As the founding and spiritual father of the Allman Brothers Band - surely one of the best rock acts of the era - Duane became the figurehead of a musical style known as "the sound of the South." With the Allman Brothers he carried a deep-felt love for his native music - especially that of black bluesmen - to a rock audience, just as British guitarists had a few years earlier. Having learned his blues-based playing first-hand in the South, Duane had a more authentic feel than many contemporaries who had learned only through records. With co-lead Dickey Betts, Allman also helped popularize the use of melodic twin-guitar harmony and counterpoint lines.
Fortunately, Duane's playing is documented on close to 40 albums, many of these studio projects done as lead guitarist for the Muscle Shoals rhythm section. As a sideman, Allman added a compelling, natural feel and distinctiveness to whatever he played on. (A good sampling of his studio work was released by Capricorn as Duane Allman: An Anthology and An Anthology, Vol. II). According to Jerry Wexler, who as VP for Atlantic Records used Duane on many sessions, "He was a complete guitar player. He could give you whatever you needed. He could do everything - play rhythm, lead, blues, slide, bossa-nova, with a jazz feeling, beautiful light acoustic - and on slide he got the touch. A lot of slide players sound sour. To get clear intonation with the right overtones - that's the mark of genius. Duane is one of the greatest guitar players I ever knew. He was one of the very few who could hold his own with the best of the black blues players, and there are very few - you can count them on the fingers of one hand if you've got three fingers missing."
Friends describe Duane as an inspiration, a proud, likable man whose presence immediately drew attention and whose artistry profoundly influenced those who worked with him. He was an original, as unafraid to take chances onstage as he was in other sides of his life. By all accounts, he lived for music and the pleasure his playing brought people. During the ten years since his tragic death at 24, Duane has become one of the legends of guitar.
Howard Duane Allman was born in Nashville, Tennessee, on November 20, 1946. His only sibling, Gregg, was born a year later. Their father was killed while they were young, and the boys were raised by their mother, Geraldine. They attended Castle Heights Military School in Lebanon, Tennessee, where they briefly studied trumpet. In hopes of finding better work, their mother moved the family to Daytona Beach, Florida, in 1957. In 1960 Gregg saved up and bought himself an acoustic guitar. Soon afterwards, Duane got his first motorcycle. "A Harley 165," he told Tony Glover in an interview printed in An Anthology. "Ring-ding-ding-ding, had a big buddy seat, would do 50 miles an hour - boy, I had a great time with it! I still got that motorcycle jones on me, I can't get away from that. Anyway, I tore up the bike and Gregg learned to play the guitar. I traded the wrecked parts for another guitar, and he taught me. Then it's just apprenticeship, your regular old thing - you play for whoever will listen and build them chops, build them chops."
Duane quit high school to stay home and practice on his new Gibson Les Paul Junior, often jamming with his pal Jim Shepley. By then, Allman was sure that playing would be his life. He later told interviewer Ed Shane for a Capricorn promo album called Duane Allman Dialogues: "There's a lot of different forms of communication, but music is absolutely the purest one, man. You can't hurt anybody with music. You can maybe offend somebody with songs and words, but you can't offend anybody with music - it's all just good. There's nothing at all that could ever be bad about music, about playing it. It's a wonderful thing, a grace."
Duane listened to Robert Johnson, Kenny Burrell, and Chuck Berry albums during the day, and at night switched on R&B radio stations for further inspiration. He was influenced by Jeff Beck's playing with the Yardbirds, and always had a special affinity for B.B. King. "He can do anything! He could sing 'Happy Birthday' and bring tears to your eyes." At The Time of the Layla sessions, he told an interviewer that Eric Clapton "wrote the book, man - The Contemporary White Blues Guitar, Volume 1. His style and technique is what's really amazing. He's got a lot to say, and the way he says it just knocks me out.."Later Duane came to especially appreciate jazz horn players, claiming: "Miles Davis does the best job, to me, of portraying the innermost, subtlest, softest feelings in the human psyche. He does it beautifully. John Coltrane, probably one of the finest, most accomplished tenor players, took his music farther than anybody I believe I ever heard."
The Allman Brothers' first gigs were at a local YMCA, covering
and Hank Ballard & The Midnighters tunes. Although it was
uncommon at that
time for white
and black musicians in Florida to mix, Duane and Gregg then
joined the House
Rockers, the rhythm section for a black group called the Untils.
"We were a smokin' band! Boy, I mean, we would set fire to a
building in a
second. We were just up there blowing as funky as we pleased; 16
$41 a week - big time. And all we wanted was to hear that damn music bein' stomped
out. That's what I love man, to hear that backbeat popping, that
plonkin' down, man. Jesus God!"
After appearing at Nashville's Briar Patch Club in 1966, the Allman Joys were recorded by Buddy Killen and songwriter John Loudermilk. A pulsing version of "Spoonful," complete with organ and reverb-heavy, psychedelic guitar licks, was released as a 45 and sold well regionally. Other tracks from the Nashville session were issued in 1973 by Dial Records as Early Allman. "Doctor Fone Bone" showed the influence of their early days backing R&B acts, and the fuzzy solos in "Gotta Get Away" and "Bell Bottom Britches" briefly hinted at Duane's future style. Even on these first recordings Gregg sang with a smoky, black-sounding voice that the liner notes declared "anguished, world weary." Still, they were searching for a sound, and there was little hint of a future guitar star in their midst. Duane was to progress a long way in the next five years.
The original Allman Joys fell apart in St. Louis in 1967, and Duane and Gregg formed a lineup with drummer Johnny Sandlin and keyboardist Paul Hornsby. At first they used the name Allman Joys, then Almanac. While appearing in St. Louis in 1968, they were spotted by a manager who told them they could make it nationally if they went to California. The group moved to LA and signed with Liberty Records, who renamed them Hour Glass. By Gregg's account, this was one of the low points of the brothers' careers. There were plenty of clubs in the city's burgeoning rock scene, but the label would seldom allow them to perform in public. The musicians had little income.
For the cover photo of their debut
Hour Glass album, the group
was taken to
a costume shop and dressed in fancy, pre-20th century outfits.
the music within as "Psychotic phenomenon, from rhythm and blues
psychedelic beats. And soul...reeking of soul." At best,
Hour Glass was miscast in image and material. Most of the
smooth, superficial album consisted of
pop-vocal tunes, complete with overpowering horns and backup
singers. Although writing songs then, Gregg managed to include
only a remake of "Gotta Get Away" on the first album. "A
good damn band of misled cats was what it was," Duane told Tony
"They'd send in
a box of demos and say, 'Okay, pick out your next LP.' We tried
to tell them
that wasn't where we were at, but then they got tough: 'You gotta
album, man. Don't
buck the system - just pick it out!' So okay, we were
game. We tried it - figured maybe we
an ounce or two of good out of this crap. We squeezed and
squeezed, but we were squeezing
rock. Those albums are very depressing for me to listen to -
it's cats tryin' to get
On the band's second release, Power Of Love, the horns were mercifully gone, and Pete Carr had replaced the original bassist. For the first time Duane began to step out with supple rhythm grooves and several interesting, fuzz-heavy solos. He added B.B. King-style licks to "I'm Hanging Up my Heart For You," and appeared on electric sitar on "Norwegian Wood".
In April '68 the Hour Glass drove to Fame Recording Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, where, without interference from slick LA producers, they could lay down blues tracks. With Jimmy Johnson at the controls, Duane opened up as never before - fluid, raw-toned, and emotional. Hour Glass' "B.B.King Medley" (chosen to open An Anthology) contained the first prime examples of his expressive blues style. The unmistakable Allman touch had finally been captured on tape. The group took the demos to their West Coast manager, who said they were "terrible and useless."
