Shaw - Drums
O'Quinn - Rhythm Guitar
Allman - Lead Guitar
Johnson - Sax
Lanier - Lead Guitar
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
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
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.
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
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.
HELL YES! or HELL YEAH!
It wasn't long before our practice sessions moved to
the stage in the school's auditorium. Every Saturday we
conducted 3 to 4-hour practice sessions because it was the only
place and the only time where we could all be together. In one
of these early sessions someone suggested we needed a song that
identified us, a "theme" song of sorts, one where people (fans)
could fit in and participate. At our next session one of our
"roadies" (not really roadies, just guys who wanted to be a part
of us and our music and the growth of the band in general),
anyway, someone mentioned a tune that had become immensely
popular out of the University of Alabama's Greek society. It's
title was simple enough, "Hell Yes!" It's lyrics were even
simpler as well as more in keeping with our talent. The song had
been born, no doubt, by young, energetic, and well fortified men
who were celebrating their new-found freedom in (college) life.
The following is an exact transcription of its vaunted refrain.
"HELL YES!" or "HELL YEAH!"
Well, are you alright?
Hell Yes! Hell Yes!
Hell Yes! Hell Yes!
Hell Yes! Hell Yes!
Hell Yes! Hell Yes!
I'm alright, Hell Yes!
You're alright, Hell Yes!
Hell Yes! Hell Yes!
Hell Yes! Hell Yes!
Hell Yes! Hell Yes!
Hell Yes! Hell Yes!
And so it would go… on and on and on…. Before there was "FREEBIRD"
there was "HELL YES." Oddly, the powers to be at our dear
academy never admonished us from using this refrain. I never
quits playing during this song, but at times I prayed for a
quick end. The song permitted space and time for prolonged solos
and working the crowd of onlookers. Eventually this music became
known to the band as "Marathon Music." I believe it was the
progenitor for The ABB's predilection for anthems such as this.
The song also helped to promote our presence on campus and
elsewhere and encouraged fans, maybe onlookers is a better
choice, to join in, in what some Fraternities of the day
referred to as, "Sweating the Band" (crowding the band to
encourage them by way of frenzied appeal to continue playing a
song or verse ad in fintum). An interesting Misfit aside;
usually at some point during the performance of "HELL YES!",
Dave Johnson would develop a monster nose-bleed, which usually
required his retiring from the remainder of that piece until he
could stanch the flow of blood. If, however, after stanching we
were still going strong and he was up to it, he'd re-join us for
the grande finale.
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.
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 Don’t 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
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.