Remembering Duane Allman
(first published in 'Vintage Guitar Magazine', January 1997,
Vol. 11 No. 4)
In compiling the information on Duane Allman for this series of
articles (November, ‘96-January, ‘97), I had several
interesting conversations with many of the people who worked
closely with Duane.
First is Phil Walden, president of Capricorn Records. His
office is in Nashville, and there he has recorded some fine acts
on the label that essentially was started for the Allman
Brothers Band. Recent projects include Jimmy Hall’s new release,
Rendezvous With the Blues, and a new project on Johnny
Jenkins, both featuring Jack Pearson on guitar. I spoke to Phil
just before the release party for the Jenkins record. He was
thrilled to give his input on Duane.
PW: I’ll do this if you promise to edit it. I tend to
ramble. Where do you want to start?
VG: Well, you met Duane through Twiggs Lyndon?
PW: No, I introduced Twiggs to him. I met him through a
tape that Rick Hall (Fame Music studios, Muscle Shoals) played
for me in New York. We were playing tapes for Jerry Wexler of
Atlantic Records, the new Wilson Picket album session that Rick
had produced. He played “Hey Jude” and I said, “Who was that
guitar player” He had a very fine guitar player Fame used on a
regular basis, named Junior Lowe, but there were obvious,
striking differences in style. I don’t really know how to
Once you heard him, your opinions of
guitar players were never quite the same. He was the complete
package, his creative side perfectly matched his talent. His
understanding of music - he was as close to perfect as anyone
I’ve ever run into. He moved with such ease between the various
genres of music. I mean, he was as comfortable playing a jazz
session as he was an R & B session, a rock session, a blues
session. I never heard him play country, I think it held very
little interest to him, but I would imagine he would’ve been a
very good country session player. All the elements were in this
man. He obviously was a very rare talent. We had an awfully
short run together, but it was monumental.
VG: Do you remember when you first hooked up with Duane?
PW: It was probably 1969. We made an attempt at putting
another band around him. That’s when I took Twiggs with me to
Muscle Shoals. I didn’t mean to infer anything against Twiggs
when you asked that first question. He operated as a road
manager with various groups all during the Capricorn era [in
Macon, Georgia], as well as the R & B and soul artists I was
involved with in the ‘60. I have all the respect in the world
for him. He was one-of-a-kind and a great appreciator of
Anyway, we tried to make an album for Atlantic, with Rick Hall
producing. I was simply management at that point. Duane had
brought in Johnny Sandlin on drums, Berry Oakley on bass and
Paul Hornsby on keyboards. To be very candid, I don’t think Rick
understood what Duane was attempting to do. In fairness to Rick,
Duane had basically brought in a version of Hourglass, his
previous band, except that Gregg was not part of it. Duane was a
one-of-a-kind guitarist, but you couldn’t say the same of his
singing. He was adequate but it certainly didn’t match his
talent with the guitar.
We cut six or seven things that showed up later on the
Anthology album. It really wasn’t working and Duane’s
enthusiasm waned by the day. He said, ”You know, I want to step
back from this thing a little bit. I think I’m going to get in
my car and just travel.” And that’s what he did. I think he took
Paul along with him. Jaimo was present but not playing on these
sessions. He would call me back in Macon from time to time and
tell me he was trying to visualize what he was trying to do. He
knew he had something in mind but he hadn’t heard the players
yet. He called me after the famous Jacksonville jam and he said,
“...I’ve got it.” He wanted me to make arrangements for some
living quarters and told me they would all be up to Macon in X
number of days.
When they arrived, it was the Allman Brothers Band as they were
recorded. We didn’t even have a name for them for the first year
or so. It didn’t need a vocalist, it needed a
vocalist and Duane knew who that was
Gregg. They were brothers in more ways than blood. Duane had
this great knack for saying things in a beautiful way and when
he asked Gregg to come in, I don’t recall the exact wording, but
Gregg came. We were able to work out the management from Gregg’s
commitments in California. I think I paid $3,500 for his
contract, which at the time seemed like an awful lot of money.
I’m sure those folks thought they had taken our picture, so to
But with Gregg in the band, it really was magical. They
basically woodshedded in Macon and rehearsed every day for about
Most people thought it was above the heads of the ordinary fan.
The most common remark I heard was that they weren’t commercial.
They sounded incredible, very powerful. It just pulled you in.
