Duane Allman - The Road Goes On...
(first published in 'Vintage Guitar Magazine', November 1996,
Vol. 11 No. 2)
In this issue, VG is proud to feature the first of a
series of stories commemorating the 25th anniversary of the
release of the first album by the Allman Brothers Band. This
month, we begin the tribute with the following historical
retrospective by VG contributor Dave Kyle, as well as
interviews with Joe Dan Petty, Allen Woody, and Jack Pearson. In
the next two months, we will continue the series with more
features and interviews with people close to the band.
Earlier this year, VG ran a piece on Gregg Allman.
Although not primarily known as a guitar player, Gregg is a fine
acoustic player, as anyone can attest if they've seen the
acoustic segment of an Allman Brothers Band show. While
researching the rest of the band, I mentioned to our editor,
Alan Greenwood, that Macon, Georgia, is a musically historical
place. Not just because of the ABB, but many other luminaries in
the music business have either lived or recorded in Macon.
"Why don't you get down there and talk to some of the people who
knew Duane," Alan said after one particularly long phone
conversation. "Maybe we'll do a sidebar on him."
Well, that project grew and grew, until it took on a life of its
own. Not only was I able to go to Macon and get some great
stories, I also went to Muscle Shoals, Alabama, where Duane
worked at the celebrated Fame Studios, playing on hits by people
like Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, Herbie Mann, Boz Scaggs
and a host of others. But I don't want to get too far ahead of
Let me give you a little background on Duane's all-too-short
life. There may be some statements included here and in previous
articles that seem to contradict each other, but time and
memories have a way of doing that.
Born in Nashville, Tennessee in 1946, Duane was very young when
he lost his father, a military man, to a senseless murder at the
hands of a hitchhiker. Before moving to Daytona Beach, Florida,
Geraldine Allman enrolled Duane and Gregg in Castle Heights
Military Academy, Lebanon, Tennessee.
The boys and their mother, "Mama A" as she is known to their
many friends and family, then moved to sunny Daytona, Florida in
1959, where Duane and Gregg attended Seabreeze High School. As
Gregg said in his interview (VG, July '96), he was
visiting his grandmother in Nashville one summer, when he picked
up some guitar chords from one of her neighbors, Jimmy Baine.
Duane checked out the guitar his little brother bought at Sears
and to quote Gregg, "...he passed me up in about two weeks. He
was a natural."
Gregg says this with the conviction of one who knows, having
been around many of the greatest guitar players of our time.
After countless fights over the low-cost acoustic, Mama A
decided to get each boy a guitar. Gregg got a Fender Musicmaster
and Duane got a Gibson Les Paul Jr., which is now reportedly
owned by Delaney Bramlett.
A succession of bands followed, including Escorts, Almanac, the
Allman Joys, the Untils (with present day Gregg Allman and
Friends sideman Floyd Myles) and Hourglass. The brothers began
their career playing "beach music," a natural progression for a
Florida band in the ‘60s. Gregg soon got in to the blues, thanks
to Floyd, and again, brother Duane followed. He traded a wrecked
motorcycle for a guitar and the rest, as they say, is history.
"One year, Gregg got a guitar for Christmas and I got me a
Harley 165 motorcycle. I tore that up and he learned to play,"
Duane said in an early-’60s interview by Tony Glover. "He taught
me and I traded the wrecked bike parts for another guitar."
The Allman Joys became one of Florida’s best-known bands. After
changing their name to the Hourglass, they signed a record deal
which led to an ill-fated trip to California. They spent a short
time in Los Angeles making two albums for Liberty, until Duane
became fed up with the scene and decided to move, "...back down
South where I belong," according to Gregg, who stayed in
California to fulfill contractual agreements.
The record company insisted on dictating material the band would
record. Again, according to Duane, "...they’d send in a box of
demos and say, 'Okay, pick your next LP.' We’d try to tell them
that wasn’t where it was at. Then they’d get tough."
Duane then moved to Muscle Shoals and started his career as one
of the late ‘60s most noted studio guitarists.
It was Duane's idea for Wilson Pickett to cover the Beatles'
"Hey Jude." He wasn’t taken seriously
at first, an reportedly called Pickett "chicken" to try
something out of the ordinary. This, of course, prompted Pickett
to do the song.
Duane laid down a deep groove, and the song re-wrote itself.
