As leader of the Allman Brothers Band and as a session player, Duane Allman expanded the boundaries of blues-rock slide guitar. He was also a ferociously good non-slider, as heard on The Allman Brothers Band at Fillmore East, Eric Clapton’s Layla, and dozens of other albums from the late 1960s and early ’70s. Personally, I rank him among my four or five all-time favorite musicians and, for sheer emotion, consider his Fillmore East version of “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” a high-water mark for rock guitar soloing.
While writing Guitar Player magazine’s October 1981 Duane Allman cover story, I interviewed Duane’s brother, Gregg, at length. Discussing their childhoods in
Daytona Beach, Florida, Gregg revealed, “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 Duane sat 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.”
I didn’t track down Jim Shepley in time for that cover story, but heard from him several months later. On May 12, 1982, we spoke about his experiences with young Duane Allman. Here, for the first time, is that conversation.
When did you first encounter Duane?
I met Duane down in Daytona Beach, Florida. I guess I was about 14 or 15 when I first met him, maybe a little younger. Actually, I met him in a pool hall, of all places. He’d come in and I was shooting pool. I saw him and he kind of came over and we just started talking. And from there, I learned that he had just moved down from Tennessee with his mother and his brother. We found out we lived very close to one another. So that’s how we started getting to know each other.
Where was he living in Daytona Beach?
He was living on a street called Van Avenue, which is actually Daytona Beach Shores. I lived about a mile and a half away from him.
What year was this?
This was about ’60, ’61 – it could have been ’59. I’m not exactly sure.
Were you already playing the guitar?
Yeah, I’d been playing a while. The kind of guy Duane was, if he saw something he liked and wanted to do, look out! I always had a lot of respect for him, because he had energy to do what he wanted to do. I was playing the guitar, and he just said to himself, “I want to play the guitar.” So we just started getting together. Part of why we had a friendship was to play the guitar. He had just bought a cheap Silvertone Sears guitar, an electric. He may have had an acoustic before – I don’t know. But he had this little piece of junk – you know, the old Danelectro-type guitar. We just got together and we started playing. I showed him the things I knew, and as I learned more things I kept showing him. I was always getting together with him, jamming and showing him stuff. He kind of looked up to me. The thing that you’ve got to realize about Duane is that if he liked you and if he had respect for you, he’d look up to you. His father had been killed in a bizarre incident up in Tennessee, so he didn’t have a father. If he saw someone that was a little older than him that he had respect for and looked up to, he kind of latched on to you that way.
The funny thing is, when he first came into town, nobody really liked the guy. He had a cocky attitude, and he was kind of an aggressive, brazen type. He just wasn’t your social personality kid that was gonna go around and kiss everybody’s ass to make you like him. And that’s what I liked about him. I appreciated his candor and honesty and his kind of raw personality. He had a hell of a sense of humor! He was a smart, smart person.
Was he a delinquent-type of kid?
Delinquent – definitely. He was a punk rocker in the early days, to say the least. Definitely a delinquent.
What did he look like when you met him?
He was thin and short, and he had that red hair, which at the time was short. But then he started growing his hair long even before the Beatles did. He was just an outcast-type, man. He’d do anything outrageous. Of course, I noticed as he got older and we knew each other through the years, he deteriorated quite a bit. His teeth were bad, his hair was falling out. That’s another thing about Duane – I always sensed that he was gonna have his problems. I just had a bad feeling about the outcome of his life. All along.
Well, he raised hell, man. Him and I did a lot of outrageous things together. We partied pretty hard. He was always taking a lot of chances, whether it was motorcycles or climbing up to the top of a newly finished building. You know how they put the tree at the top for good luck? He’d go up and hang off of that. He was a pretty outrageous type, man. He was a great person, though, and he had musical abilities that just were phenomenal. Later on when he started to make it and he and Gregg took me down to Macon to produce an album, I was in awe of him. I had a great amount of respect for him. I could just see that he was gonna be a truly great influence on American music.
What were the first things you taught him on guitar?