We were relentless in our belief. Before they actually went on
the road, we had close to $200,000 into them. In 1969, that was
an astonishing amount of money. I know that in most quarters, I
was regarded as an idiot. I basically spent everything that I
was earning from my agency and management.
The first day out of the South was at the Boston Tea Party. They
opened for the Velvet Underground. A very strange show. I had
arranged for all the various New York agencies
to be there and most of them
liked the band but very few tuned in
immediately to what they were really about. At that time,
everybody was so into the British rock scene, pretty boys in
velvet pants and long flowing hair
more planning into wardrobes than set lists. Duane was given to
incredible remarks and I told him that one of the folks had
commented that they were rather scruffily dressed and he said,
know, if they wanted velvet pants and all
that, they ought to go to a fashion show. This is a band that
plays music. If you want to hear music, come hear us.”
And he made a similar comment to a reporter once, when asked why
he and Gregg played with a black band in Daytona. He said,
“Well, in Daytona, white cats surf and black cats play."
Everything he said was right on the mark. The Eat A Peach
title was another comment he made. In the late
and early ‘70s, everyone was talking about the revolution and he
was questioned by one of the fairly radical publications in the
North about what he was doing for the revolution. He said,
"...there ain't no revolution, just evolution. I tell you what I
do, I eat a peach for peace every time I go home. A two-legged
He had a way of putting things in perspective in a visual way.
VG: Do you remember anything pertaining to guitars?
PW: I don’t really have the knowledge of the
instrument hat much. I know he was a Gibson man. His instruments
were very, very important to him and he spent a lot of time
looking for what he wanted. I try not to get into what people
are using, or the next thing you know,
it’ll be in production. Duane, Gregg, Dickey Betts; they knew
what they wanted to do. That’s what’s wrong with the record
industry. They’ve got to fit somebody into a format and you
shouldn’t do that. You should make music and worry about the
format later. It’s an expensive way, and a big gamble. But if
you're successful, it’s the best way and the only way. That’s
the way real great artists emerge. A lot of folks now
have never learned that.
VG: When Duane’s accident happened, it must have
PW: I was on the first day of a vacation to Bimini, and
had been on a boat fishing all day. Someone came over from the
telephone company and asked me to follow them back to the phone
company, I had received a series of emergency calls. I went to
this small concrete block building and the operator said she had
a message for me. I knew it must be something tragic, because
why would someone call me on my first day of vacation. They had
tried to call ship to shore and the whole works.
When they told me, my heart just sank. I remember the day as if
it was yesterday. You always think “Why?” But I’ll tell you, we
always refer back to the morbid things somebody said, he told me
on more than one occasion, “...Phil, don’t bet everything on
this pony, because I’ll tell you, I’m going to live on the edge.
I’m going to get every damn thing I can out of life every damn
day. I’m not a safe bet. I don’t think I’ll live a real long
He wasn’t saying it in any morbid way. He just stating it like a
fact of life. I caught a seaplane the next morning and came
back. I was just devastated. He was more than a leader, more
than founder, more than a creative spark or a famous session
player that had formed this band. He was the consummate
guitarist/bandleader and he had the rest of the package in terms
of his personality and in terms of Duane as a man. The way he
treated other people. He was a real special guy, I’ll tell you.
I’ve said this on many occasions; Duane Allman was the kind of
person that could walk into a ballroom that held 1,500 people,
and not know any of them, but everybody in there would sense the
presence of somebody.
And that somebody was Duane Allman. People would immediately
begin inquiring “...who the hell is this guy?” You felt him. I
could feel his presence. To this day, there’s a little bronze
statue of him on my desk.
VG: It seems to me that what he started some years ago
has grown into a huge musical dominion.
PW: The band is a monumental memorial to Duane and his
greatness. The fact that the band is here today, still making
incredible music. I think they’re like fine wine, they get
better with time. They’re great players. I read recently where
Dickie made the statement that they’re a better band today than
they were in 1969 because they’re better players. They know
more. He went on to say that he didn’t mean that they were a
better band without Duane Allman, that they would be even better
with him if that were possible because he would be a
better player today than he was then. I think he’s correct. They
have carved a niche and matured very well. They are and will be
one of America’s all time great rock bands.
VG: Thanks so much for your input.
PW: Well he was a very special person. I certainly feel
it is a great privilege to pay my respects. He was the man.
