Teenaged Duane Allman began playing guitar while growing up in Daytona Beach, Florida. In previous blogs, his pals Jim Shepley and Bob Greenlee describe how they’d get together to share what they knew on guitar, to party, ride motorcycles, and play in Bob Greenlee’s band at the Pier. That band, the all-white Houserockers, backed a group of four African-American singers called the Untils. When I interviewed Bob Greenlee, he suggested I talk to one of those lead singers, Floyd Miles, who was still living in Daytona Beach. Our conversation, which took place on May 18, 1982, reveals a few more details about what Duane was like years before the Allman Brothers became the “best damned band in the land.”
Do you remember Duane from the Houserockers?
Sure, I do! Yep.
How much time did Duane spend with that group?
Let’s see. About a month and a half, steady. And he came back and sat in occasionally. He also played with us, with the Universals, down at the Surf Bar, right below the Pier. The Universals was the group I went with when I left the Untils.
When was this?
You mean the year it was? Wow, that’s something I’m not too good it. Back, I’ll tell ya, when “Twist and Shout” was a hit.
Around the time President Kennedy got killed?
No, it was before that. [Asks his wife about when he played regularly at the Pier.] Early ’60s, my wife says. Yeah, ’62 is about right.
What kind of music were you playing with Duane?
We did stuff like “Twist and Shout,” Top 40 back in that day. “Daddy’s Home,” a song called “Funny Sounds” that we made up. “Land of a Thousand Dances.” Hank Ballard songs, like “The Twist.” “Thrill on a Hill.” U.S. Bond’s “Quarter to Three.” “School Is Out.”
Duane was pretty young back then.
Yeah, both of them. Him and Gregg used to come up and sit and admire my guitar player, and then they started sittin’ in. Eventually Duane started playing with us regular. He was a little too ambitious to stay in one place – he wanted more. We were kind of settled there, so he started doing little things, like try to form his own group and travel some.
What kind of a guy was Duane?
I would say he was a leader. He was a guy that was well liked, ambitious. He was energetic. He was always ready to play music – anywhere, anyplace, anytime. In fact, there’s a club called George’s Place – if you mention it, anybody that knew Duane real well back in the day before he succeeded, before he was popular, would know that was one of the places that we played in the black neighborhood. He would go play there for free, just to play the blues for the black people and with the black people.
Was it unusual in those days for a white teenager to play in the black neighborhood?
Yes, it was. In fact, it was sort of a frightening thing. Duane really admired blues, people like B.B. King and myself and guys that played in the band with us. You know, he was one of the few white guys that would go in the black neighborhood and play. Well, he was one of the few guys that would go into the black neighborhood to a nightclub, period, back in those days. Being a musician, he knew most of the guys that was playing there, wherever he went, and most of the people got to know him – the white guy that plays blues, that plays the guitar so well. So he was accepted and people got to know him. He was just another one of the guys after a while.
Was he a good guitarist back then?
Ever since I’ve heard him play, he was good. Him and his brother went and woodshedded – they went and stayed in their house about a couple of months. You missed them. You didn’t see ’em. And then when they came out again, he was playing guitar and Gregg was playing organ and singing Ray Charles and B.B. King. It was just like instant talent. They just went and woodshedded, stayed high, and played music and sat in everywhere they could. The guys was just determined, and all of a sudden they could do it.
Do you see Duane much after he left the Houserockers?
Yes. He came back frequently to show and play with the fellows. You know how it is when you come up hard and you try and you become successful, you want the guys to know how well you’re doin’. So you come back and you play with them and tell them of your past experiences on the road and what you been doin’ and how it is to be successful. And he did. He came back often and sat in.
How did he take success?
I think he knew it was comin’. I don’t think it took him by storm like it would have done me or some of the other guys. I think he knew that he would be a success. After he got involved, he just took charge of everything. It’s strange – I never really heard him talking about what he was gonna do when he made it, or how he was gonna. He just knew he was gonna make it. He said, “Well, we’re gonna do this, and we’re gonna do that.” And he went at it.
Were you surprised when he got killed?
Yes, I was. I expected him to live a fast life, like most musicians, but Duane was also very wise, man. I was very surprised and I didn’t expect it to happen, because he just really got to be a superstar. I watched him grow from a guy who had a desire to play guitar to a superstar. I thought it just began for him, because he had so much talent.
Do you have favorite recollections of Duane?
Yeah. He used to call me “Fats.” He nicknamed me “Fats.” He would always try to push me to do more than I was doing. He came and got me several times to go to work with him, play on the road with him. But at that time they wasn’t really making a lot of money. They were just beginning to make money, and I had a family, so I couldn’t go with that. But I always remember what he used to say: “You can do it.” He always pushed me. I think about that a lot, the times when he gave me something that I needed that I really don’t have.