Hour Glass returned to the South and drited apart after a few engagements. Duane and Gregg jammed with various bands and worked as paid sidemen on an album their drummer friend Butch Trucks was cutting with 31st of February. The original project was never released, although nine poorly-recorded 31st of February outtakes with Gregg singing were released by Bold Records as Duane & Greg Allman. Of special interest here is the only legally-released version of "Melissa" featuring Duane, one of his earliest recordings with a bottleneck. Even then his slide parts were lyrical, clearly enunciated, and sophisticated.
Gregg went back to LA in 1968 to fulfill contractual agreements with Liberty, and Duane started jamming in Jacksonville with bassist Berry Oakley, who was in a lineup with Dickey Betts called The Second Coming. He moved in with Oakley until Fame owner Rick Hall, remembering the Hour Glass dates, sent him a telegram inviting him to participate in Wilson Pickett's November '68 sessions. Allman came up, and suggested that Pickett sing "Hey Jude," which eventually became the LP's title track and sold a million singles. According to Wexler, Duane's contributions to the tune were a dazzling departure from the usual R&B sound. The guitarist also splashed effecient blues solos on "Toe Hold" and "My Own Style Of Loving." Pickett's "Born To Be Wild" put his psychedelic training to good use.
The Muscle Shoals rhythm section loved Allman's authentic country funk and blues playing, and invited him to become their staff lead guitarist. Duane signed a contract with Hall and moved up to Muscle Shoals, then a conservative town of 4,000 where you couldn't even buy a beer. The new musician in town was a striking sight with his long read hair, tie-dye shirts, jeans and red-white-and blue tennis shoes. For Duane, the first few months in Muscle Shoals brought well-needed peace. "I rented a cabin and lived alone on this lake," he later remembered. "There were these big windows looking out over the water. I just sat and played to myself and got used to living without a bunch of that jive Hollywood crap in my head. It's like I brought myself back to earth and came to life again, through that, and the sessions with good R&B players."
In January '69 Duane joined singer Aretha Franklin in New York to record This Girl's in Love with You. He added a smoldering blues solo to "It Ain't Fair," and his opening slide glissando established the whole tone of "The Weight." He also appeared on the singer's Soul '69 album and added a track to Spirit In The Dark. A month later he accompanied his friend King Curtis on the saxophonist's Instant Groove album, and was the only sideman credited in the liner notes. Duane played at least four show-stopping solos on the LP, and by then his phrasing was honed considerably. He was back on electric sitar for Curtis' "The Weight" and "Games People Play," which won a Grammy that year for best R&B instrumental. Both tunes are on the Anthology albums.
After a few months in Muscle Shoals, Allman was asked by Hall if he wanted to try recording as a front man. In February, backed by Berry Oakley, Hornsby, and Sandlin, he recorded several tracks. Duane sang, proving to have a surprisingly gentle voice on "Goin' Down Slow," which is on An Anthology. Two other cuts, both on An Anthology: Vol. II, show a penchant for humor: He galloped through Chuck Berry's "No Money Down," and sang an original called "Happily Married Man," which is actually a tribute to being on the road and free from your spouse. The album was never completed , and Hall sold Duane's contract to Atlantic VP Jerry Wexler. Later Wexler sold it to Otis Redding's manager Phil Walden, who was assembling a roster for a new Atlantic specialty label called Capricorn Records.
Meanwhile, Duane was becoming increasingly disenchanted with studio life, as he explained to Ed Shane in Duane Allman Dialogues: "Studios - that's a terrible thing, man! You just lay around and get your money. All of those studio cats I know, like one of them gets a color TV, see, and then the next day, man, they're all down to Sears or wherever - 'Hey' I'd like to look at some color TVs.'. And like this one place I know, all these cats - five of them - had Oldsmobile 442s One of them traded for a Toronado, and so all of them traded for Toronados. And now one of them's got a Corvette, and now they're all looking for new Vettes. Man, this is sickening. They're just keeping up with the Joneses and not playing their music. I was down there for about a half year, and I got sick of it. The sessions I do now, I just go in there and do it and leave."
During one of his occasional visits back to Jacksonville, Duane jammed with Betts, Oakley, Butch Trucks, and Jai Johanny Johanson, a drummer he met at Fame. Except for Gregg, these were all of the future members of the Allman Brothers Band. "We set up the equipment and whipped into a little jam," Duane remembered. "It lasted two-and-a-half hours. When we finally quit, nobody ever said a word, man. Everybody was speechless. Nobody'd ever done anything like that before - it really frightened the shit out of everybody. Right then I knew - I said, 'Man, here it is!' I told Rick I didn't want to do session work full-time anymore. I had found what I really wanted to do." On March 26, 1969, Duane called Gregg back from California. After years of disappointments, one-night stands, and studios, the Allman Brothers Band was born.
Despite the fact that he was the group's founder and had a prior reputation, Duane insisted from the start that they were to be equals. They pooled their money and rented a house at 309 College Street in Macon, Georgia. They slept on six mattresses Walden provided, and plowed all of their money back into the band. The musicians jammed together a lot, occasionally going to nearby Rose Hill Cemetery to play acoustic guitar and write songs. In fact, reported Twiggs Lyndon, the band's original road manager, most of the songs on the first Allman Brothers album were written at Rose Hill.
True to his plan, Duane returned to Muscle Shoals several times while the Allman Brothers were still rehearsing. Boz Scaggs, recorded in May '69, was one of his finest early studio efforts. "Finding Her," which contains some sophisticated slide, climaxes with Duane using his Coricidin bottle to produce the far-away bird sounds that later show up in "Layla," "Mountain Jam," and several other cuts. Other standout Allman tracks on the project are the raw, long-building solo in "Loan Me A Dime," the pedal-steel effects in "Another Day," and a few Dobro parts.
His next project was The Dynamic Clarence Carter (a misprint in An Anthology dates this session to 1967). For a studio blues player from the South, Carter's "Road Of Love" was a perfect slide vehicle, and Duane cut through the horn's funky groove with a fat, vocal tone. Later in the year Arthur Conley's More Sweet Soul gave him the chance to blast blues licks through a quasi-Jamaican "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da." He also lent funk rhythms and fiery leads to "Stuff You Gotta Watch," and a touch of slide to "Speak Her Name."
Back on College Street, Betts and Allman were discovering that they brought out the best in each other as they worked delicate harmony and counterpoint lines into their jams. In September '69 the band traveled to New York City and cut The Allman Brothers Band in two weeks. The album signaled a new direction in American rock and roll. Tight, danceable, and loaded with rhythm changes, the music clearly resulted from days of inspired jamming. Even from the start - the massive guitar hooks opening "Don't Want You No More" - Betts and Allman exploded the two-guitar band tradition of having one player relegated to rhythm while the other played lead. Instead, guitars were used for unison and counterpoint lines, and there was plenty of slide and innovative blues, with special attention to tone. Duane soared through "Dreams" with a lovely, melodic slide solo remarkable in its control and shifting tones. As Gregg and Dickey point out in their companion pieces, it's one of the best recordings he made.
The Allman Brothers Band sold only moderately well, but Duane's unshakable confidence kept them together. Over the next two years they played over 500 dates, usually traveling with 11 people in a Ford Econoline van. Within a short time, Johnny Sandlin reflected for An Anthology, "Duane was very well-known throughout the South as the guitar player. Every band had seen him; guitar players all watched him. He influenced a lot of people into playing their own thing instead of just being copy R&B bands. If he met other guitar players that he thought were promising, he'd either loan or give 'em a guitar, anything he could to help."