That, along with the slide work on Aretha Franklin's cover of
the Band's "The Weight" propelled Duane into a category of
guitar greats. For the first time to anyone's knowledge, outside
of people like Chet Atkins and Duane Eddy, a guitar player who
couldn't really sing was offered a recording contract.
Rick Hall, proprietor of the well known Fame Studios, in Muscle
Shoals, heard him play on a demo recorded by Johnnie Johnson,
another stalwart guitarist, and signed him, later selling his
contract to Atlantic Records. This was unheard of at a time when
psychedelic music was becoming the vogue. Phil Waldon, who had
booked the likes of Otis
many other great R and B act's of the day,
heard him play and bought the contract from Atlantic.
Not really knowing what to do with what they had, a recording
project was started with Duane as an artist. Duane had a vision
of the kind of band he wanted to create, but he wasn't able to
tell the powers that be what that was. The project., which was
scrapped but eventually saw release as the posthumous Duane
Allman, An Anthology turned into what we know today as the
Allman Brothers Band. Duane rounded up several musicians he had
worked with in the past, including Jai Johnny (Jaimo) Johnson.
He and Duane paired up and hit the Muscle Shoals scene like a
June tornado. They were a legendary jamming team that knocked
out the musicians there. Not an easy feat, considering they’ve
played with the who’s who of music for several decades. Going
back and forth between Jacksonville and Muscle Shoals, where he
continued to record, Duane eventually found the other members of
his dream group. Claud Hudson "Butch" Trucks, a native of
Jacksonville, became the other half of the drumming duo. Gregg
recalled meeting Butch in Daytona "out on the street, with all
this equipment, "where he
and his band,
the 31st of February, had just been fired.
One person Duane’s heart was set on was Berry Oakley, originally
from Chicago, Illinois. Berry had played guitar with Tommy Roe
and the Roemans and was now playing bass in a band with his
friend Dickey Betts on guitar. Dickey was another Florida guy,
born in West Palm Beach. The two were inseparable at the time
and Berry would not leave his friend's band. Duane had not
originally planned on having two guitar players n the band, but
Berry's fierce loyalty led him to decide that if he had to take
Dickey to get Berry, so be it. That decision made for one of the
most unique sounds of the day, with twin guitars played in
harmony as they had never been before. Reese Wynans (later part
of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s Double Trouble) played Hammond
B-3 with the band until Duane convinced Gregg to come back to
Florida. Gregg showed apprehension at the lineup, but being
homesick and frustrated with the L. A. music scene, he jumped at
the chance. It has been reported many times that when the band
was finally assembled and sat down to jam in the Green House,
magic happened. Hours after the first song had started, Duane
supposedly made a move for the door.
"Anyone who doesn’t want to join my band has to fight his way
out!" he said.
Phil Waldon started Capricorn Records and Capricorn Studio in
Macon, and the band moved, enmassé, to southcentral
Georgia, which in the late ‘60s was not accustomed to seeing a
band of five longhaired hippie types and a black guy move in
together. They found a large house at 309 College street, where
a month after they moved in, everybody else moved out. The place
became known as the Hippie Crash Pad. The band lived well below
the poverty level, surviving primarily on VA checks and a small
salary provided by Twiggs Lyndon, their future road manager, and
whatever else they could scrounge up.
At a local meat and three (vegetables, for you non-Southern
types) restaurant called the H & H Diner, a matronly black lady,
know affectionately to the band as "Mama Louise" (Hudson, one of
the Hs) took pity on the poor musicians and fed them even when
they didn’t have money. The band would rehearse a while each
day, grab a bite at the H & H, rehearse some more and party all
night. After a late-morning wake up, they’d do it again. If
you’re interested, the H & H is still open and serves a great
meal. I highly recommend it.
One of their favorite spots to party was the beautiful Rose Hill
Cemetery in Macon. There, straight through the main gate and
along the river, is the burial site of one Elizabeth Reed
Napier, who was immortalized in Dickey Betts' beautiful tune,
"In Memory of Elizabeth Reed."
As the band got tighter and tighter, doing covers of old blues
songs by people like Muddy Waters and adding Gregg’s originals,
they started playing road dates, traveling in very humble
conditions, as did most of the bands of the time. Each weekend,
they set out for parts unknown, crisscrossing the country,
making friends and fans wherever they went..