I was playing a lot of Jimmy Reed, and I figured out a lot of these Jimmy Reed licks. I played the guitar and harmonica together, and Duane had never really heard
Jimmy Reed. And he flipped out when he heard all this stuff, so he immediately wanted me to show him all this Jimmy Reed stuff. See, I played a lot of fingerpicking blues. That’s why he liked my guitar playing. When he took me up to Johnny Winter and said, “Here’s the guy that taught me how to play,” the reason he did that kind of stuff was because I played a lot of country blues. You know, Lightnin’ Hopkins, John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters – that’s what I grew up playing. I started doing that when I was like ten years old. So he was always in awe of that, and he always wanted me to show him that finger country blues, which is what I do best. I was trying to show him that and the Jimmy Reed basic 12-bar blues, the Chuck Berry kind of stuff. But really what he learned from me, basically, was the fingerpicking blues, which he later got into doing, even though that’s not what he’s known for. He’s certainly known for his slide playing and his single-note work. We both liked B.B. King. I had learned a bunch of B.B. King songs, and I showed Duane as much B.B. King as I knew, because I was a pretty big fan of B.B. And so was Duane, once he heard him.
Did he learn quickly?
Very quickly. But I just want to say for the record – because there’s been all these write-ups and crap – as far as him and me go and me teaching him, yes, I taught him things all along the years, and he taught me things too. He liked that country blues picking, that Hopkins, Hooker stuff, and that’s why he’s always had the admiration for my playing – it was strictly because of that. I just want that to be known. Some people say, “Yeah, man, you taught Duane Allman! Play me some slide!” They don’t understand what our roots went back to and what he liked about me and my playing. I want that to be clear, because people have confused it over the years. You know, we partied together, we played together, we did music together, we were in bands together. He was certainly my best friend back then, without a doubt. I really liked the guy – what can I say?
I heard that you and Duane also got arrested together.
Yeah, him and I got busted three times together, as a matter of fact. I’ll tell you a couple of stories. First of all, one night we were driving around drinking wine. You’ve got to picture this: Here’s Duane in the backseat of my car, mini wine bottles and beer cans all over the floor, right? I was taking my friend Bob Keller home – he later played in the Allman Joys – and I said, “Where do you live, Kel?” And Duane looks up and says, “Turn there!” So I take a left turn, and I slammed into the back of this oncoming car. I clipped it right as it went by me – I hit the back of it – and it happened to be a black sheriff. Duane said, “Drive away! Try to get away from this guy!” So I turned around, and the sheriff blocks me and stops me. So the sheriff jumps out, he comes over, and I get out of the car, of course. I’m saying “yes, sir” and “no, sir.” He opens up the back door, and out falls Duane onto the pavement, with all these beer bottles and wine bottles and this big cluttering racket. And here’s Duane. He stands up and he says [in an inebriated voice] “What the hell do you want, you son of a bitch? I’m gonna kick your ass.” This is Duane talking to a black sheriff! He’s about 16, doing this. He says, “I know the mayor of this town, and I’ll have your ass.” This is the way Duane got sometimes. So we were taken off to jail immediately. We got out on probation.
We also pulled a beer heist out of this little beer joint. The guy had coolers outside of his store, and we went over there one night. This is probably the most outrageous thing Duane and I ever did. We hacksawed off the locks and ripped off about 15 or 20 cases of beer and put it in the back of Duane’s car, and then went and buried it in brand-new garbage cans with ice in the ground, so that we’d always have a place to go get beer when we wanted it. The cops got wise to this. This is what sent Duane out to California the first time he ever went out there. He left town. I went to New York, and he fled for California.
Is this when Hour Glass started?
No, this is way before this. He wasn’t even in a band at this time. So he left, and then he later came back. That’s the kind of stuff that we had a tendency to get into. And at the time, we were both working at a five o’clock club – in other words, you start playing at midnight, and you play to 5:00 A.M. I was playing piano, and he was playing bass, and there was this guy playing guitar. So our job obviously ended when Duane left and I went to New York. That’s the kind of crap we did.
Did the cops find out who did the beer heist?
No, they didn’t.
Do you know about the first time Duane got loaded?