Johnny Jenkin's October '69 Ton-Ton Macoute! sessions reunited Duane with former Hour Glassers Carr and Hornsby. Duane played slide Dobro on "I Walk on Gilded Splinters" and a soulful, moving version of "Rolling Stone," and electric slide on three other cuts. Jenkins' "Dimples" contained Brothers-style twin lead guitars. In late November Allman also played slide and lead on four cuts on John Hammond's Southern Fried. Of note here is the well-controlled bottleneck on "Shake for Me" and a swinging blues lead on "Cryin' for my Baby," during which Duane used the theatrical technique of reaching behind his fretting hand to raise and lower the pitch of the string. In 1969 Duane also appeared on Otis Rush's Mourning in the Morning. Barry Goldberg's Two Jews Blues, and a Percy Sledge album. With Eddie Hinton on lead, he also cut the Atlantic single "Goin' Up The Country" as part of a studio lineup named The Duck And The Bear.
The Allman Brothers' Idlewild South, recorded in Miami, New York and Macon, marked the beginning of the band's association with Tom Dowd, who also produced At Fillmore East, Eat a Peach, and Layla. Dickey and Duane continued to explore the use of guitars in harmony on "Revival," "Leave my Blues at Home," and Betts' magnificent "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed," which is surely one of their best studio instrumentals. Using long-sustaining sweeping tones, Duane turned in a masterful bottleneck performance in "Don't Keep Me Wonderin," and the second side of the LP found the guitarists outshooting each other in a blues jam on Willie Dixon's "Hoochie Coochie Man."
After Idlewild South's release, Duane told a radio interviewer that their strategy for the next recording would be different:" The stage is really our natural element. When bands start to play, they just play live. We haven't got a lot of experience in making records. I do, a little bit, from doing sessions, but not like a polished session man or anything. We get kind of frustrated doing the records, so consequently our next album will be for the most part a live recording to get some of that natural fire on it. We have rough arrangements, layouts of the songs, and then the solos are entirely up to each member of the band. Some nights we are really good, and some nights ain't too hot, you know. But the naturalness of a spur-of-the-moment type of thing is what I consider the most valuable asset of our band. When you make records, you can't just do it over and over if somebody makes a mistake. Plus, the pressure of machines and stuff in the studio makes you kind of nervous. So a live album, I'm sure, would probably be the best thing."
The Allman Brothers were recorded live in April '70 at Cincinatti's Ludlow Garage, and a rare track of Duane singing "Dimples" is preserved on An Anthology, Vol. II. The Allman Brothers' reputation for high-powered live shows began drawing larger and larger audiences, as did their free concerts on days off. As Duane philosophized, "Anytime you're getting paid for something, you feel like you're obligated to do so much. That's why playing the park is such a good thing, because people don't even expect you to be there. About the nicest way you can play is just for nothing. And it's not really for nothing - it's for your own personal satisfaction and other people's, rather than for any kind of financial thing. A lot of bread hangs people up; they try too hard. You can either do something or you can try to do something. Whenever you're trying to do something, you ain't doing nothing."
Over 1970's Fourth of July weekend, the Allman Brothers played a two-hour set for more than 200,000 wildly receptive spectators at the Second Annual Atlanta International Pop Festival. Duane belted out clean, aggressive slide that day, and "Statesboro Blues" and "Whipping Post" were chosen for Columbia's Isle of Wight/Atlanta Pop Festival anthology. In studio projects around this time, Duane sat in on Ronnie Hawkins, laying down killer electric slide on Hawkins' versions of "Matchbox" and "Who do You Love" and swapping Elmore James-style licks with King Bisquit Boy's harmonica on "Down In The Alley." He tracked acoustic bottleneck on Hawkins' "One More Night." Allman also added lead to the track "Beads of Sweat" on Laura Nyro's Christmas And The Beads Of Sweat album, and to Lulu's New Routes.
Later in July Duane began his three-album association with Delaney and Bonnie Bramlett. He recorded with them in Miami and New York for To Bonnie From Delaney, playing an incendiary electric slide solo on "Living on the Open Road." He also added fine, old-timey acoustic to their "Medley," which included snatches of "Come On In My Kitchen." Duane recorded "Come On In My Kitchen" with them in 1971 for their Motel Shot album, and again for a New York radio show (this version appears on An Anthology, Vol. II). Motel Shot also featured some high-pitched electric slide on "Sing My Way Home," and several fine acoustic slide solos in "Going Down the Road Feeling Bad." His last project with the Bramletts, D&B Together, was released in 1972.
In the last 13 months of his life Duane recorded his most important work, including Derek & The Dominos' Layla, the Allman Brothers' At Fillmore East and Eat A Peach, and studio projects with Herbie Mann, Cowboy, Ronnie Hawkins, Delaney & Bonnie and Sam Samudio. Derek and the Dominos was probably his favorite and most important studio project. He was invited to participate after Tom Dowd brought Eric Clapton to an Allman Brothers gig. As Duane later described, "I went down there to listen to them cut [Layla], that's what I went for. And well, like he'd heard my playing and stuff, and he just greeted me like an old partner or something. He says, 'Yeah, man, get out your guitar. We got to play!" So I was just going to play on one or two, and then as we kept on going, it kept developing. Incidentally, on sides 1,2,3, and 4, all the songs are right in the order they were cut from the first day through to 'Layla' and then 'Thorn Tree.' I'm as proud of that as any albums that I've ever been on. I'm as satisfied with my work on that as I could possibly be."
Layla proved to be the meeting of two kindred minds and 20 amazing fingers. Duane and Eric pushed each other to new levels, and Allman played the unbelievable slide solos in "Key to the Highway" and "Have you Ever Loved a Woman." At the conclusion of "Layla," he tracked a kind of bottleneck symphony that concluded with imitation bird sounds. Later Duane noted that Eric played some slide on the cut, too: "He gets more of an open, slidey sound. But here's the way to really tell: He played the Fender, and I played the Gibson. The Fender is a little bit thinner and brighter, a sparkling sound, while the Gibson is just a full-tilt screech."
Allman also added slide to "Nobody Knows You When You're Down And Out" and "It's Too Late." On other cuts the guitarists jammed or played in harmony, reaching their highest peak in "Why Does Love Got to Be So Sad." In addition, a lovely Clapton-Allman acoustic slide duet of the old blues tune "Mean Old World" is on An Anthology. After Layla was released Duane toured with Derek & the Dominos for a few weeks. In his Guitar Player interview in 1976, Eric Clapton credited Duane with getting him interested in electric slide: "There were very few people playing electric slide that were doing anything new; it was just the Elmore James licks, and everyone knows those. No one was opening it up until Duane showed up and played in a completely different way. That sort of made me think about taking it up."
On March 12 and 13, 1971, the Allman Brothers recorded live at Fillmore East. When you combine At Fillmore East with the other tracks recorded those nights - Eat A Peach's "Mountain Jam," "One Way Out" and "Trouble No More," and An Anthology's "Don't Keep Me Wonderin' " - the Allman Brothers emerge as one of the finest live bands of rock and roll. There were no wasted words, no pointless jams. Duane's performances on "Statesboro Blues," "Done Somebody Wrong," "One Way Out," "Trouble No More," "Mountain Jam," and "Don't Keep Me Wonderin' " - set a still-unsurpassed standard for electric slide. His collaborations with Dickey Betts roared to life onstage with incredible power and emotion as they challenged and inspired each other. They gave commanding blues performances in "You Don't Love Me" and "Stormy Monday," and harmony guitar parts abounded in "Hot 'Lanta," "Mountain Jam," and "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed." Duane's no-holds-barred solos in these latter two cuts are among the most inventive and creative of his recorded work. The band recorded at the Fillmore East again on June 27, 1971, and the cut "Midnight Rider" was issued on An Anthology, Vol. II.
