Years: 1961 - 1971
Styles: Blues Rock, Jazz Rock, Southern Rock
Duane Allman - Guitar, Lead guitar, Slide guitar (in band: 1961 - 1971)
The Allman Brothers Band was formed in 1969 and based in the Southeastern United States. In the early 1970s, the band had major success. Allman is best remembered for his brief but influential tenure in the band and in particular for his expressive slide guitar playing and inventiveimprovisational skills. In 2003, Rolling Stone magazine ranked Allman at #2 in their list of the 100 greatest guitarists of all time, second only to Jimi Hendrix and in 2011 he was ranked # 9. His tone (achieved with a Gibson Les Paul and two 50-watt bass Marshall amplifiers) was named one of the greatest guitar tones of all time by Guitar Player.
A sought-after session musician both before and during his tenure with the band, Duane Allman performed with such established stars as King Curtis, Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, and Herbie Mann. He also contributed heavily to the 1970 album "Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs" by Derek and the Dominos. Duane Allman's skills as a guitarist were complemented by personal qualities such as his intensity, drive and ability to draw the best out of others in making music. He is still referred to by his nickname "Skydog".
The phenomenon of Southern rock – a rolling fusion of blues, rock and country – emerged in the early seventies; in Tennessee, Duane Allman and his brother Gregg formed the band most fondly remembered of the genre. To overcome the loss of their father in the Korean War one Christmas when they were small, the brothers immersed themselves in the classic sounds of the blues and contemporary acts like The Beatles and Otis Redding, bored with the beach pop that soundtracked their Daytona upbringing. Though he was taught to play by his younger brother, it was Duane Allman who really had ‘natural fire’, his slide-guitar style unlike anything heard before, making him Muscle Shoals’ top session man.
By hanging with black musicians, the Allmans had broken the taboos of the era (as The Hour Glass); Duane Allman enforced this by playing behind various soul acts, not least Aretha Franklin and Wilson Pickett. He, of course, trademarked the early Allman Brothers sound, which fully came together when the band – the brothers (various instruments), Berry Oakley (bass), Dick Betts (guitar/vocals), Butch Trucks and ‘Jaimoe’ Johanny Johanson(both drums) – made its way to Macon, Georgia.
Promoting a ‘brotherhood’ ethic, the Allmans insisted each member tattoo a mushroom on his ankle, and the hallucinogenic reference soon became very evident in the music, while much of the first album was composed in a local graveyard. Their eponymous debut was eventually cut in New York to rapturous acclaim, and promoter Bill Graham installed the band at his Fillmore venues, their extraordinary, snaking jams making up a series of early live albums. Somehow, Duane Allman found time to record with others, including Eric Clapton – it is his slide work that adorns Derek & The Dominoes’ "Layla" (1971).
For the guitarist, though, it was an all-too-short session under the spotlight. During the recording of what is widely considered The Allman Brothers’ artistic high, "Eat a Peach" (1972), the band took a break to celebrate the birthday of Oakley’s wife. At 5.30 pm on 29 October 1971, Allman took off on his Harley Davidson to pick up a birthday cake and gifts from his house, followed in cars by girlfriend Dixie, plus Oakley and his sister. Allman was speeding as he headed west from Macon, when the appearance of a flat-bed pipe truck caused him to swerve, skidding ninety feet across the intersection to avoid collision. Losing his helmet and falling under his bike, Allman incurred massive internal injuries, possibly exacerbated by the frantic intervention of truck-driver Charles Wertz. The musician was rushed to Macon Medical Center where, although revived twice, he died in surgery three hours after the incident.
The Allman Brothers Band played at their leader’s funeral three days later, deciding to continue in his memory. Just over a year later, Oakley – who had become the band’s unofficial new frontman – met an eerily similar fate just one mile from the site of Allman’s crash ( November 19722); legal disputes having kept Allman’s body in storage since his death, it was decided to bury the two friends side by side at the Rose Hill Military Cemetery in Macon.
Skydog: The Duane Allman Retrospective (Nov, 11, 2013)
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