Duane Allman PDF Print E-mail
Saturday, 18 October 2008 17:48

Howard Duane Allman

Born: November 20, 1946, Nashville, Tennessee

Died: October 29, 1971, Macon, Georgia

Age: 24

Cause of death: Motorcycle accident.

Notable moment: Guitar solo (slide) on Layla.

Duane Allman was an American, lead guitarist of the southern rock group The Allman Brothers Band, and session musician. Allman is best remembered for his brief but influential tenure in the band he helped co-found, as well as his slide guitar and improvisational skills.

Alongside of his work with The Allman Brothers Band, Allman was an established session musician performing with many artists including: King Curtis, Aretha Franklin, Boz Scaggs, and Herbie Mann. He also had a major role on the 1970 album Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs by Derek and the Dominos. In 2003, Rolling Stone magazine named Allman as number two on their list of the 100 greatest guitarists of all time.

His career was tragically cut short by a motorcycle accident in 1971.

Duane Allman was born in Nashville, Tennessee. When he was three years old and his family lived near Norfolk, Virginia, his father, Willis Allman, a career United States Army sergeant, was murdered in a robbery by a veteran he had befriended that day. Geraldine "Mama A" Allman moved her family back to Nashville. In 1957 they relocated in Daytona Beach, Florida.

In 1960, Allman was motivated to take up the guitar by the example of his younger brother, Gregg, who had obtained a guitar after hearing a neighbor playing country music standards on an acoustic guitar. Gregg said that after Duane started playing, "he ... passed me up like I was standing still."

Another important event occurred in 1959 when the boys were in Nashville visiting relatives. They attended a rock 'n' roll concert at which blues artist B. B. King performed and both promptly fell under the spell of his music. Gregg Allman recalls that Duane turned to him and said, "We got to get into this."

The Allman Brothers started playing publicly in 1961, joining or forming a number of small, local groups. Shortly thereafter Allman quit high school to stay home during the day and focus on his guitar playing. Their band the Escorts eventually became the Allman Joys. After Gregg graduated from Seabreeze High School in 1965, the Allman Joys went on the road, performing throughout the Southeast and eventually being based in Nashville and St. Louis.

The Allman Joys morphed into another not-completely-successful band, The Hour Glass, which moved to Los Angeles in early 1967. There the Hour Glass did manage to produce two albums that left the band unsatisfied. Liberty, their record company, tried to market them as a pop band, completely ignoring the band's desire to play more blues-oriented material. The Hour Glass songs that are on the first and second Duane Allman Anthologies, as well as the Allman Brothers' anthology Dreams, are so radically different from the Liberty releases that they might as well be two different bands. Duane's guitar playing, buried in the 1960s albums, takes on the commanding presence that he later displayed with the Allman Brothers.

In 1968, Gregg Allman went to visit Duane, on his 22nd birthday. Duane was sick in bed. Gregg brought along a bottle of Coricidin pills for his fever and the debut album by guitarist Taj Mahal as a gift. "About two hours after I left, my phone rang," Gregg states. " 'Baby brother, baby brother, get over here now!' " When Gregg got there, Duane had poured the pills out of the bottle, washed off the label and was using it as a slide to play "Statesboro Blues," an old Blind Willie McTell song that Taj Mahal covered. "Duane had never played slide before", says Gregg, "he just picked it up and started burnin'. He was a natural." The song would go on to become a part of the Allman Brothers Band's repertoire, and Duane's slide guitar became crucial to their sound. That same sound was later picked up by other slide guitarists, such as Rory Gallagher, Derek Trucks and Gary Rossington of Lynyrd Skynyrd.

The Hour Glass broke up in early 1968, and Duane and Gregg Allman went back to Florida, where they played on demo sessions with the 31st of February, a folk rock outfit whose drummer was Butch Trucks. Gregg returned to California to fulfill Hour Glass obligations, while Duane jammed around Florida for months but didn't get another band going.

Allman's playing on the two Hour Glass albums and an Hour Glass session in early 1968 at FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, had caught the ear of Rick Hall, owner of FAME. In November 1968 Hall hired Allman to play on an album with Wilson Pickett. Allman's work on that album, Hey Jude (1968), got him hired as a full-time session musician at Muscle Shoals and brought him to the attention of a number of other musicians, such as guitar great Eric Clapton, who later said, "I remember hearing Wilson Pickett's 'Hey Jude' and just being astounded by the lead break at the end. ... I had to know who that was immediately — right now."