Next to the two Allman Brothers LP's, Herbie Mann's Push Push contains Duane's finest electric performances of 1971. The flautist's easy, jazzy grooves and open spaces allowed Duane to create freeform, well-thought-out solos. By now Duane was as comfortable in the studio with a Dobro as he was with an electric, and he added some excellent acoustic slide to Ronnie Hawkins' The Hawk, especially on "Don't Tell Me Your Troubles," "Patricia," and "Odessa." Late in his career Duane played Dobro on Sam Samudio's Sam - Hard & Heavy, and reportedly appeared on the Everly Brothers' The Stories We Could Tell. His last session as a sideman was with the laid-back Capricorn band Cowboy, playing slide Dobro on "Please Be With Me."
In addition to the Fillmore material, Duane completed three studio cuts for Eat a Peach: a slide tune called "Stand Back," a touching acoustic duet with Dickey Betts called "Little Martha" (the only original tune Duane recorded with the Allman Brothers), and "Blue Sky," the rippling guitar harmonies of which are among the best the group ever recorded.
During the Eat A Peach sessions, Duane was asked by Ed Shane to express his thoughts on rock and roll: "Everybody is expending all this energy in various ways to get the same old feeling out of it that Little Richard can get in five minutes. And people are finally waking up to the fact that you can get as much of a good feeling out of a simple thing as you can out of something that's hard. A lot of people who would have you believe they are intelligent musicians are playing bullshit. Music's become so intellectualized. Man, music is fun. It's not supposed to be any heavy, deep intense thing - especially not rock music, man. That's to set you free! Anybody that ever listened to Chuck Berry or any of them cats knows that... Rock is like a newspaper for people that can't read. Rock and roll will tell you where everything is at. It's something to move your feet and move your heart and make you feel good inside. You know, forget about all the bullshit that's going on for a while, fill up some of the dead spaces."
With "At Fillmore East" rapidly becoming a hit album and two years of touring behind them, the Allman Brothers Band decided in late October to take a few weeks' vacation. Duane journeyed from Miami to New York City, where he visited his friend John Hammond. He then returned home to Macon, where, on October 29, 1971, he went to Berry Oakley's house to wish the bassist's wife a happy birthday. After leaving the house about 5:45 PM, he swerved his motorcycle to avoid hitting a truck that pulled out in front of him. The cycle skidded and turned, pinning him underneath. He died after three hours of emergency surgery at Macon Medical Center. Duane was 24.
The rest of the Allman Brothers Band played at the funeral in Macon, with Dickey filling in Duane's parts. Delaney Bramlett then led everyone in "Will The Circle Be Unbroken," and Gregg Allman sang a final tribute. The band concluded the day with "Statesboro Blues." Duane was buried at Macon's Rose Hill Cemetery, where he had often gone to meditate and play acoustic guitar during the early days of the band. Berry Oakley, who died a year later in a remarkably similar accident, is buried nearby.
Some say that the best music Duane created was never recorded;
it was born
onstage and forever given away. Or it was the old country blues
sang by himself in the still of the night. For those who missed
occasions, Duane will always live on in his records. In talking
records near the end of his life, Duane shared some last advice
brother musicians: "Develop your talent, man, and leave the
Records are really gifts from people. To think that an artist
would love you
enough to share his music with anyone is a beautiful thing."
With the exception of an 11-month period in the late '60s, Gregg Allman was near his brother throughout his life.
Duane was a year and 18 days older than me. My father died in '49; I was two and Duane was three. He had just come back from the Korean War and was shot by a hitchhiker. My father sang - not professionally; but he sang pretty well. Duane and I were the only kids, and we were raised by my mom. She had to work; that's why we had to go off to military school. We didn't have any instruments around the house when we were young. When we started school, we both wanted to get into the school band. We both wanted to play trumpet and we lost interest in it. My mother always called it het folly because back then it was $200 for a trumpet - that was quite a bit.
I began playing guitar first. We moved from Nashville to Daytona Beach, Florida, in 1957. But every summer we would go back to visit my grandmother and stay there for the summer - like we were really missing Nashville because we grew up there. She lived in this housing project, and there was a guy across the street that had an old Belltone guitar. He'd sit there and play "Wildwood Flower" and "Long Black Veil." I think those were the only two songs he knew. He was a real country dude - Jimmy Bain, that was his name. And one hot summer day I walked over there and asked if I could pick it up, and he said sure. The strings were about an inch and a half off the neck - one of those bleeders, you know! And I just got really enchanted with this. This was like '59, and so when I got back home, I thought, well, I'm going to get me one of those guitars. I didn't know which end of it to play, but there was something about it that just really intrigued me.
So I got me a paper route and worked on it from like March of '60 until when school let out, and cleared all of $21. I rode my bicycle over to Sears, and there was a Silvertone acoustic there that I wanted. It was $21.95. The guy wouldn't trust me for the 95¢ so I had to go home and borrow it from my mother. I rode back over the next day and bought it, and started playing and playing it. I got one of those Mel Bay books, and I didn't eat or sleep - didn't do nothin' but play that guitar. I just was crazy about it! I learned how to make a barre chord, and that really started it.
A friend of mine turned me on to some Jimmy Reed albums, and taught me that lick. And so then my brother said, "What do we have here?" So I taught him what I knew, and he picked it up real quick. I mean, he was real sharp. I got my first electric guitar that November - November 10, 1960. It was a Fender Musicmaster. It was real easy to play, and by then I'd met other guys that had guitars and had been playing longer, and just learned more and more. I got turned on to Chuck Berry and Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis and Presley - you know, that whole rock and roll thing. By this time Duane had to have one, so to keep us from fighting, Mom got him an electric. It was a Les Paul Junior, one of those old purple ones with a real thin body and just one pickup. And so we started playing together, and we really became friends at that time. We were like typical brothers before that - fight every day, you know. He was a rascal.
First we joined a band that was already together; it was called the House Rockers & the Untils. The rhythm section of the band was the House Rockers, and the three black singers up front were the Untils. They only needed one guitar player, so we switched off every other night. This was like 1963. The first band that we put together ourselves was called the Shufflers, and I played lead guitar and Duane sang. Then Duane quit school. He didn't like it, but he loved to read - he was always reading something. He read books like Papillon, The Trilogy - all kinds of stuff. He like real adventure stories and fiction, stuff like that. Then after he quit school, he'd stay home, and man, he learned guitar fast! He played all the time, copied off records and made it up himself. He loved B.B. King. Over the years he liked all kinds - he loved everybody from Chuck Berry to Kenny Burrell, you name it. Back then he liked Johnny Guitar Watson, and he got into that real old blues stuff - he loved Robert Johnson. He just loved any kind of guitar playing.
The only lessons Duane had was us sitting around the house - trial and error. And then he had a friend named Jim Shepley, who was a couple of years older and had started a couple of years before. He's the one that turned us on to all the Jimmy Reed records. He had a bunch of those hot licks down, and I thought, "Man, this guy is something else!" And so he set with him all the time. Even before Duane quit school, they would skip classes and shoot pool and play guitars. He learned a whole lot from Shepley, and that was probably his best friend back then.
After I got out of high school in '65 we had a band called the Allman Joys. We did what you call the chitterlin' circuit. You know, Mobile, Alabama, at the Stork Club. We worked like seven nights a week, six sets a night, 45 minutes a set. There were four of us, and we made $444 a week. We recorded one 45, recorded it at Bradley's Barn in Nashville, which is now burnt down. The song was "Spoonful" by Willie Dixon, and I sang it. It was a terrible recording. One of the Allman Joys got drafted and one chose to go his own way, and so Duane and I met up with Johnny Sandlin, Paul Hornsby, and Pete Carr - they had a band called Five Minutes. And we formed a band and called it the Allman Joys for a while, and then we thought, well, that's wrong, so for a very short time we called it the Almanac. Then Bill McEuen, the older brother of Johnny McEuen of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, came through St. Louis when we were playing there, and made a proposition to take us out to LA. I said, "No, let's don't go." And Duane said, "Yeah, let's go and do it!" And so we went, and they came up with the name Hour Glass.