The first time Duane got loaded was with me. It was unbelievable. We drank beer together, and then we decided, “Well, let’s try marijuana.” This is kind of a funny story, and I’ll keep it short. We went over the black part of town, which was the only place you could buy any marijuana back in the early ’60s, and we met this guy whose name was, funnily enough, Available Jones. So we go over and buy four joints, right? For four dollars. So Duane takes two of the joints and I take the other two, and we went back over to the white part of town and smoked the joints. I smoked my two, and I was high as a kite. I was running around, everything was funny. And Duane kept saying, “Ah, this shit’s no good. This stuff doesn’t work.” He didn’t get high the first time – some people don’t. He kept going around, saying, “Jim, you’re full of it. You’re not high. That stuff didn’t have any effect.” We kept laughing. And then later he smoked some more, at a different time, and he said, “Yeah, this stuff does work after all.” He liked to sniff glue at one point. We used to do that. It was Testors, that airplane [model] glue. Duane actually got very heavy into glue at one point. I’m glad he got away from it because you can see some burnt-out glue heads, and they don’t look too good. You know, he abused his body. It was like, “Let’s get high and play music,” and that’s what we did.
What was Duane’s first vehicle?
A motorcycle. It was a Harley Davidson 165. We also rode motors together. That’s another thing we did together quite a bit. The three things we did was get high and be drunk, ride motorcycles, and play guitar. And probably play guitar about 50% of the time, and the other 25% to each one of the other things. Right after the Harley, he got himself a Triumph 500, and he’d race up the street, lifting up the front end at 90 miles an hour. Then after that they moved over to an Oldsmobile wagon, and he kind of got out of motorcycles for a while. They had the Oldsmobile wagon, which they carted all the equipment around in, and that’s what they drove to all these places. They went to St. Louis in it. They had that for quite some time. Then after that, I really don’t know what they got.
Where did Duane go to school?
He went to a place called Seabreeze High School.
Did he finish there?
No, Duane quit school in ninth grade – most people won’t tell you that. You know, he quit school to play music, strictly. He found what he wanted, and there was no stopping him.
Did Duane ever get married while he was living in Daytona Beach?
He had a girlfriend named Patty. I don’t know if they ever got married, but she was with him a long, long time, and he loved her a lot. He really did. They had a child together.
Was this Duane’s daughter Galadriel?
No, I think he had her with the girl he met up there in Atlanta. I don’t know the name of the child he had in Daytona. See, what happened was Patty’s parents were very down on Duane, and she went to Jacksonville to have the child. What actually became of that, I don’t know. They wanted to get married. I know he later got married to another girl in Atlanta.
Dickey Betts told me Galadriel was one year old when Duane was killed.
Yeah, that’s right. That child was one. That was his later girlfriend, whatever her name was, up in Atlanta. That’s a different person than what I’m talking about.
When I talked to Gregg, he insisted Duane was never married and never had kids.
That is definitely a mistake [laughs], because I can guarantee you he did. You’re right about that. I don’t really understand why Gregg would say that, unless Gregg has forgotten. You know, Gregg has had his problems over the years too. See, for sure I know in Daytona he did have a very serious girlfriend, Patty, and she did become pregnant and she did go have the child, which they gave up for adoption. Duane used to come and confide in me quite often about this problem, because he felt very bad. And later I became Patty’s boyfriend also, so I really know that story inside and out.
Was he much of a womanizer later on?
Yes, he was. He was very horny and always after the women. And he always had women. He never had any problem getting women. Of course, he’d get one girlfriend and he’d try to stay with one girl, but he really couldn’t. He liked to move around. He was always looking for other women. He wasn’t much of a family-type of man – “Let’s get married and have children” – that wasn’t really his trip, even though he did get married at one point. But he was always running around.
What was Duane’s mom, Geraldine, like?
Gerry was a hard woman and she was a very strong woman and she was 100% into those two boys, Duane and Gregg. She liked me, and she knew Duane and I had a very strong friendship, but she was a little bit against our friendship because we were always getting into trouble together. But she still likes me and everything. She did everything for those boys – she worked a job, she gave them money, she bought them equipment, she bought them a car to drive in to take the equipment. She went to all their gigs. I’ve never seen any woman be as much into two people’s music and encourage them any more than Gerry Allman. Her whole life was those two boys.
Gregg told me that his father was killed by a hitchhiker.
That’s true, yes. He picked up some guy along the road and apparently, from what I understand from Duane, the guy had escaped from either a jail or a mental institution, and he just jumped in the car and pulled out a gun and blew his father away.