Allman's performance on "Hey Jude" blew away Atlantic Records producer and executive Jerry Wexler when Hall played it over the phone for him. Wexler immediately bought Allman's recording contract from Hall and wanted to use him on sessions with all sorts of Atlantic R&B artists. While at Muscle Shoals, Allman was featured on releases by a number of artists, including Clarence Carter, King Curtis, Aretha Franklin, Otis Rush, Percy Sledge, Johnny Jenkins, Boz Scaggs, Delaney & Bonnie and jazz flautist Herbie Mann. Shortly after he recorded his lead break in "Hey Jude", he recorded all of the lead guitar in Boz Scaggs' "Loan Me A Dime." His soloing in the song is noted as some of the best he ever laid down on record. For his first Aretha sessions, Allman traveled to New York, where in January 1969 he went as an audience member to the Fillmore East to see Johnny Winter and prophetically told fellow Shoals guitarist Jimmy Johnson that in a year he'd be on that stage; the Allman Brothers Band indeed played the Fillmore that December.

The limits of full-time session playing frustrated Allman. The few months in Muscle Shoals were by no means a waste, however, because besides meeting the great artists and other industry professionals he was working with, Allman had rented a small, secluded cabin on a lake and spent many solitary hours there refining his playing. Perhaps most significantly, at F.A.M.E. Allman got together with R&B and jazz drummer Jaimoe Johanson, who came there to meet Allman at the urging of the late Otis Redding's manager, Phil Walden, who by now was managing Allman and wanted to build a three-piece band around him. Allman and Jaimoe got Chicago-born bassist Berry Oakley to come up from Florida and jam as a trio, but Berry was committed to his rock band with guitarist Dickey Betts, the Second Coming, and returned south.

Getting fed up with Muscle Shoals, in March Allman took Jaimoe with him back to Jacksonville, Florida, where they moved in with Butch Trucks. Soon a jam session of these three plus Betts, Oakley, and Reese Wynans took place and forged what all present recognized as a natural, or even magical, bond. With the addition of brother Gregg, called back from Los Angeles to sing and replace Wynans on keyboards, at the end of March 1969, the Allman Brothers Band was formed. (Wynans became well known over a decade later as organist with Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble.) After a bit of rehearsing and gigging, the sextet moved up to Macon, Georgia, in April to be near Walden and his Capricorn Sound Studios. While living in Macon, Allman met Donna Roosman, who bore his only child, Galadrielle. Despite their child, the relationship quickly ended.

Duane, right, and Gregg performing
Duane, right, and Gregg performing "Whipping Post" at the Fillmore East on September 23, 1970.

The Allman Brothers Band went on to become one of the most influential rock groups of the 1970s, described by Rolling Stone's George Kimball in 1971 as "the best damn rock and roll band this country has produced in the past five years." After months of nonstop rehearsing and gigging, including fondly remembered free shows in Macon's Central City Park and Atlanta's Piedmont Park, the group was ready to settle on the Allman Brothers Band name, and to record. Their debut album, The Allman Brothers Band, was recorded in New York in September 1969 and released a couple months later. In the midst of intense touring, work began in Macon and Miami (Atlantic South - Criteria Studios), and a little bit in New York, on the ABB's second album, Idlewild South. Produced mostly by Tom Dowd, Idlewild South was released in August 1970 and broke ground for the ABB by quickly hitting the Billboard charts.

A group date in Miami, also that August, gave Allman the chance to participate in Eric Clapton's Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs. Clapton had long wanted to meet Allman; when he heard that the Allman Brothers were due to play in Miami, where he had just started work on Layla with producer Tom Dowd, he insisted on going to see their concert, where he met Allman. After the show the two bands—the Allman Brothers Band and Derek and the Dominos—returned to Criteria, where Allman and Clapton quickly formed a deep rapport during an all-night jam session. At one point, Allman cautiously asked Clapton if he could come by the studio to watch. Clapton refused, telling Allman to bring his guitar because, "you got to play." Allman wound up participating on most of the album's tracks, contributing some of his best-known work. Allman never left the Allman Brothers Band, though, despite being offered a permanent position with Clapton. Allman never toured with Derek and the Dominos, but he did make two appearances with them on December 1, 1970 at the Curtis Hixon Hall and the following day at Onondaga County War Memorial.