That period with Hour Glass was pretty scary because I had never been past the Mississipi. It just seemed like it was forever away. And we didn't play much, for some reason. Our first gig was with the Doors at the Hullabaloo Club. And that scared me to death - I could barely sing! My knees were knocking together. There must have been 2,000 people in that place. The whole Hour Glass thing just turned kind of sour. Both albums came out. They'd hand us a washtub full of demos and say, "Pick out your new album." And all of this time I was song writing: I did get a few on those albums, but...
I guess we were there from part of '66 until '68, and Duane finally said, "Man, I've had it with this bullshit! I'm leaving. Why don't we take the band and go back home where we belong, back down South." We owed Liberty Records about 40 thou, and they said, "Well, we'll let you all go, but we'll put a lawsuit on you. But we won't do it if he stays," they said, pointing at me, "to work with our studio band." And so I stayed. The rest of them didn't really like it; they were all cussing me on the way out the door. They thought I wanted to stay out there, which I did not. So there was no lawsuit, and I cut two records with their 20-piece orchestra. I hope you never heard those.
Meanwhile Duane was working as a session player. He liked to play with Wilson Pickett, Herbie Mann, and Aretha, I know that. And he loved King Curtis - they were real tight. He liked all of his session stuff, and I think "Layla," which came later, was probably his favorite. The way that session came about was we were playing in town and Clapton came out to the gig. It scared Duane to death! He came and sat down in front, right on the grass. And every time you see Clapton, he looks different. I didn't notice him until the end, and I got shaky myself! Tommy Dowd was with him, and Duane asked Tommy if it would be alright if he came and watched part of the session. Clapton said, "Watch? Hell, come on and play!" At one point towards the end both bands got in there and did a real long jam. We got it on tape - it's like a medley of blues songs. Duane liked playing with Clapton. He always said, "I like somebody onstage kickin' me in the ass so I do better," which I like myself.
Anyway, I stayed in LA 11 months, and that's the longest I'd ever been away from my brother. I was playing with this chick who really wrung me around. That's when I wrote "Cross to Bear" and "Black-Hearted Woman." One Sunday morning Duane called me on the phone, and said he had this band together with two lead guitar players and I thought, "Well, that's weird." Then he says, "And two drummers." And I said, "That's real weird." And then he said, "But everybody's pretty much into their axe, and nobody as yet has written much. And they really don't like to sing, so why don't you come on down here and round this thing out and send it somewhere," which is probably the finest compliment he ever gave me in my life. I said, "Let me hang up this phone, man! I've got to get going!" I beat feat over there to Jacksonville as fast as I could. That was the Allman Brothers' start. It was March 26, 1969.
It would be real accurate to say that Duane was the father of the band. He had a lot to do with the spontaneity of the whole thing. He was like the mother ship. Somehow he had this real magic about him that would lock us all in, and we'd all take off. He really had that quality about him. Those were very happy days. We didn't have much money. Duane had a substantial amount from sessions, but nobody was rich. But we didn't care because we were playing our music. We used to play every day, and when a new song hatches out in rehearsal and it clicks - wow, it's like Christmastime.
When it came time to do the first album, they said, "You all got two weeks - get in there and do it and get out." And we cut it in that time. Duane always felt - and I learned this from him - that if you lay down a sound that's a hit in your heart, it's a hit. I don't care how many it sells, who likes it, or whatever - play what you want to play and stick to your guns. That's how we got out of playing Top-40 stuff, and that's probably what started me writing songs. Duane was really that way about it: He did his thing, and if you like it, fine; and if you don't fine.
I liked all of what Duane played with the Allman Brothers Band. He did some incredible things on "Mountain Jam," and played some good slide on "Please Don't Keep Me Wonderin'." I also like "Revival" and things like "Leave My Blues at Home," "Dreams" - he did one hell of a job on the solo on that! In that solo and at the end of "Layla" he did a real high sound that was supposed to be birds in the distance. He put the bottle way up there by the bridge pickup to do that.
He changed his recording methods a lot, like down at Muscle Shoals he'd take like a Fender Princeton amp and turn it on full blast and cover it with baffles. And he was always working with Fuzz Faces and everything like that, and then he threw all that crap away and got the right amps for the right sort of thing. Like when he started working with Marshalls, he found out that a 100-watts was not it, so he used 50s. He played real loud and usually stood up in the studio.
He did a lot of country blues when he was by himself, on a National steel guitar or a Dobro. A lot of times he'd go into a bathroom with tiles. As a matter of fact, I've got a picture of him [by Jim Marshall] leaning against the sink - you can see the toilet there and the toilet paper roll. He's sittin' there with a Les Paul - I can hear it! Great picture. I've got one, and Dickey's got one. For a long time Duane played a Telecaster with a Stratocaster neck. This was during Hour Glass. In the Allman Joys he played a Gibson ES-335, and then he got a Les Paul. He loved that Les Paul and an old SG that he played slide on. I've got some of Duane's guitars, and Dickey's got some of them. I traded the [tobacco sunburst '58] Les Paul to Twiggs Lyndon for a car. See, the guitars I play have to have a wide neck on them, and that particular Les Paul had a narrow neck. Plus, it was a 1939 Hypercoup and it was Twiggs - Twiggs and Duane were real close. Duane also had an old Gibson acoustic with an oval hole and an arch-top. I've got that one. Dickey has Duane's National in his living room.
Duane was pretty shy about stardom, that sort of thing. He was just one of the gang, the same dude that hung around with Shepley and shot pool. He thought about it the same way that I do - you're just another person. Outside of the band he was pretty quiet, a homebody. He liked to bass fish, and he listened to music all the time. Any time you'd walk into his house, you'd hear music playing. He had a big record collection. Towards the end of his life his best friends were John Hammond - who is a beautiful man - Johnny Sandlin, and all of us. King Curtis was a good friend until he got killed.
Duane wasn't hard to work with at all.
It wasn't like brothers as you would think brothers. He really respected what
I did and I
respected what he did. He used to lean right against the organ,
hardly ever looked down at his guitar when he played live. How
he did it, I
don't know. He just knew where he was going, I guess. And he'd
look back at me, and it'd make me sing harder. Man, I loved it.
Every time I walk up on the stage, I still feel like he's
there next to me. Not a day goes by that I don't think of
brother Duane. He
never talked much about dying, and he was one hell of a cat. I
music will live on for a long, long time., and I'll support it
as long as
I'm around. I loved him.
The other half of the Allman Brothers' two-guitar team, Dickey Betts was as familiar with Duane's style as anyone. Along with Gregg, he is still a member of the Allman Brothers Band. He named his three-year-old son after Duane.
The first time I met Duane was in '67, when he and Gregg had a band called Hour Glass. They were playing around the state of Florida, and we ran into each other in a club over in Orlando. We jammed, and that's when I met Gregg, too. We both had more or less nightclub bands. They were doing a lot of Ray Charles and Bobby Bland stuff, along with some Top 40 and a couple of original songs. The band I was working with and Duane's group at that time weren't in the position to do completely original material like we were later.
We were both playing lead, but at that point I don't think Duane was playing slide. He started really getting seriously into that side of the instrument, aside from just sitting around the house or something, just about the time the Allman Brothers got together. I think that's when he first started playing slide onstage. Robert Johnson - you've heard that name a million times, and I guess he was probably one of the biggest influences on Duane. He got really into Elmore James a lot for the electric part of it. He would listen to a lot of albums, just sitting around in the daytime, and pick up a guitar and play along with them. But he didn't try to copy note-for-note. He just kind of absorbed it.