One of the venues was Bill Graham's Fillmore clubs (East and
West). Graham loved the band and would help them fill out their
schedule when they needed more dates. In the meantime, two
albums emerged, The Allman Brothers Band and Idlewild
South, which was
named after a farmhouse outside Macon
where the band and friends partied. Each album sold
respectively, but no big hits were forthcoming.
The tours continued and a Winnebago finally replaced the van,
everyone’s delight. In 1971, they recorded
several live shows at Graham’s Fillmore East in New York, which
later became The Allman Brothers, Live at the Fillmore East.
This double album probably seemed like a risk at the time,
but as any true ABB fan will tell you, you haven’t really
experienced the band until you’ve heard them live. This album
captured that feel like none before, and was probably their
biggest breakthrough. In this time of album rock radio stations,
it looked like they were finally catching on with the public and
getting their well-deserved recognition.
At about that time, the band was doing a show in Florida when
their producer, Tom Dowd, said
Clapton was recording at Miami’s Criteria Studio. Duane asked if
it was possible to meet him. Dowd said he would see what he
When he heard, Clapton said he was a fan of Duane’s since
Pickett’s "Hey Jude" record. He and Dowd attended an outdoor gig
the band was playing. The place was packed, so they crawled
under the stage and sat down in front between the audience and
the band. When Duane saw Clapton staring up at him, he froze in
midsolo. The band covered for him and looked to see what had
caught his attention so abruptly. They were all a little nervous
at the prospect of having one of the world’s most well-known
guitarists sitting front and center, but they continued the
concert, then met Clapton after the show.
This "mutual admiration society" led to one of the most
acclaimed albums of all time, Clapton's Layla and Other
Assorted Love Songs. The two monster players collaborated on
the album's title song and several others. Although Duane did
not play on the entire album, due in part to the Allman
Brothers' touring schedule, he was responsible for the signature
lick on "Layla," which nearly every budding guitar player has
The two styles melded into one huge guitar sound that was
sometimes confusing for the uneducated listener Ever the
guitar-oriented guy, Duane tried to explain it by telling people
"...I played the Gibson and he played the Fender." Guitarheads
understood, but the general listening public was still unsure,
and unfortunately, many still don't realize that one of the most
recognizable licks ever was Duane Allman's. Most agree
that this was a high point, if not the high point for
both of these world-class talents.
Duane, Gregg and Berry had moved into what came to be known as
the Big House, a large, old Southern mansion at 2321 Vineville
Avenue in Macon. They and their wives, girlfriends and children
lived there eating large family-style dinners in the huge dining
room, and rehearsing in the front two rooms, generally living as
one big family. Dickey and his wife lived not far away and he
would spend time there when Duane and Gregg were having
difficulty. Dickey wrote "Ramblin' Man" in the kitchen and "Blue
Sky" in the living room of the Big House.
At some point, Duane and
his common law (according to Georgia
statutes) wife, Donna, moved to an apartment on Bond Street,
just a block or two from the original Hippie Crash Pad on
College. Gregg moved to an apartment with his wife, Shelley, at
839A Orange Terrace, overlooking downtown Macon, just a block
away from the Medical Center of Central Georgia, the hospital
that would play a vital role in the band's near future.
After the success of Fillmore East the band decided
to stay off the road for awhile and
relax in Macon while working on their new album Eat A Peach.
The title came from a comment Duane made to an interviewer
who asked the question "...what are you doing for the
"There ain't no revolution, just evolution," Duane reportedly
said. "When we come back to Georgia we eat a peach for peace.
That's what we're doing."
Most of the songs were cut for the new album and the relaxation
was beginning to relieve the pressures of road life. Berry's
wife, Linda, was having a surprise birthday party on the 29th of
October and Duane drove his motorcycle to the Big House to
attend. The band was going to get together that evening for a
jam session, so Duane left for home.
On the way, at the intersection of
Hillcrest and Bartlett, his motorcycle collided
with a flatbed truck. His girlfriend,
Dixie (Duane and Donna had since gotten
a divorce) and Candace Oakley, Berry's
sister, were behind him and witnessed the accident. His Harley Davidson Sportster
on his chest, crushing him. Although he
reportedly looked okay at the scene, he was not conscious.