Was his father the only one in the car?
Yeah. That’s the information I got from Duane.
What was his dad’s profession?
He was a serviceman. And he actually did play guitar and sang a little bit, from what Duane told me. He did like music. Duane would say to me, “Gee, Jim, I remember my dad pickin’ and singin’, and that’s kind of where I always got my interest in music. It was from him.”
A rare shot of the Escorts
What was Duane’s very first band?
The Escorts. This was 1964 or ’65. Briefly, the story on them was Gregg was actually a guitar player. And then Duane convinced him to move over and get a Vox organ and become an organ player and to become a singer. Gregg really wasn’t much of a singer in the early days. He’s a great singer now, but he wasn’t much of a singer back when he was 16. So he got on organ and sang, Duane played guitar, and they had this guy Van Harrison playing bass. And the drummer was Maynard Portwood. He did play with the Allman Joys, actually – he played when they became that – and he played with Duane for quite some time through the years. He later went to Atlanta and started his own situation. I don’t think him and Gregg are on very good terms, because you don’t hear Gregg mention him very much. But the early band, they were doing Beatles. They were getting into some Ray Charles. It was the English rock, mainly.
Was this like a high school band?
Yeah, it was. And they were dressing up – they all wore the same uniforms, and they were starting to grow their hair long. They were pretty popular. They played dances and stuff.
Duane had only been playing a few years by then.
Oh, yeah. A couple of years.
Duane with a Fender Telecaster
What guitar was he playing?
At one point he had a Gibson 335 – I think that’s what he was playing then. He later moved over to a Telecaster and then to a Les Paul.
What happened after the Escorts?
Then he went into the Untils, briefly. See, there are other people involved in this Daytona-Duane Allman connection. A think a guy who deserves some mention, to be honest with you, is Bob Greenlee, who was also a friend of Duane’s. He was not nearly the friend that Duane and I were, but he had a band and Duane did play in his band at the time. Because I’ve read some of the reviews where they mention the Houserockers – well, that was actually Greenlee’s band. See, he had started this integrated band back in the early ’60s and mid ’60s, and Duane and Gregg were both in it at one point. I’ve read write-ups that mention it was their band and this and that, but it really wasn’t. It was actually Greenlee’s band. They had played for Greenlee, and then they decided to quit.
Where do the Untils fit in?
That’s Greenlee. The Houserockers and the Untils was all Greenlee’s brainchild. The Untils was the black singers, and the Houserockers was the white band that backed them up. See, there’s a black influence that’s been left out of all these Allman brothers accounts, which I think is annoying because I saw it with my own eyes. I know what Gregg and Duane went through. When you talk about people that influenced them, there are some people down there that have never been given any credit that I personally think Gregg and Duane themselves would admit to – Floyd Miles and Charles Atkins – from when Duane played in the all-black surf band there. We both played in that group together.
What band is this?
This was the Lindsey Morris Band. It was an all-black group. For some reason, they couldn’t find any black guitar players in town, so they either had me or Duane playing guitar. Even Duane, if he were alive, would tell you that. It was a black band that played over in the white part of town. They played in a beachside club there – it was called the Surf Bar. And this is where all the musicians in the area, including Gregg and Duane and myself and Greenlee – all of us – this is where we went to play music, because this was the happening music. They were playing the kind of music we liked at the time – soul music. They were doing Ray Charles and this and that. This is where we all got schooled in music, in my opinion. We’re talking about 1963 to 1967. And we’d all go down there and sit in and learn from them. I played as the regular guitar player for about a year, and then at one point Duane was working there for about three months. The leader of the band was named Lynn Morris, but we called him “Daps,” like “Dapper Dan.” This is where Gregg heard Charles Atkins sing. It’s where he heard Floyd Miles play drums and sing. That’s one thing I think Gregg has really left out – the influence that he got from those two people was just incredible. He idolized them. He tried to sound like them. As a matter of fact, he tried to sing like them, he tried to act like them, he spent time with them. The Surf Bar in Daytona Beach, man – that’s where we all went. That’s where we all got started in terms of being in a band and digging soul music. That’s where it was.
No trouble getting in, even though you were underage?