When the Allman Brothers Band was first trying to form, Duane was planning on going to Capricorn with a trio. It was going to be Duane and Berry Oakley and Jaimo. Duane started showing up in Jacksonville to sit in with Berry Oakley and myself, with our band Second Coming. Berry and Duane were getting ready to go into this new venture. As we started jamming, we realized that Duane and I playing harmony guitars together was something that we weren't expecting to hear. Western swing bands from the '30's always used that twin-harmony guitar, and a lot of the songs that we did were strongly influenced by that. That influence was probably what I offered Duane. Like when we did things like "Blue Sky," which is one of the last things Duane played on, he's playing that kind of western swing. Jerry Garcia is into that kind of playing, too. I, of course, learned an immense amount about playing slide from Duane. I guess my whole thing with the electric slide guitar comes from him.
Duane played slide guitar more like a harmonica than he did a guitar. Like I was telling about him listening to Elmore James; well, he also listened to all the harp players - Sonny Boy Williamson and all that. He played a lot of harmonica licks on slide guitar. He used a glass Coricidin bottle - that's before you could buy glass slides in music stores. He wore it on his ring finger, which is so unorthodox - most people who play slide either wear it on their middle or little finger so they can fret the guitar. But that was the way he wanted to do it. He also didn't use a pick. He just used the thumb and first and second fingers, fingerpicking style, which is the same style I've adopted. Then he damped with his other fingers behind the slide.
When we first started out, Duane used to just tune his regular Les Paul onstage. When we got ready to do a slide tune, he'd just tune to a straight E chord and play slide right on the guitar that he'd been playing all night, rather than switching. After a couple of years went by and he became more advanced, he started using a Gibson SG. He liked that because of the long neck and the fact that you can get way down in the bottom frets of it without any trouble.
In the early days, we almost lived together. The main reason was nobody had the money to have an apartment, so we'd just rent a big house and everybody would chip in. A lot of ideas for the arrangements for the songs would come together through jamming. Like when Gregg brought "Whipping Post" to present to the band, he just strummed it on acoustic guitar and sang it. So all of the parts were arranged by jamming together a lot, like, "Hey, let's put this part of the jam we did the other night in this song." For "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed," I'd written the melody and the very basic chords and brought it to the band, and we played it for a week or so before we even taped it, just seeing what we could do with the tune.
It was hard not to try and have this complete contest with Duane all the time, trying to out-do each other because we were both playing lead. The only way that can work is if somebody lays back a little bit. The position Danny Toler and myself are in right now is the same position I was in with Duane. If I had let jealousy or whatever get involved in it too much, it just wouldn't have worked. So in that sense, it was kind of hard being in a band with Duane. But hell, I learned more through those years than probably any other period in my playing career.
Outside of playing, Duane liked to talk about guitars and music a lot because that's what he knew more than anything else. I don't know what his favorite songs with the band were. "Dreams" was one of the best performances he did on record, as far as the Allman Brothers Band. He was really proud of the slide thing he did on the recorded version of that, and he had a lot of fun playing it live. On the record, I don't think I'm even playing a solo on that song.
The first album [The Allman Brothers] was basically a live album done in the studio. There were very little overdubs on it. Of course, Gregg would sing the vocals and then re-do them - that's the way it's done. But all the solos and that sort of thing were done right when the tracks were being played. We still do it that way, as a matter of fact. The next time you listen to the album, you'll notice I always appear left and Duane always appears right, or vice-versa, whichever way you've got your wires hooked up. We always appear in the same spot. I think all of the rest of them we did with Duane were that way, just because it would be easier to distinguish who was playing what. Sometimes it gets kind of confusing. In "Black-Hearted Woman," Duane was playing slide, so I was playing the regular guitar. Duane made up the bolero-like ending of that song. I played electric on "Trouble No More," and I think Duane overdubbed acoustic on it. And then he played electric slide on it. Duane played the intro to the studio version of "Whipping Post," and maybe they put an echo on it or something and twisted it back.
Idlewild South was a little more studio-oriented than the first album, but it was still pretty live. Instead of baffling all the amps, we'd set them up in the studio just like we did onstage and run the producers crazy! We'd even stand like we did onstage on a lot of those tunes. "Midnight Rider" was more of a studio cut, and that was probably me playing the pedal-steel effects. Duane played most of the acoustic guitar on that album.
Live At The Fillmore was an accurate representation of our sound at the time. We cut "Mountain Jam," which was on Eat A Peach, at the same time. There were no overdubs whatsoever on Fillmore. There were some edits in some of the jams to try to get it on the record, but other than that, there was nothing done to it. It was just a pure performance. Duane introduced most of the songs. Onstage, I usually played the first solo and Duane played the second. In the Fillmore version of "Whipping Post," I played the volume swells. The solos in "You Don't Love Me" switch back and forth. Actually, on that particular cut I played the last, real long solo that goes on with the drums, and then Duane came back in after I finished that and put his signature on it - that sort of "Joy To The World" lick.
Duane was killed during the middle of Eat a Peach. We did all those songs in about three weeks in a studio down in Miami, then we decided to take a break because Tommy Dowd had something else to do. And then Duane was killed. After everybody had a chance to get over what had happened, we came back in and finished it a few months later. I think "Blue Sky" and "Little Martha" were the last things he did. He wrote "Little Martha" for his wife, Donna. He also had a little girl, Galadriel, who was a year old when he was killed. Duane named that album Eat a Peach.
Duane was always on when he played. He really enjoyed sitting around a hotel room or around the house and playing old Robert Johnson or Blind Willie McTell tunes on acoustic and singing - you know, real personal stuff. He never put any of it on tape.
Ten years have gone by, and the band is still unique in the way we play, but it's not the same band that it was at all. We don't try to be. As a matter of fact, it took a long time before we'd even think about playing with two guitars again. Finally after a few years went by, we decided it might be nice to try it. But it's a different thing.
Duane will probably be known as the best electric slide guitar
that time period. I guess it's about time for him to be
documented for what
he did. He was a great guitar player all the way around., but I
probably more famous for being the foremost electric slide
anything else. And I guess he'll always be known for being the
guy that made the whole Allman Brothers happen. I enjoyed
knowing him, being
around him the whole time. I'm just glad that I got a chance to
Jimmy Johnson engineered Duane's Hour Glass sessions at Fame Recording Studios in April '68. As staff guitarist for the Muscle Shoals rhythm section, he accompanied Allman on several studio projects afterwards.
The first time I met Duane he was in a group called the Hour Glass and had an unsuccessful album. They had just returned from California, and they stopped by Muscle Shoals to record - this is somewhere in '68. And while Duane was there, everybody fell in love with his playing. It was extremely blues efficient, like nothing we had encountered with any of the players in the South before. He would play long, flowing lines, with such feeling. At that point we were discussing using him on an up-and-coming Wilson Pickett session.
We brought Duane back up in '68. He was kind of at a place in his life where he had nothing to do, so he was thinking about maybe coming to the area to live, which he did. That first session he had with Wilson - the "Hey Jude" session - was a really important one because it brought him to the attention of Jerry Wexler. Jerry Wexler was completely freaked out by him! He loved his playing. Jerry saw the potential immediately, and encouraged him to stay at Muscle Shoals and develop a name for himself backing some artists as a sideman, which he did.
Wilson Pickett named Duane "Sky Man." Duane already had the nickname Dog, and through evolution it became Sky Dog. I mean, back then anybody that had long hair and played that good had to be high, right? And he played what I guess back then was called "high music." The way he would throw his hair down when he was playing, you couldn't see his face or eyes or anything - it gave him the appearance of a shaggy dog.