While walking through a guitar show in Nashville a
few years back, I noticed a familiar-looking guy at a booth.
Being the never-too-shy person I am, I asked if he was Jimmy
Nalls, guitar player for T. Grahm Brown. To my surprise, he
was, and he recognized me from a gig I was doing at the time.
Once our initial guitar talk got around to friends in common and
so forth, we discovered a mutual admiration for blues-based
music. That chance meeting led to a valued friendship. Jimmy is
a fan of a lot of great guitarists, and it was my great honor to
introduce him to the legendary James Burton.
We also discovered that we came from similar backgrounds, in
that our fathers both played music. Jimmy, like I have often
said about myself, “...didn’t have a chance to be normal,”
growing up with so much music around. His uncles played, and as
he says, “...the first guitar I remember seeing was in my house,
not on the Ed Sullivan Show!”
This has carried over into his own family. The beautiful home he
shares with wife, Patricia (Minnie), is also full of music. All
three of their children; Jennifer, Amanda and James A. “Buddy”
Nalls IV, play guitar. Buddy is a drummer, too!
His playing style leans heavy on blues, as you can hear in his
work with Brown’s R & B-soaked touring band, The Hardtops.
Jimmy’s time spent as one of the founding members of Sea Level,
who’s former leader, Chuck Leavell, is currently on tour as
keyboard player with the Rolling Stones. We sat in his dining
room, going through the years and miles that led to his move to
Nashville. Jimmy fascinated me with tales from a colorful career
that has taken him through an unlikely chain of gigs that may
surprise you. He and his Joe Barden-equipped ‘61 Stratocaster
have worked with a variety of artists including The Nighthawks,
B.J. Thomas, Dr. John, Roy Buchanan, Gregg Allman, Don McLean,
Bonnie Bramlett, Bobby Whitlock, both Alex and Livingston
Taylor, Charlie McClain, and Paul Stookey of Peter, Paul & Mary
I started by asking how he became associated with Capricorn
JN: Straight out of high school, I moved to New York. A
bunch of my friends were playing with this guy, Paul Stookey. I
was 18 or 19 at the time, and I ended up playing on Paul’s first
solo album and subsequent albums after that. That was the first
year I was there. I even played on a Roy Buchanan album that
year on a song called “Five String Blues,” which I never got
credit for on the album.
I had been a big Roy fan for years because I came from the D.C.
Arlington, Virginia. I think it was Ed
Freeman, who was producing the Don McClain session that day, who
asked if I would be interested in playing rhythm guitar. Roy was
kind of weird back then, real moody, but he was very nice and he
played his ass off. I thought, “...well man, this is cool, you
know, I’m playing on all these records, I’m 18, I’m gonna like
this!” But it was through Stookey, who knew Tommy Talton, from
the band Cowboy, that I indirectly hooked up with Gregg (Allman)
and Capricorn. He knew Chuck Leavell and Alex Taylor and all
that bunch. Stookey and Tommy were fast friends and Tommy said
“Alex Taylor is looking for a guitar player.”
At that time, Chuck was in the band, with. Paul Hornsby, Charlie
Hayward who's now playing bass for Charlie Daniels, all these
guys that were living in Macon. So I played with Alex on an
album called Dinner Time. So I was asked to go on the
road. I said sure!
I’d never been on the road before, so that’s how I ended up in
Macon after living a year in New York. Then that led to all that
Capricorn stuff. I played with Dr. John. This was before Duane
Everybody probably has a Duane story, but my first encounter
with him was in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, opening for the
Allman Brothers. I had been in Alex’s band for a week, so I was
just laying back, trying to learn the songs. We had already
spent a week on Martha’s Vineyard, rehearsing. Duane and Alex
were fast friends, so Duane jumped up on stage. I was playing a
335, he literally took it off my neck and said, “Thanks,
brother.” He ran to the front of the stage and got next to Alex.
So I’m just sort of standing there going”...that’s Duane Allman!
Later on, he came up and apologized. He said, “Man, I’m sorry. I
couldn’t help myself. How you doin’? I’m Duane Allman.”