That’s right. We were all underage, and there was not trouble getting in. Because if you were a musician and you were with the band, then you didn’t get hassled.
Did you play in the Houserockers?
Yes, I did. I started with them. I was in the original group. Duane didn’t get into it until about two-and-a-half years later. See, Greenlee started the Houserockers and the Untils, and then he got me. I was his best friend also, and he got me to play with him in the band. I really had a lot of respect for Greenlee, and I think Duane did too. You ever hear of Root Boy Slim & The Sex Change Band? Well, that was Greenlee. He’s not Root Boy Slim —Root Boy Slim is “Ken” McKenzie – but the whole Root Boy Slim concept is another one of Greenlee’s brainchilds. But as far as the Untils and Houserockers go, that was his band, and Duane and Gregg did play in it. It’s kind of funny – they played in it, but they really weren’t into it. The write-ups you read sound like it was this great thing they were loving, but they really quit because they wanted to go play rock and roll. They didn’t want to play R&B and they didn’t want to back up black front singers. They wanted to do their own thing.
What did Gregg and Duane do next?
After that they started the Allman Joys. They’re still in Daytona, but they’re getting ready to leave Daytona now. See, Duane was smart. He realized you’re not going to make it out of Daytona Beach, Florida. So he immediately put together a club band kind of image. They went to Birmingham, Alabama. They went to Montgomery. They went over to Pensacola, Florida. They started traveling out into the Southeast, doing mainly rhythm and blues, but they were doing their own singing. They weren’t backing up singers like they were doing in the Untils. Gregg was doing Ray Charles, Duane was playing a lot of guitar riffs, the songs were basically featuring Gregg’s voice and Duane’s guitar playing. They were based around that. They were doing a lot of three- and four-part harmony. Bob Keller played bass in the Allman Joys for about six months. Mike Alexander actually stole Keller’s job – Keller was there before Mike got in. Mike subsequently killed himself. He traveled with the Allman Joys quite some time, and then he got out of it. He had his own personal problems – he just wasted away to nothing.
The Allman Joys went up to Trudy Heller’s in Greenwich Village and did a stint up there. As a matter of fact, I remember getting a call from Duane. He said they were up in New York and they were coming in to Daytona, would I mind picking them up. I went over to the airport, and here comes these four guys off the airplane – way long hair, looking outrageous. You could see Duane had been affected by New York City quite a bit. You know, the Southern boy goes to New York! I picked them up, and they were very high – when I say “high,” I mean they were high about their music. They thought they’d been very successful up at Trudy Heller’s. They were very, very positive about the future, and they felt like some good things were going to happen for them.
When was this?
This was about 1967 or ’68, I would have to say. Of course, they met the Blues Magoos up there in Greenwich Village, and they were thinking of changing their name to the “Black and Blues.” They had a couple of other names. They weren’t sure what they were gonna do with their name, but they definitely had been influenced by the Blues Magoos. They felt they were a great group, and Duane spoke highly of that group. So did Gregg. They had it pretty rough in New York. They were living in one little icky room, and they were sleeping four in a bed. That’s the way they were, though. Those guys could live anywhere and do anything. Me, I’ve got to have my own home and a bed. These people, they were committed and dedicated to their desires.
Then they went to St. Louis, and then they went out to California, where they became the Hour Glass and did that. But periodically, every few weeks, they were back in Daytona because they wanted to see Gerry, their mother, and they just enjoyed coming back home. And every time they came back home, we’d always get together and play and jam and drink whiskey, and do other things. I always would see Duane. I noticed he was smoking quite a bit of weed, taking quite a bit of speed. He took a lot of speed – that was one of Duane’s favorite drugs. He’d come into town and he’d want to get high. We did some more outrageous things, I am ashamed to tell you.
When did you and Duane quit being best friends?
It’s not that we really quit being best friends. We never were enemies or anything like that. We did kind of drift apart, but we were always in contact and I always knew what he was doing, he knew what I was doing. Whenever he came to town, he called me. What happened was I had a band that had a record that was coming out on Polydor, and I was drawn up to Connecticut from Florida. This was called the Jim Ground Band.
Did you see Duane much when he was with the Allman Brothers Band?