Duane played with us - the M.S. rhythm section - for about a year. When I first worked with him, he was already extremely good. He had to adapt to being able to work with a chart; at the beginning a chart meant nothing to him. He didn't know music school-wise, but he had some basic knowledge. He had just sort of been a prodigy all along. Even with the Allman Joys he was ahead of his time. He was well-suited for studio work. He got into what we were doing; he adapted very well. His playing was so fluid, and most of his solos were first takes or real early takes. He did have to go in occasionally and punch something, but you didn't have to go long with Duane. Duane had it! It was there. With the exception of Pete Carr, who came out of the Duane Allman school, I never really knew anyone that had that magic like that.
Usually Duane would warm up with some 13½ bar blues or something [laughs]. He was an extremely loud player, and that was some adapting he had to do for the studio. He had to realize he couldn't bring water to the eyes of every producer that walked in. But he still had to keep a certain amount of level. Like everybody else he learned the conformity that you have to have to become a session player. And he became super successful at it - I mean immediately. Overnight, whap! Most people have to work their way in. When Duane did that date with Pickett, he was in. That's never happened before or since, and I don't think it ever will happen again. The players that had been playing lead, we just didn't use them anymore.
Mainly at that time Duane used a Strat and a Fender Twin amp with JBLs. He had one gadget - a Fuzz Face - and that was it. He was going through it all the time, although he might not have always had it kicked in. He used a lot of feedback solos between the pickups and speakers - incredible stuff! Sustain for the world. And the thing about his Fuzz Face was when he'd pop that 9-volt battery in there, a new one wouldn't suit him. He would actually someway get batteries that were almost worn out, because the Fuzz Face had a special sound just for so many hours with the batteries at a certain strength. He was into weak batteries [laughs].
Here at Muscle Shoals our whole life is music. We don't talk about anything else, except maybe Bear Bryant football. We eat, sleep and breathe music. It's our hobby, vocation, everything. Duane had that intenseness, and a dedication to his instrument. He was in love with that guitar - it was a beautiful, lavish woman. It was like a part of his body. He would have the guitar in his hands instead of a remote TV channel selector [laughs]. He lived music as much and more than we even did.
Duane's slide playing was the best I've ever heard, and I think he brought in a whole new concept for bending strings. Some people go to different schools - there's the puller, and then there's the pusher. I think he pushed more, but he could pull, too. Watching him play was like seeing poetry in motion, especially the way he would shake a note. He had the smoothest way of bringing the pitch up and down. He would use his ring and middle finger, almost like they were perpendicular to the neck. His thumb would be going up and down, and his little finger would be extended. Sometimes he would do two strings at once that way, mainly pushing.
I remember a specific incident when we were in New York, doing Aretha. It was Duane's first time there to do sessions - this was around late '68, maybe the first of the year. He says, "Hey, let's run over to the Fillmore East to hear this new guy." Johnny Winter was playing his premiere performance in New York, and the publicity was unreal. We got up in the balcony, and at that point, Duane had never really expressed that he wanted to go back to live performing. But that night it just go too much for him. I'll never forget what he said - this was about midway through: "Johnny is really good but I can cut him." Of course, I knew what he meant. Johnny was great - this ain't belittlin' Johnny - but I think he was giving Duane the confidence that he could make it because he knew he could play, he could cut it. He looked over at me. "Jimmy," he said. "Do you see that stage down there? Next year by this time I'm going to be down there." I looked at him and kind of did one of them double-takes, and I said, "You know, I think you will." And he was. I get chills when I think of that night.
started our own studio in April of '69, Duane went to Macon. Phil Walden had a void - Otis
[Redding] had died,
and he was
looking for that superstar. He found it in Duane and the Allman
were always very close after that, and he came and did sessions
with us -
Boz [Scaggs]. The last time I saw Duane was when he came up and
played a few
cuts on a Cowboy album. He was quite a player.
According to Gregg Allman, John Hammond was one of Duane's closest friends. They met during a session in 1969, and Duane jammed with Hammond shortly before he died.
Duane Allman was one of the premier lead guitar players for rock and roll, blues, R&B stuff - any style. He had sensitivity to all kinds of styles. He was quite a prolific player, and his feeling and magnetism were unique. He was also a good friend, and the kind of guy that everybody looked up to.
The first time I met him was in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. I was going to record with the band down there. When I arrived, they thought I was going to be black, and I thought they were going to be black! So they got pretty cold to me, and I didn't know what to make of this. After two days we'd cut about four tunes or something, and it was not going well.
Then on the scene arrives this guy with long red hair down his back, eyebrows that crossed, and a moustache that went all the way into his sideburns, wearing a t-shirt that said "City Slickers" on it. He pulled up in this abandoned milk truck, and everybody said, "Hey, Duane, how you doin', man?" He said, "Where's this John Hammond guy? I want to meet this guy - I really dig him." They said, "You do?" And they all looked at me with new respect. I was introduced to Duane, and he said, "I sure dig your stuff, boy, and I sure would love to play on your record, if it's okay." I said, "Sure, I guess so." I had never heard him play before, but these guys worshipped him. As sooon as Duane gave me the okay, the session went fantastic! The album was Southern Fried. When he did "Shake for Me," I was floored. There was a lot more that was edited out of that in order to fit the album; I mean he played on and on and on! He was just incredible.
This was in '69. Not long after that, he put together the Allman Brothers Band. The next time I saw them, they opened the show for me in St. Paul; it was like 35º below zero. We got together and jammed that night, and it was just terrific. It was the beginning of a long relationship I had with them. I was on many shows with them, and I knew them all very well.
When Duane and I jammed together, it was always on acoustic. He'd say, "Man, play this stuff here!" and ask me to do the Robert Johnson slide stuff. He was a fantastic slide player, but he usually played in a straight tuning, without tuning to an open chord. He played with a flatpick, as I recall. He just knew where to hit the notes with the slide so it would make the right sound. He played single-string stuff and a few chords, and he used to watch me play in open tuning. I used to dig the way he played very much. I don't think I ever heard him off. I said, "Man, how did you ever get to play that good?" He said, "By taking speed every night for three years and playing in rock bands." I said, "What?" I don't know if he was kidding or not, but the guy for sure was really a great guitar player.
I played with Duane at my house shortly before he died. He was at the house of a friend named Dearing Howe, and I got a call. I went over there, and we had a few beers. Then when it was time to leave, he came over to my loft on Broadway in New York and we played records and jammed on guitars all night. We talked about recording another album together. I had to go to Newfoundland the next day, and he had to go down to Macon.
It was really sad when he was killed because he'd just gotten
back. He'd been in the hospital up in Buffalo, I think, and he
was in very
good shape. And it was an accident on a motorcycle! Very tragic. He was the real strength of that band - the
leader. It took them a long time to get it back together again
died. He just had all this dynamic energy exploding all the
time. And there
was a magnetism about him that made it special. He was the
leader and the
catalyst of the whole Southern thing -- the Muscle Shoals sound,
sound - and everybody looked up to him. He's what made it
Pete Carr was Duane's roommate while they were in the Hour Glass together, and remembers the night Duane decided to learn slide guitar.
About 1968 I started playing bass with the Hour Glass. There's two Hour Glass albums, one before I joined them. I wouldn't say that one was that close to the band - it was a little more produced than the type of stuff they were doing. Then the album we did when I got with them was pretty close to what we were doing then. I've heard people say, "Well, it wasn't nothing like we wanted to do," but hell, that's what we were doing at that time! It wasn't exactly all we wanted to do, because we wanted more blues things. We came to Muscle Shoals in '68 and did two or three blues tunes that are on the Duane Allman: An Anthology albums.
