Howard Duane Allman (November 20, 1946 – October 29, 1971) was an American lead guitarist.
Allman is noted for his slide guitar skills. In 2003 Rolling Stone magazine named Duane Allman as number two on their list of the greatest guitarists of all time, trailing only Jimi Hendrix.He was a noted session musician, was a founding member and the leader of The Allman Brothers Band, and also had a major role on the album Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, by Derek and the Dominos, a 1970-71 band led by Eric Clapton. His nickname, "Skydog," was given to him by soul singer Wilson Pickett to replace his earlier nickname, "Dog." Pickett was acknowledging that Duane was always up, always cheerful.
Hear Duane Allman perform "Goin' Down Slow," free from youtube.com.
Duane was born in Nashville, Tennessee. When he was three years old, while the family was living near Norfolk, Virginia, his father, Willis, a United States Army sergeant, was murdered on December 26 in a robbery by a veteran he had befriended that day. Geraldine "Mama A" Allman and the boys moved back to Nashville. In 1957 they moved to Daytona Beach, Florida.
As a teenager in 1960, Duane 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 later 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 family. They attended a rock 'n' roll show in which blues artist B.B. King performed, and both promptly fell under the spell of the music. Gregg reports that Duane turned to him in the middle of the show and said, "We got to get into this."
Allman Joys and Hour Glass
The Allman boys started playing publicly in 1961, joining or forming a number of small, local groups. Shortly thereafter Duane quit high school to stay home days and focus on his guitar playing. Their band the Escorts eventually became the Allman Joys. After Gregg graduated from 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 which 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.
At this point Duane added electric slide guitar to his repertoire, after hearing Taj Mahal perform the Willie McTell classic "Statesboro Blues", the group featuring Jesse Ed Davis on slide; this was later a signature tune for the Allman Brothers Band. Duane used an empty glass Coricidin medicine bottle, which he wore over his ring finger, as a slide; this was later picked up by other slide guitarists such as Bonnie Raitt, Rory Gallagher, and Gary Rossington of Lynyrd Skynyrd.
The Hour Glass broke up in early 1968, and Duane and Gregg 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.
Duane's playing on the two Hour Glass albums and an Hour Glass session in early 1968 at FAME Recording Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, had caught the ear of Rick Hall, owner of FAME. In November 1968 Hall hired Duane to play on an album with Wilson Pickett. Duane'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 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."
Duane'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 Duane's recording contract from Hall and wanted to use him on sessions with all sorts of Atlantic R&B artists. While at Muscle Shoals, Duane was featured on releases by a number of artists, including Clarence Carter, King Curtis, Aretha Franklin, Otis Rush, Percy Sledge, and jazz flautist Herbie Mann. For his first Aretha sessions, Duane 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.
Formation of The Allman Brothers Band
The limits of full-time session playing frustrated Duane. 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, Duane 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. Duane got together with R&B and jazz drummer Johnny Lee (aka Jai Johanny Johannson, Jai, and Jaimoe) Johnson, who came there to meet Duane at the urging of the late Otis Redding's manager, Phil Walden, who by now was managing Duane and wanted to build a three-piece band around him. Duane and Jaimoe got Chicago-born and -raised 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 Duane 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.
Success, Layla, and death
The Allman Brothers Band went on to become one of the best and 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 band was ready to settle on the band name we know 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 Duane the chance to participate in Eric Clapton's Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs. Clapton had long wanted to meet Duane; 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 Duane. After the show the two bands--the Allman Brothers Band and Derek and the Dominos--returned to Criteria, where Duane and Eric quickly formed a deep rapport during an all-night jam session.
At one point, Duane cautiously asked Eric if he could come by the studio to watch. Eric refused, telling Duane to bring his guitar because, "you got to play." Duane wound up participating on most of the album's tracks, contributing some of his best-known work. Duane never left the Allman Brothers Band, though, despite being offered a permanent position with Clapton. The Allman Brothers went on to record At Fillmore East, one of the classic live albums of rock and roll, in March, 1971. Meanwhile, Duane continued contributing session work to other artists' albums whenever he could.
Duane was killed in a motorcycle accident only a few 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, Duane was riding toward an oncoming truck that was turning well in front of him but then stopped in mid-intersection. Duane lost control of his Harley Sportster (a motorcycle with long front-wheel forks that tend to make it unstable) while trying to swing left, possibly striking the back of the truck or its crane ball. Duane flew from his bike, which landed on and skidded with him, crushing internal organs; he died a few hours later, less than one month shy of his 25th birthday. In a bizarre coincidence, bassist Berry Oakley would die 13 months later in a similar motorcycle crash with a truck, not but three blocks away from the site of Duane's.
After Duane's funeral and a few weeks of mourning, the five surviving members of the Allman Brothers Band carried on with the name, resuming live performances and finishing the recording work interrupted by Duane's passing. They called this next album Eat a Peach for one of Duane's interview lines, in response to the question "How are you helping the revolution?": "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 Duane; 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 five-piece band.
There is a widely believed urban legend that Eat a Peach was a reference to the type of truck that killed Duane, however that is not true; though the cover art of the album does a depict a truck underneath a giant peach, and whether or not it is a reference to Duane's accident or not is unknown.
A year later, after Berry Oakley's death in Macon following another motorcycle accident just a few blocks from where Duane crashed, Duane's body was laid to rest beside Berry's in Macon's Rose Hill Cemetery. The variety of Duane'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", which he initially wrote for a friend's wedding, to the memory of Duane Allman.
In 1973 some fans carved the very large letters "REMEMBER DUANE ALLMAN" in a sandstone 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.
In 1998 the Georgia state legislature passed a resolution designating a stretch of State Highway 19 within Macon as "Duane Allman Boulevard" in memory of him.
Allman was generally considered a pacificist 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 trilogy and his highly regarded comic book collection. 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 Duane refered to himself as a "roads scholar" from knowledge attained through his own readings and travels.