Yes, I did. See, all this time, I was still having a relationship with Gregg. Gregg was kind of in the background because Duane and I were the better friends than me and Gregg. But that’s partially why I think Gregg and I are friends now. When he sees me, it gives him a feeling his brother is still somewhere around, because he kind of sees me in his brother, because we were so close. When I had the band in New Haven, the Jim Ground Band, I would get phone calls from Gregg. He wanted to produce my band, which I thought was kind of strange. He said, “I want to produce my brother’s friend’s band.” In other words, he wanted to produce me. It wasn’t Duane calling up saying, “Jim, I want to produce your band,” it was Gregg. I’m sure he might have had Duane’s blessing.
So on the actual first night of the recording of Live at Fillmore East, down to New York we go. Duane and Gregg take me all over to these hotel rooms they’re in, and I meet Betts and Oakley. Duane said, “This is Jim Shepley – he taught me how to play the guitar! You gotta meet my good friend.” They took me to meet Johnny Winter, and then I met Elvin Bishop. They were home boys, you know. If you were their friend-boy and they wanted to turn people on to you, that’s what they did. Then we went backstage and made arrangements for us to go to Macon. Then we came out in the front and listened to the recording. Duane came out and said, “We’re nervous tonight – we’re recording an album here.” After we listened to the gig, we headed to Macon the next night. Gregg flew into Macon and he started his producing of our album. And then two days later, in flew Duane. We started doing some recording.
The Jim Ground Band at the time had become integrated – we had Floyd Miles and Charles Atkins, who Gregg really idolized. That’s probably why he wanted to produce the album, because they were in the group. Johnny Sandlin did all the engineering. But what happened was Gregg wanted to be on the album with me and Floyd, and he didn’t really want the rest of the band. You know how a guy comes in to produce an album and wants to be a part of it? Well, the band that I was in was like, “Well, we don’t want you playing organ, Gregg,” we want the band to remain as a unit. We had a real problem. So then later on Gregg calls me and says, “Wait, this isn’t working out the way I’d anticipated.” We made some tapes, but nothing every really came of them. It kind of was a weird scene. I had misinterpreted what he said. I thought he wanted to record my band. What he wanted me to do was come down and make a little album with him, kind of “Here’s a buddy, and we’re gonna make an album together.” I kind of blew it. He doesn’t hold it against me, but I missed a career opportunity there. We had a great time, though. That’s when I noticed that Duane walked up with a rolled-up hundred-dollar bill and snorted up some smack in front of me. He was pretty gone. [Sighs.] This is the last time I saw Duane before he was killed.
When did he start doing heroin?
Actually, when he went down and recorded [the Layla album] with Clapton in Miami. Clapton was doing junk, and I think that’s when Duane first started doing junk. I saw him right when he returned from the album with Eric, and boy, he had blown Eric’s mind. Duane was really high in the clouds, but he definitely had been doing junk. He had a T-shirt that Eric had given him, and he was talking junk then. Duane was pretty impressed with the whole thing, and I think the album speaks for itself.
In a recent interview, Eric credited Duane with the licks in “Layla.”
I wouldn’t doubt it. When you listen to that album, you notice that every time Clapton takes a solo and then Duane takes one and then Clapton comes back in, it seems like he has a hard time playing, like he’s had his mind blown. I really think Duane messed his mind up. That was a great album. And that’s some of Duane’s finest playing – definitely on “Layla.” That’s one thing. His slide playing is something he got into later. That was his real claim to fame – his slide playing. His guitar playing was great, but his slide playing was exceptional. That’s what made him what he was. And his slide playing was just like his personality. I mean, you listen to that slide playing, and you hear this very heavy, thrusting playing with these outrageous, crazy riffs. And that’s the way Duane was. Nothing personified him more than his slide playing.
What do you know about Duane’s death?
From talking to people I know, he was on a motorcycle. He was passing a truck, and there was an oncoming truck and it hit him. It didn’t surprise me – I hate to say that. He probably was high and was doing what he normally was doing, and he got caught.
How did he change from when you met first him to the last time you saw him?