He was rushed into surgery at the hospital. When Gregg got the
news, he ran down the street to be with Duane, who died three
hours later, at 8:40 p.m. He was 24 years old, and his death
left a gap in the leadership of the Macon musical community and
Disbelief is a word often used when talking to those who were a
part of that community. This young, talented spark had ignited
the band to levels none dreamed possible. But life goes on.
The funeral was attended by several musical luminaries who,
along with the Allman Brothers Band, performed at the service.
Dr. John, who had toured with the band and lived in Macon, and
Delaney Bramlett, who had hired both Duane and Clapton as guitar
players for his band, were among these performers.
Duane’s beloved ‘59 Les Paul was placed in front of the
floral-wreathed casket. This proved foreboding. For people like
myself, who naturally supposed that the group was finished, it
held a hope that this supergroup Brother Duane had assembled
would somehow carry on.
And carry on they did.
The album in progress was finished, with some already-recorded
material as well as tracks leftover from the Fillmore
album. Tom Dowd, who had produced that album, and was producing
Eat A Peach, had other commitments which he had to see to
after the delay. So Johnny Sandlin, an old friend of Duane’s,
who then worked for Capricorn, was called in to finish the
Betts was put in the unenviable position of being compared to
his predecessor. Though their styles were similar, just as
Duane’s had been with Clapton, Dickey had his own thing going
on. He stepped up to the plate and knocked the hide off the ball
with songs he had written and sang, giving the band a new focus.
Deciding not to try to replace the irreplaceable, they finally
chose pianist Chuck Leavel (currently the keyboard player with
the Rolling Stones) as a fresh addition. His playing propelled
the band to new and different heights and they kept on doing
what they do, making great blues-based rock and roll.
On November 11 the following year, irony took another stab at
the band. Bassist Berry Oakley, who had more or less taken the
reigns Duane had held, was taken from us in yet another cruel
twist of fate. While riding motorcycles with friend and roadie
Kim Payne, Berry missed a curve near the intersection of Napier
and Inverness, just blocks from the site of Duane’s fatal crash,
and hit a Macon city bus.
This blow was almost unbelievable to anyone who was vaguely
familiar with the band’s history. Although unconscious at first,
he came to and took a ride home with a passing motorist,
refusing to go to the hospital. Later
that afternoon, he was taken to the same emergency room, talking
incoherently, and he later died. Like Duane, Oakley was 24 years
old when he died.
They were buried in side-by-side plots in Rose Hill Cemetery,
yards or so from the grave of Elizabeth Reed Napier. Their
gravestones are white, glistening marble. Both bear several
inscriptions. 0n the side of each
headstone is carved the band's mushroom logo, and on
the flat part of the elongated stones are a
Gibson Les Paul and Fender Jazz Bass,
respectively. Inscribed on Duane's is
an excerpt from his diary: "I love being alive and I will be
the best man I possibly can. I will take love wherever l find it
and offer it to everyone who will take it...seek knowledge from
those wiser...and teach those who wish to learn from me."
The headstone is also circled by the music notation to
"Little Martha (Duane had dreamt the
tune which appear on both Eat A Peach and the first
Duane Allman Anthology albums. He reportedly said he dreamt
Jimi Hendrix was playing it on the bathroom faucet, and when he
awoke, the song was still in his head, so he got up and recorded
it on a cassette player). It is the only song written by Duane
that he ever recorded.
Berry’s is inscribed. "Help thy
brother's boat across the water and lo! Thine own has reached
the shore." It also reads, "Our Brother B 0. Raymond
Berry Oakiey III And The Road
Goes On Forever (a line from "Midnight Rider"). Born in
Chicago on Apr. 4, 1948, Set Free Nov. 11, 1972."
Two small praying angels, made of stone, marked the foot
of each grave, to represent their daughters, Galadriel (Duane's)
and Brittany (Berry's). Unfortunately, these were stolen not
long after burial. But through the resources of the Georgia
Allman Brothers Band Association, they were recently replaced.
The cemetery has become a landmark to
the many fans, who to this day make a pilgrimage to the graves.
I was drawn to the site myself in 1973. I was making one of my
several trips to Macon to pitch songs to Phil Walden and I
happened to have a guitar in the car with me. My friend George
Rogers, snapped a picture of me playing between the
headstones, and while we were there, a blue Mercury Cougar
pulled up and parked. We first thought it was a young lady,
seeing the long blonde hair, then realized that it was Gregg.