I’ve stil got the guitar upstairs, matter of fact, it’s this one
right here (shows the inside picture of Paul Stookey At
Carnegie Hall). When I was a kid, I went through a phase
where I was using Fenders, but at this particular time, I was
using Gibsons. Duane and I always spoke and did various
recreational things together (laughing), as everybody did back
then, you know. Anyway, that’s how I got to play on Laid Back
(Gregg Allman’s original solo project), because I knew all
When Duane died, the next logical step was to not hire another
guitar player, so that’s when Chuck got the gig. All of us were
playing with Dr. John at the time. The same band went from Alex,
when Mack (Rebenack) moved to town. See, Alex was living up on
Martha’s Vineyard. He didn’t know what he wanted to do, whether
he wanted to spend his time in Macon. He wanted to kind of get
off the road and we knew Mack was moving to town, so hell, we
firmed up on learning how to play some second line so we could
be Mack’s band.
It scared the hell out of us! We were just kids. I was 2O
years old by then, Chuck was 18. Mack kind of ambled into the
room and we lit into “Iko, Iko.” We had two drummers and we
thought, man we’re really playing some **** now, you know. But
we weren't even scratching the surface.
Mack said ”Well, y'all play pretty good, I’m gonna have to teach
you how to play some second line
though.” We kind of went "...oh ****!" We thought we had it, you
know (laughing). But we were on one album with Mack The Ann
Arbor Blues and .Jazz Festival. Everybody's on there, Bonnie
(Raitt), Muddy, Freddie King. Our band was Charlie Hayward,
bass, Hugh Mullenex and Bill Stewart on drums, me, Chuck, Jesse
Smith and Robbie Montgomery, they were the background singers.
They recorded the whole show, but they only pulled one tune,
“Walk On Gilded Splinters.”
Nalls still lives in Nashville,
doing freelance guitar work.
Though no longer a member of Brown ‘s Hardtops, he does session
and road work sitting in occasionally with the Nationals.
found most people I contacted who knew Duane were more
than willing to give freely of their time and memories. One very
special person I contacted, with the help of Jack Pearson, was
Thom Doucette, a veteran of the ...Fillmore East,
Idlewild South and An Evening With The Allman Brothers
Thom, who lives near Sarasota,
Florida, was one of the easiest people with which to discuss
this subject. As with everybody involved in this project, his
fondness for Duane Allman, the man, was obvious. Certainly he
was aware of the power of Duane’s playing, but his feelings for
the person were so strong you could sense them, and he was a
pleasure to interview.
VG: Have you done other interviews concerning Duane?
TD: Actually, I’ve been asked a lot, but I’ve only done a
couple. For a long time I just didn’t want to talk about it at
all. He was the best there was.
Anyway, I was working with a band called Blues Image, and we did
this ‘68 pop festival in Miami. We were also playing at night at
a place called the Image, that’s where I first played with
Duane. We were both playing in Florida bands. He was playing
with Berry Oakley. Berry and I had been in a band a couple years
prior, probably ‘66. It was Dickey Betts, me, Berry, a guy named
Larry Reinhardt, and a drummer named John Meeks. Berry, Dickey
and I got along real well.
I was instrumental in turning Berry on to a lot of jazz. He had
never really gotten into it before. From living in New York, I
was steady into it. So Berry brought Duane by. We knew about
each other and we got together and it was instantaneous, sort of
like the way I met Jack [Pearson], on stage. We started playing
and we had a great time, from then on we were just friends.
VG: I understand you and Duane sat in wth Bobby Bland one time.
TD: That was further down the line. Duane and I were roommates
and we hung out a lot. Aside from the gig and everything, we
spend a lot of time together, we just hung out a lot. Our senses
of humor were close and our interests were similar. Duane was
one of those guys who was interested in everything. We would go
to art galleries, all kinds of stuff all over town, he ate it
up. He had never been exposed to that kind of thing.
Anyway, we were in Atlanta one night, had a few nights off, and
somebody gave us tickets to a Rod Stewart and the Faces show. So
it was me and Duane and a couple of gals. Anyway, Rod Stewart
came on and we looked at each other and we said, “Nope!” We took the
girls, they liked it, but we just told them ”...this can’t be it.” So
we left. I mean the guy wasn’t 12 bars into the first tune and
we were out of there. It just wasn’t where we needed to be. As
we were walking out, we ran
into this black singer we knew and he said, “Y’all heard Bland?
He’s down at the Birdcage.” So we looked at each other and said,
“Alright! There was a reason for coming to this show.” So we
took off and went down to the show.