When I started playing with Duane, I thought he was great. He played all the time. You'd go over to the house and he'd pull out a guitar. He was right on top of anything new. Like when I first met him in '65, he had just come back from Greenwich Village and had brought back a distortion box that he got from the guys in the Blues Magoos. Back then he was playing mostly electric. He had a Telecaster with a little square fuzztone strapped on the side of it.
I know exactly how Duane got into bottleneck. We were in LA and saw Taj Mahal playing in a club. Jesse Ed Davis was with him, and they did "Statesboro Blues," which was on one of their albums. Jesse played slide guitar and really turned Duane on - bam! He started playing bottleneck. Duane was very energetic, very enthusiastic about everything he did. Like I said, anytime Duane would see something new, if he liked it, he'd get into it. Both Gregg and Duane were really, really influenced by any person that impressed them. They'd see somebody, and you could really tell what was on their mind; it would spur them on. The band started doing "Statesboro Blues," and Duane started playing bottleneck about as much as anything. He'd sit around the apartment and practice. At first he played in regular tuning, and later on he played in different ones. He took bottlenecking a long, long way, to people who had never heard blues/rock slide. He also contributed an openness to the guitar, a freedom of style - he was not locked into a certain thing. If you want to jam for a few minutes on a tune, you could do it.
The Hour Glass just wasn't happening in LA. Me and Duane had an
Hollywood, and Gregg lived next door. It just seemed like
everybody wanted to go in different directions. It just wasn't
the time to happen, so except for Gregg, we all left. Me and Duane drove a van
Florida and went down to Miami to do sessions. Afterwards Duane agreed to
Walden be his manager, and they started to put together the
together. With the advent of the Allman Brothers, Duane and
Gregg started not worrying too much about other people's tunes -
just more or less started stretching out. They got into their
own playing, and it got to the point where other people started
Billy Gibbons and his band ZZ TOP toured the South with the Allman Brothers.
We were down in New Orleans at the Warehouse Club, which was owned by an independent outfit that had hired a band from Texas and a band from Georgia, and it turned out to be the Allman Brothers and ZZ Top. When we got there, we found out that we had not only been hired for one night, but they wanted us to travel with a tour featuring Quicksilver Messenger Service. I'll never forget walking in the dressing room. There was Duane, and he had a silver dollar. He said, "Let's flip to see who goes first." So I grinned, and the Allman Brothers won the flip. Shoot, it worked out so well we ended up working together through the South.
On our night off several days later, ZZ was hired to play in Atlanta with Ike and Tina Turner. There were 15,000 people out there, all black, and three white guys opening the show. Real cool. Well, we did our little blues routine and had the first 200 rows laughing. Afterwards Ike said, "Say, why don't you guys take off those cowboy hats and really get where it's at?" He took me in the dressing room, and his entire band was wearing black velvet hot pants, panty hose, and knee-high, lace up leather boots. And he said, "Here's what you need to really be cool! I'll tell you what, I've got some extra pair - you just take you a couple." The next night we were in Memphis back with the Allman Brothers, and I said, "What the heck - they won the flip, so I'll flip them out!" I slipped back into the dressing room and put on these clothes and some ridiculous little shirt and walked out. The most heartfelt memory I've got of that encounter was looking back over my shoulder as the entire auditorium was whistling, and Duane saying, "Play your ass off, Billy! It don't make no difference." And I did.
We all had a good laugh, and we were friends from there on out. Later on I happened to run into [guitar dealers] Tony Dukes and Kurt Linhof, who knew we were traveling with the Allman Brothers. I said, "Duane is really interested in a vintage Les Paul - why don't you ring him up?" Tony and Kurt called him up and said they had a '58 tobacco sunburst - it was absolutely gorgeous, with wide, fingery stripes. It came from San Antonio, and, believe it or not, it belonged to Chris Cross, who recorded "Ride Like the Wind."
I never knew Duane to be off in his playing. I jammed with him, and there were some really delicate moments. He, of course, favored that slide guitar more so than standard. And it was a joy to hear just how one note could ring through a four- to eight-bar passage that would just curl your toes. He really had that soul.
At the time, Duane's playing was perfect. He was the perfect
suit what was to emerge as the South's embrace of their music,
I'm speaking of "their music" as kind of the property of all
which had been largely ignored not only by the rest of the
country, but by
the record business in particular. It was strictly a black man's
yet here was a growin' number of white blues players all through
who were really getting their influences from most of the famous
black men -
B.B. King, Jimmy Reed, Freddie King, Elmore James, and even as
far back as
Robert Johnson. All it took was a guy like Duane to embody that
spirit. That's what he was, man. I really have to hand it to
Dickey - despite all the partying, late-night hours, and just
wildness, it was just understood that the music was not to be
It was there, intact, automatic. Very inspirational. To me,
that respect for music most of all.
Muscle Shoals bassist David Hood accompanied Duane on the Ronnie Hawkins, Laura Nyro, John Hammond, Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, Boz Scaggs, King Curtis, Arthur Conley, and Lulu sessions.
Eddie Hinton, another guitar player, brought Duane up for a session, and it was the first time I had ever seen anybody play bottleneck. I was just totally amazed by this strange creature! Compared to everybody else, Duane seemed like he was from Mars. After that, he came up to do some Wilson Pickett sessions. Back then you could see where he was going, but his playing was a lot more primitive. In fact, it wasn't too much earlier than that that Gregg was teaching Duane a lot of licks on the guitar. Duane was the lesser player in the beginning, even though he soon passed Gregg. Duane always said Gregg taught him most of his early guitar.
Duane was great to work with in the studio. He was very easy. He had no problem getting his part right, and plus he had a lot of ideas. Sometimes they wouldn't work, but it's better to have ideas than not ever say anything. In the studio they would let Duane just sort of go for it, mainly because nobody really knew that much about slide guitar then. It wasn't new or anything - it was an old variation of a way to play - but nobody was playing it that much.
There was a definite change in Duane's slide style after the Allman Brothers got together. At first it was real crude. Although I loved everything on the first album, it seemed like they practiced it note-for-note. It got much freer by the Live At The Fillmore album. There were a lot of prettier jams, and they would go off into little side tangents and ad libs.
When Duane was by himself, he liked to play acoustic guitar, sometimes Dobro. He loved for people to get off on his playing. If you'd go somewhere and there was a guitar there, he'd sit down and play. He loved for people to be entertained, and he liked to show off. To me, Duane Allman totally lived what he did, and it was not always great - I mean, his excesses were dangerous and proved fatal to him.
Duane liked to get high, and he was always psyched up. I've had some crazy experiences with Duane Allman, and he was always up, always high. I never knew him down. He was a good old guy, one of the first hippie musicians I ever came in contact with. He had long hair and crazy clothes and everything, but he'd give you anything he had and take anything you had. He saw no wrong and felt everything was equal. He was also lucky. He would get himself into messes and then somehow get out just by luck. I consider Duane one of those extraordinary people that you only meet a few of in your life.
Duane never really liked the session thing. He always thought that that was not nearly as cool as having a band. The whole time he was up here, he kept talking about wanting to get him up another band. He didn't like the regimentation of session life, although there was a whole lot less here than anywhere else.
Duane really popularized several styles, with the slide and the
harmony he did with Dickey Betts. He helped me in ways that are
describe. When I went on the road with Traffic, I was really
scared. I had
never done much live playing - I was used to working in the
having my headphones and being pretty much in control of things.
I used to
get some spiritual help from listening to the Live at the
even though it was a completely different type of music. I knew
was a perfect, ultimate live player, and I would listen to him
it would calm me down a little bit to where I wasn't nervous. Before then, I
never even knew another person could do that to you.
(all on Capricorn):
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