturally supposed that the group was finished, it held a hope that this supergroup Brother Duane had assembled would somehow carry on.

And carry on they did.

The album in progress was finished, with some already-recorded material as well as tracks leftover from the Fillmore album. Tom Dowd, who had produced that album, and was producing Eat A Peach, had other commitments which he had to see to after the delay. So Johnny Sandlin, an old friend of Duane’s, who then worked for Capricorn, was called in to finish the project.

Betts was put in the unenviable position of being compared to his predecessor. Though their styles were similar, just as Duane’s had been with Clapton, Dickey had his own thing going on. He stepped up to the plate and knocked the hide off the ball with songs he had written and sang, giving the band a new focus. Deciding not to try to replace the irreplaceable, they finally chose pianist Chuck Leavel (currently the keyboard player with the Rolling Stones) as a fresh addition. His playing propelled the band to new and different heights and they kept on doing what they do, making great blues-based rock and roll.

On November 11 the following year, irony took another stab at the band. Bassist Berry Oakley, who had more or less taken the reigns Duane had held, was taken from us in yet another cruel twist of fate. While riding motorcycles with friend and roadie Kim Payne, Berry missed a curve near the intersection of Napier and Inverness, just blocks from the site of Duane’s fatal crash, and hit a Macon city bus.

This blow was almost unbelievable to anyone who was vaguely familiar with the band’s history. Although unconscious at first, he came to and took a ride home with a passing motorist, refusing to go to
the hospital. Later that afternoon, he was taken to the same emergency room, talking incoherently, and he later died. Like Duane, Oakley was 24 years old when he died.

They were buried in side-by-side plots in Rose Hill Cemetery, just 100 yards or so from the grave of Elizabeth Reed Napier. Their gravestones are white, glistening marble. Both bear several inscrip
tions. 0n the side of each headstone is carved the band's mushroom logo, and on the flat part of the elongated stones are a Gibson Les Paul and Fender Jazz Bass, respectively. Inscribed on Duane's is an excerpt from his diary: "I love being alive and I will be the best man I possibly can. I will take love wherever l find it and offer it to everyone who will take it...seek knowledge from those wiser...and teach those who wish to learn from me."
 
The headstone is also circled by the music notation to "Little Martha (Duane
had dreamt the tune which appear on both Eat A Peach and the first Duane Allman Anthology albums. He reportedly said he dreamt Jimi Hendrix was playing it on the bathroom faucet, and when he awoke, the song was still in his head, so he got up and recorded it on a cassette player). It is the only song written by Duane that he ever recorded.

Berry’s is inscribed. "Help thy brother's boat across the water and lo! Thine own has reached the shore." It also reads, "Our Brother B 0. Raymond Berry Oakiey III And The Road Goes On Forever (a line from "Midnight Rider"). Born in Chicago on Apr. 4, 1948, Set Free Nov. 11, 1972."

Two small praying angels, made of stone, marked
the foot of each grave, to represent their daughters, Galadriel (Duane's) and Brittany (Berry's). Unfortunately, these were stolen not long after burial. But through the resources of the Georgia Allman Brothers Band Association, they were recently replaced.

The cemetery has become a landmark
to the many fans, who to this day make a pilgrimage to the graves. I was drawn to the site myself in 1973. I was making one of my several trips to Macon to pitch songs to Phil Walden and I happened to have a guitar in the car with me. My friend George Rogers, snapped a picture  of me playing between the headstones, and while we were there, a blue Mercury Cougar pulled up and parked. We first thought it was a young lady, seeing the long blonde hair, then realized that it was Gregg.

We wanted to say something, but not really knowing what, we moved back to my car and left him alone. When I interviewed Gregg, I asked him if he had ever had a car like that and he said, "No, I never had no Ford!"

When I told him my reason for asking, he said, "...you know, I did have a friend who had a car like that. I used to borrow it some. It probably was me."