Yeah, that’s a good question. He had a big head – he was egotistical – and he got more egotistical. To get right down to it, he seemed to have a little bit more of a temper and was a little bit shorter with you. It was more like, “I’m a big star now.” You gotta realize he had that kind of thing – not that he ever treated me badly or anything, but I could see he was under a lot of pressure. He felt he was going somewhere and was becoming a big star, and he was living a rock and roll star’s life – you know, doing drugs and partying more and more. I just felt he became more arrogant and just seemed totally dedicated to one thing, which was his music. He changed for the worst, to tell you the truth, over the years that I knew him. He really did. I still liked the guy, and we still had times together, but he changed for the worse. You know, it takes its toll on you, man. He was 24 when he died, and he was burnt out. His teeth were rotten, his hair was falling out, he looked 50. He was really wasted. Nobody probably bothered to tell you that, but he looked pretty beat. [Sadly] He partied quite hard.
But his playing was at such a high state of evolution.
It really was, man. Well, he did a lot of acid. His spirit and his soul were on another plane. He didn’t care about physical. He never did any exercise. He never took care of his body. His mind was all he cared about, his spirit and his soul. And if he could get a guitar, have a drink or a little something, and play music, he was the happiest man in the world. He was the happiest man in the world when he was playing the guitar. That’s all he cared about, really. And, of course, coming off the stage he cared about having some women or this and that. But like he said, “Rock on, have a good time.” He really had boiled everything down. Like he used to say, “Jim, you’re too complex.” To him, it was, “There’s good people, there’s assholes. I’m gonna be with the good people, I’m gonna forget about the assholes, and I’m gonna play music.” Or he’d say to me, “Jim, you’re too deep, you’re too involved, you don’t know what you want to be, you’re confused, you’re too complex!” And he’s right. He was an astute, articulate person, believe it or not. Highly intelligent – much more intelligent than Gregg, who’s no dope, either. And he led Gregg around like a puppy dog. Gregg will admit to that, I’m sure. Gregg idolized Duane – totally. But when you saw those two guys, one of them jumped right out at you, and that was Duane.
When he was young, what did Duane want to be when he grew up?
Oh, he only wanted to be one thing – a rock and roll star. He wanted to be that from the first day that I was sitting there with him, showing him Jimmy Reed licks. The first thing he wanted to do was be a rock and roll star. That’s what he said: “Hell, I’m quittin’ school, I’m getting’ a job in music, and that’s the end of that.” If I had that kind of dedication, I’d be president or whatever. I mean, that guy had a lot of nerve. He’d tell somebody off if they bugged him. He had nerves to do anything. He was a little guy with a lot of charisma. He’s was only about 5’7″, 5’8″, at the top, and he was real thin, extremely thin. But he didn’t appear thin and small when you saw him, because he had that charisma and that long red hair. The minute he came in a room, you knew he was there.
Everybody says that about him.
It’s so true. It’s so true. Even today when I think about him, I just get kind of overwhelmed at times, because he had presence, man, incredible presence. And you knew the guy was gonna be a big star, was gonna make a mark in this world – you knew it the minute you met him.
Do you have any favorite memories of Duane?
Some of the ones I’ve been telling you about are my favorites. I did mention to you about hanging off the tree on that building – I did it with him. This is a pine tree, like a Christmas tree. When they’re finishing a building, they cement a tree to the top – it’s sticking straight up – so when you hang on it, it pulls over the edge of the building. So it was even more dangerous than it appears. We did this at night, in the middle of the winter, with about a 30-mile-an-hour wind blowing. This was in about 1964. The name of the place is the Towers Apartments, which is still standing in Daytona Beach. They had finished all the floors, but all the rooms hadn’t been completed. There was a stairwell that went up to the top. We were up there sniffing glue, and Duane says, “Hey, man, let’s hang off this tree!” So here he’s dangling off the tree, and I’m dangling off the tree.
Most of the memories I have with him are like that. The time we ripped off that little store was kind of funny. The first time we smoked marijuana was definitely one of the funniest times. But really, the fondest memory I have is him and I playing guitar together. That was when I could feel him more. We didn’t sit down and talk that much when we were playing the guitar. We played music. I could feel him and he could feel me, and we played a lot together.
These days, the Jim Shepley Band plays all around Connecticut, specializing in classic rock and blues. To book the band or see them live, visit www.reverbnation.com/jimshepleyband. Thanks to Jim for sharing these memories all those years ago, and for permission to publish the interview on this blog.