We got there at the end of the first set. The Birdcage was a
real nice black joint connected to a hotel, and we were the only
white people in the
audience. We squatted down front and Bobby’s flnishing up
the set. He’s feeling good and the band’s sounding great, about a
10 or 11-piece horn band, and he’s got a white guitar player with him. Anyway, near the end of
the song, Bobby comes up to
our table and looks right at us and said, “Are there any vocalists over
here?” So Duane says, “No man, I don’t sing too good, but I play
the **** out of the guitar.” (laughing), He laughed and finished
the song and his guitar player told him, “Man that’s Duane Allman.”
He told him about Aretha Franklin and kind of told Bobby the scoop on
Duane, so he invited us up to the hotel room. We’re
hanging out up there and he said, ‘Man, you got your guitar with
you?” Duane told me, “...you hang here, I’m going to go get our
stuff and I’ll be back.”
So he had this little sports car and he
took off and I hung out. He came back with my harps and his guitar. Bobby
said, “I’ll crank up the next set and when you hear something
you’re familiar with or want to play
on, come on up.”
Well, Duane knew every Bobby Bland
song ever made. Not only did he know the guitar parts, he knew
the vocal lines, the horn parts, he knew it all! I mean him and Gregg,
they had that **** wired. So they’re about four bars into the first
tune and Duane just steps up, and I mean, forget about it! It’s
a night I’ll never forget. It was just one of those things that
He did about two or three and called me up and we just had a party, went at it. It was
real interesting too. Bobby had never
played with a harmonica before. He was
always uptown, he wasn’t a downtown
blues guy. He went in for the urban rap and
the jewels and hairdos and stuff like that.
Most harmonica players are more into the
longneck beers and that kind of thing. But
anyway, we tore it up, we had a ball, man. It was really a lot of fun.
VG: So you and Duane got pretty close?
TD: The things that drew us to each other, or the thing I
remember most about him, was just incredible curiosity, which I
suffered from as well. It’s something I don’t see in too many
players. That’s why when I run into a player like Jack Pearson,
I appreciate it so much. Not only for his ability,
but where it came from. Duane had an incredible curiosity about the
music and he had an incredible zest for it. When we used to hang out,
we would listen to music all the time. And it would be all kinds of music.
He wanted to know where it came from. In other words, a lot of guys today
listen to something and they don’t try to find out where that
person got it from. Following it down, you know?
Duane had that curiosity, everybody in the Allman Brothers
did. They were all voracious students of the music, whether it
was jazz or classical or whatever. They would really get into
The other thing about Duane was attitude. He had such a
tremendous attitude about whatever was going on. No matter what
he was doing, he played with great attitude and put his stamp on it.
You know, when he was doing session work, he did a lot of
bull****. Not that what he played was bull****, but he had to do a
lot of stuff that I know he would not normally do.
VG: When you did the ...Fillmore East album, were you just
sitting in because they were in New York?
TD: Well, I was with the band pretty solidly for a couple years
when that album was planned. We rehearsed, so no, I didn’t
just happen to be in New York, I was on the road with the band.
had done Idlewild South
with them, as
well. We spent that
year on the road and then in February we went to an island off
the Georgia coast called Sea Island, or Jeckyl Island. We
rented a crib and rehearsed for Fillmore and then went there and
did the album.
Duane was interested in having me in the band fulltime, but I
didn’t really want to. We were close and it was a lot of fun. He
was an incredible guy. He was, in
personality and in every day life, exactly as his playing. I mean,
I couldn’t say it any
better. He was tremendously up front, in the groove. The way he
dealt with people, everybody, he was extremely up front,
extremely honest. It was very refreshing and very interesting to
watch. He dealt with everybody on the same level with almost
abject honesty. Plus the guy was a gas, man, we just had a ball!
If you think about what the Allman
Brothers started, they call it southern rock,
but I think that’s insulting. It’s American organic music. I’ve
done 400 or 500 gigs with those guys and they never do the same
tune the same way twice. It’s “what do you feel now?” I mean it’s
the same chord changes and lyrics, obviously, but each time
it will be different.
I think the really important thing about Duane is how he was as a person and an innovator.. He had
stuff coming up, I mean you’ve got to realize that when Duane Allman died, he’d been playing slide about four years, maybe five at the outside!