We wanted to say something, but not
really knowing what, we moved back to my car and left him alone.
When I interviewed Gregg, I asked him if he had ever had a car
like that and he said, "No, I never had no Ford!"
When I told him my reason for asking, he said, "...you know, I
did have a friend who had a car like that. I used to borrow it
some. It probably was me."
Somehow I felt a part of all the fate and
irony, a chance meeting, considering all the
times I could have visited the graves and not seen anyone. I
think there's some kind of force at play here. The cruel
coincidence of the accidents and various other incidents is just
too much to ignore. I don’t claim to understand what that force
may be, but I believe there definitely is something!
There was never any question about what the band would do after
Berry's death. They had been through this before and sadly, they
realized, here they were again. This time their lost brother had
to be replaced.
Lamar Williams, an old friend of Jaimo's, was chosen for the
bass spot, which he did with remarkable ability. It was not an
easy job, considering that Berry's bass playing was not like
I saw the Brothers' Cincinnati Gardens show in September of '73
and definitely was not disappointed in Lamar. Later, when the
band dispersed for awhile, Lamar was a founding member of the
group Sea Level (with Chuck Leavel, Jaimo and Jimmy Nalls).
Lamar was taken from us a few years back with lung cancer,
probably, a result of exposure to agent orange from his stint in
To make things even more eerie, Twiggs Lyndon, the
aforementioned road manager, was killed in a skydiving accident
in New York state. Strangely, the town he met his fate in is
The band has trudged on, through thick and thin, with various
members including brothers Dan and David "Frankie" Toller (on
guitar and drums respectively), Les Dudek (guitar), David
Goldflies (bass), Johnny Neel (keyboards and harmonica) and
current members Warren Haynes (guitar, VG April '96)
Allen Woody (bass) and Marc Quinones, formerly of Spyro Gyra
They have tried going it alone for different reasons, with
varying amounts of success, but the band that Duane put together
still holds the magical mystique that can't be matched. The band
that was Duane's dream way back in the late '60s is today here
and very alive.
Steve Rusin and I went to their July 28 performance at
Indianapolis' Deer Creek Music Center to take some photos and
take in some great music. Along with taking some great pictures
and sharing them with VG, Steve is a monster harp player
who knows his blues better than anyone I know. He used the same
phrase again and again when trying to find words to describe
"Tight," he said. "Amazingly tight."
We met two fans, Melissa (like the song - yet another
coincidence) Politte and Marie Mercadi who have been to 25 shows
from West Palm Beach, Florida to Seattle, Washington. They said
that night was probably the band's jazziest set yet, and the
instrumental "True Gravity" confirmed it.
I couldn't have asked for more. But there is more. There's a
light show. I know, I know, but listen! It's not just strobe
lights and bug spray, the Brotherhood of Light makes this one
very special with moving images on the large screen behind the
band. Everything from Harleys to American Indians to psychedelic
blobs that move in time with the music. And of course, the
It really is hard not to get caught up in this show alone. But
then you hear Dickey Betts do something that makes you remember
why he's been around impressing people since his days in the
Jokers! Or you hear a tasty blast from Warren's slide. Or the
roar of Woody's Thunderbird. And it's not just the guitars. The
rhythm section is the most incredible mix of percussion.
Three - count 'em three - drummers!
But when you start watching the light show or the audience
(everything from well-dressed middle-age couples, to "spinners,"
with a few old hippies thrown in) you forget that it's not just
one incredible drummer. And of course, Gregg tops off the whole
thing with his immediately recognizable voice and his great
I agree that this band is stronger than ever today. Their
inclusion in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on the first try
says to me that a lot of people were affected by this band. The
Allman Brothers display at the Hall has Duane's '59 Les Paul
(see this month's "Reader's Gallery"), and Dickey's Gold Top.
They also have Berry's Jazz Bass (with a case that supports some
cool era stickers) and Gregg's B-3, as well as drums from Jaimo
and Butch. If they're are in your area, take a little time to
hear a real band perform. They have done their departed brothers
proud as carriers of the torch.
I have to thank the many people who helped in this effort to
tell you about one of my favorite guitar players. They include:
Steve Rusin, Melissa Politte, Kirk West, Jack Pearson, Robbie
Cantrell, Johnny Sandlin, and of course, all the folks I
interviewed for the "Remembering Duane Allman" segment that will
appear in the January issue.