In an interview, Duane told listeners how to tell who played what: Eric played the Fender parts and Duane played the Gibson parts. He continued by noting that the Fender had a sparklier sound, while the Gibson produced more of a "full-tilt screech."

The Allman Brothers went on to record At Fillmore East in March, 1971. Meanwhile, Allman continued contributing session work to other artists' albums whenever he could. According to Skydog: the Duane Allman Story, Allman was in the habit of spontaneously dropping in at recording sessions and contributing to whatever was being taped that day. He received cash payments but no recording credits, making it virtually impossible to compile a complete discography of his works.

The graves of Duane Allman and Berry Oakley.
The graves of Duane Allman and Berry Oakley.

Duane Allman was killed in a motorcycle accident only months after the summer release and great initial success of At Fillmore East. While in Macon on October 29, during a band break from touring and recording, Allman was riding his motorcycle toward an oncoming truck that was turning well in front of him. The truck suddenly stopped in mid-intersection. Allman lost control of his Harley while trying to swing left, possibly striking the back of the truck or its crane ball. He was thrown from his Harley, which landed on him and skidded with him under it, crushing internal organs. He died several hours later, just weeks before his 25th birthday. In a bizarre coincidence, bassist Berry Oakley would die less than 13 months later in a similar motorcycle crash with a city bus, three blocks from the site of Duane Allman's fatal accident.

After Allman's funeral and some weeks of mourning, the five surviving members of the Allman Brothers Band carried on, resuming live performances and finishing the recording work interrupted by Duane's passing. They called their next album Eat a Peach for one of Duane Allman's interview lines, in response to the question "How are you helping the revolution?" Allman had said, "There ain't no revolution, only evolution, but every time I'm in Georgia I eat a peach for peace." Released in February, 1972, this double album contains a side of live and studio tracks with Allman, two sides of "Mountain Jam", recorded with Duane at the Fillmore during the same March stand as At Fillmore East, and a side of tracks by the surviving five member band. A widely believed urban legend is that Eat a Peach was a reference to the type of truck that killed Duane; however, it is without foundation.

Following Berry Oakley's death in another motorcycle accident (a crash from which he appeared to not be seriously injured), Berry's remains were laid to rest beside Duane Allman's in Macon's Rose Hill Cemetery.

The variety of Allman's session work and ABB bandleading can be heard to good effect on two posthumous Capricorn releases, Duane Allman: An Anthology (1972) and Duane Allman: An Anthology Vol. II (1974). There are also several archival releases of live Allman Brothers Band performances from what is called the band's Duane Era.

Shortly after Duane's death, Ronnie Van Zant of Lynyrd Skynyrd dedicated the song "Free Bird", to the memory of Duane Allman. Many people assume the song was written about Duane. However, it had actually been written before Duane died. (Allen Collins wrote the song after his then girlfriend asked him the question "if I leave here tomorrow, would you still remember me?")

In 1973 fans carved the very large letters "REMEMBER DUANE ALLMAN" in a dirt embankment along Interstate 20 near Vicksburg, Mississippi. A photograph was published in Rolling Stone magazine and in the Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll; the carving itself lasted for over ten years.

Travis Tritt's "Put Some Drive in Your Country" mentions Allmann in the "Damn I miss Duane Allman. I wish he were still around." The song, from Tritt's Country Club album (1989), was released in the fall of 1990.

In 1998 the Georgia state legislature passed a resolution designating a stretch of State Highway 19 within Macon as "Duane Allman Boulevard" in his honor.

Duane Allman was generally considered a pacifist and was highly respected among his band mates. A care-free hippie throughout his teen and adult years, he was an avid reader, enjoying The Lord of the Rings and philosophical, political and poetic books. He named his only child Galadrielle in honor of Galadriel. Although never formally educated, roadie and band manager (1970-1976) Willie Perkins has joked that Allman referred to himself as a "roads scholar" from knowledge attained through his own readings and travels.

The guitar that Duane Allman used on the Muscle Shoals studio sessions, a 1954 Fender Stratocaster, is being kept at Hard Rock Cafe in London at the Vault

 

 

Last Updated on Tuesday, 02 December 2008 16:03
 

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