I remember we had a Winnebago we traveled in, and Duane and I
used to go out
and sit in it and play at three o’clock in the morning at a
Holiday Inn or wherever we were staying. He sat there one night
and did this Robert Johnson record from start to finish and it blew me away! He had such an incredible voice, kind of like
Robert’s, you know real high. It was just mindboggling. It was
just so alive. There was so much depth and respect in what he
was doing, it was phenomenal.
Thom Doucette is still an active player
and occasional dates with the Allman
Brothers Band and Gregg Allman
Friends. A Yoga instructor and student of
the Zen philosophy, I found his help
and conversation invaluable.
While researching this article,
one of the key people in the Allman’s career lived in my
Nashville suburb. Originally from mid-Florida, Lee Hazen was the
first person to get Duane and Gregg on tape. He ran Studio By the Pond, in Nashville, for a
long time, recording the likes of Johnny Cash and many others.
When contacted, he was very cordial and helpful in paying tribute
VG: Do you have any guitar-related stories about Duane?
LH: He ended up with a ‘57 or ‘56 Strat that I used to own.
rewired it and put some special features on it. It had a rotary (pickup)
switch with eleven positions, eleven different capacitors in the
tone control circuit. It was a sunburst. I had modified the
selector switch to five positions by filing extra notches on the little
detent. As far as I know, I was the first person that ever did
that. Then I put two phase switches on it for the second pickup.
put another switch that would connect the first and third
pickups, so you could get any combination of the three pickups
in any combination of phase. You could make it sound real wiry,
like a Gibson 355 with a varitone switch. You could get all of
those weird sounds. I traded it off to a fellow in Sanford
[Florida] who had a guitar shop. I think his name was Jimmy Jewell, and Duane ended up with it.
I think that was somewhere
around 1964 or ‘65. I don’t know why I did it. I bought
it in 1959, right after I graduated from high school. I would
dearly love to have that thing back.
VG: Did you make the first recordings with
LH: I recorded Duane’s group, the
Escorts, at the little cottage I rented up in Ormond Beach. I was
an avid non-smoker and those guys smoked. Not for the life of me
could I keep them from smoking while we were doing those demo
tapes. That drove me
crazy The studio was in the kitchen of this old
servant’s cottage on John Anderson Drive. I rented it for $30 a
We treated it acoustically, with the most easily available thing
we could find, which were square-foot egg separators. Some of
them had a little bit of yolk on them, but that didn’t seem to matter
(laughs). I wasn’t all that close to Duane, I worked for a little studio up in Ormond Beach called the National
Songwriter’s Guild, it was a songwriter’s demo service.
That was before I became a professional audio guy. Probably the first, earliest professional recordings
that I made were those of Duane and Gregg Allman, the Escorts.
And the Nightcrawlers, with Sylvan (Wells), Pete Thomason, Tom
Ruger and Charlie Conlan. I recently sold those tapes
(of the Allmans) to a fellow named Joe Bell. I think either Polydor
or Polygram is going to issue an Allman Brothers Anthology
album with three or four cuts and the fan club is going to release
some stuff, too.
These were recorded at 15 ips to two
track stereo. The quality is surprising, considering where it was
recorded. I guess I met
them through Sylvan. They wanted to come up and do a demo
tape because they had heard what the Nightcrawlers had done. We had
released some singles of their stuff that had become regional hits.
"Cry" and "Marie" were the first release and then "The Little
Black Egg" and "Running Wild" was the second. It was funny because
Sylvan was learning to play from Duane, and Duane could play circles
around him. But because these guys had some original material, they
had a record that got airplay and they became real popular. Even more
popular than the Escorts.
They both appeared at a Beach Boys concert where I supplied the
sound equipment, which was
nothing more than my stereo system (laughing). But at the time,
my system consisted of two Altec Lansing Voice of the Theater
speakers, a Harmon Cardon II, 60 watt-per-channel power amp.
That thing alone was enough to fill up the Daytona ballpark (laughs).
So I recorded that concert. I believe that was the first time
Duane and Gregg had done a live performance in front of that
many people, and I happened to catch it on tape, 7½” mono. It was just the vocal
mics. Anyway, the copy of that went to Joe Bell. I have the original because it has the Nightcrawlers and
the Beach Boys on it.
VG: What was your take on Duane?