Somehow I felt a part of all the fate and
irony, a chance meeting, considering all the times I could have visited the graves and not seen anyone. I think there's some kind of force at play here. The cruel coincidence of the accidents and various other incidents is just too much to ignore. I don’t claim to understand what that force may be, but I believe there definitely is something!

There was never any question about what the band would do after Berry's death. They had been through this before and sadly, they realized, here they were again. This time their lost brother had to be replaced.

Lamar Williams, an old friend of Jaimo's, was chosen for the bass spot, which he did with remarkable ability. It was not an easy job, considering that Berry's bass playing was not like most peoples.

I saw the Brothers' Cincinnati Gardens show in September of '73 and definitely was not disappointed in Lamar. Later, when the band dispersed for awhile, Lamar was a founding member of the group Sea Level (with Chuck Leavel, Jaimo and Jimmy Nalls). Lamar was taken from us a  few years back with lung cancer, probably, a result of exposure to agent orange from his stint in Viet Nam.

To make things even more eerie, Twiggs Lyndon, the aforementioned road manager, was killed in a skydiving accident in New York state. Strangely, the town he met his fate in is named Duanesburg.

The band has trudged on, through thick and thin, with various members including brothers Dan and David "Frankie" Toller (on guitar and drums respectively), Les Dudek (guitar), David Goldflies (bass), Johnny Neel (keyboards and harmonica) and current members Warren Haynes (guitar, VG April '96) Allen Woody (bass) and Marc Quinones, formerly of Spyro Gyra (percussion).

They have tried going it alone for different reasons, with varying amounts of success, but the band that Duane put together still holds the magical mystique that can't be matched. The band that was Duane's dream way back in the late '60s is today here and very alive.

Steve Rusin and I went to their July 28 performance at Indianapolis' Deer Creek Music Center to take some photos and take in some great music. Along with taking some great pictures and sharing them with VG, Steve is a monster harp player who knows his blues better than anyone I know. He used the same phrase again and again when trying to find words to describe them.

"Tight," he said. "Amazingly tight."

We met two fans, Melissa (like the song - yet another coincidence) Politte and Marie Mercadi who have been to 25 shows from West Palm Beach, Florida to Seattle, Washington. They said that night was probably the band's jazziest set yet, and the instrumental "True Gravity" confirmed it.

I couldn't have asked for more. But there is more. There's a light show. I know, I know, but listen! It's not just strobe lights and bug spray, the Brotherhood of Light makes this one very special with moving images on the large screen behind the band. Everything from Harleys to American Indians to psychedelic blobs that move in time with the music. And of course, the ever-present mushroom.

It really is hard not to get caught up in this show alone. But then you hear Dickey Betts do something that makes you remember why he's been around impressing people since his days in the Jokers! Or you hear a tasty blast from Warren's slide. Or the roar of Woody's Thunderbird. And it's not just the guitars. The rhythm section is the most  incredible mix of percussion. Three - count 'em three - drummers!

But when you start watching the light show or the audience (everything from well-dressed middle-age couples, to "spinners," with a few old hippies thrown in) you forget that it's not just one incredible drummer. And of course, Gregg tops off the whole thing with his immediately recognizable voice and his great keyboard playing.

I agree that this band is stronger than ever today. Their inclusion in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on the first try says to me that a lot of people were affected by this band. The Allman Brothers display at the Hall has Duane's '59 Les Paul (see this month's "Reader's Gallery"), and Dickey's Gold Top. They also have Berry's Jazz Bass (with a case that supports some cool era stickers) and Gregg's B-3, as well as drums from Jaimo and Butch. If they're are in your area, take a little time to hear a real band perform. They have done their departed brothers proud as carriers of the torch.

I have to thank the many people who helped in this effort to tell you about one of my favorite guitar players. They include: Steve Rusin, Melissa Politte, Kirk West, Jack Pearson, Robbie Cantrell, Johnny Sandlin, and of course, all the folks I interviewed for the "Remembering Duane Allman" segment that will appear in the January issue.

 

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