LH: Well, he was a real soulful guy. He worked real
hard on his guitar licks. He obviously was a big blues fan. I
wasn’t into it that much, although I enjoyed going down
to the Martinique night club in south Daytona, listening to the groups
down there. My favorite was a band called the Stereos, featuring
a guitar player named Jim Matherley. He ended up in Gregg’ s
first band. Gregg and Duane split up for awhile, I believe in 1965,
and Gregg formed a new band. There were another couple guys
involved with them, Robert Young and John Statum, who were great
guitar players. His nickname was “Johnny Red,” he was
red-haired. I’d love to hear from either of those guys, because
I recorded some material on them that’s out of this world!
These days, Lee is doing VCR repair,
copying home movies to video tape and some occasional archiving from
various formats in his studio. He has been doing a project
with former country artist Leon Ashley and his wife, Margie
Jim Matherley also lives in Nashville
and works in the finishing department at the
Gibson Guitar Company. He is
still an active player, working regularly with Nashville steel player Toney
Farr. Originally from
Elizabethton, Tennessee, he came into contact with Duane in Florida. When
called Jim, he was also very open and willing to talk about those memories.
VG: How did you get hooked up with the
JM: Well, we had a little old band out
of Knoxville and we went [to Daytona] and played at the Safari Beach Motel
for Easter weekend. This was, I guess, about ‘63. Duane came out
to hear the band. He was into black music and that was what we were playing.
There weren't any white bands playing black music down there. About
eight months later, I quit my job
at a TV station
and packed up to move back
down there to seek our
fame and fortune.
We got a job at a club called the Martinique. We worked down there seven
nights a week and I got to be pretty good friends with him. I
had a (ES) 345 he
wanted. He would've given anything for that guitar. In fact, I let
him borrow it on a couple occasions. He had a 330, an old dot (neck).
Of course, the 345 had the varitone switch, and Lee took that
off of my guitar and copied it on one of his. About 1964, I had
just gotten married and I was teaching guitar at the music store.
After Labor Day, it kind of gets off down there, so the band I was playing with decided
to go on down to Fort Pierce. I didn’t want to go, so the guy who ran the Martinique said
he would take Gregg and his band, so
I stayed there and played with
Gregg, and Duane took my place. They went down to Fort Pierce
and worked that winter.
VG: What did you think of Duane’s playing?
JM: Well, he was a hell of a guitar player.
He wasn’t too swift when I first ran into him.
He was playing bass there for a while out at a little old place called
the Rocket Lounge. That’s where Bill “Sweet William” Fauls was
working. He sang with the Stereos. That’s where they got him
while I stayed and filled in with Gregg. I would have probably have had a spot with that band, but
I got drafted, then Duane
got his draft notice too, about the same time.
I’ve heard stories about Duane’s physical for the Army.
JM: Did you hear the one about him wearing a
pair of ladies panties?
VG: Yeah! Is that true?
JM: That’s what I heard, I don’t know how true
it is. He went up like a week before I did and six months after
I had my physical, man, I was gone! After they left Florida, I lost touch wth them.
I got out of the service
in ‘68, and ‘67 was when Duane was doing all that
studio stuff with Rick Hall down at Muscle Shoals. He ended up being a
hell of a slide player and a good guitarist! We jammed a lot
is currently an attorney running for a
judgeship in the Daytona Beach area. In his free time, he builds
fine acoustic guitars that have been used on many recordings by
such notable players as Pete Carr at Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals.
He has two designs; the Mediterranean, a little smaller than a
dreadnaught, and another about the size of a 000 Martin. Sylvan
started making them on a $20 bet with Mike Tobias in 1977, when Tobias
told him you have to have 10 years of apprenticeship to build a
“About $2,000 and nine months later, I came back with a guitar,”
Sylvan fondly remembers. He also has many fond memories of his
old friend, Duane Allman. The following is a conversation we had
earlier this year.
VG: How did you meet Duane?
SW: Duane and Gregg were in our high school.
Duane was [my] age and was in my class until he quit. Gregg was
a year behind us.
VG: Was Duane the person who taught you guitar?
SW: Well, not really. It kind of
this: there were two guys who came to town
at the same time; George Brown, from
Louisville, Kentucky, and Pete Thomason,
one of my closest friends in life, from New
York, who was a guitar player. I asked Pete
to teach me to play. Once I had learned a little bit, of course,
I was jumping at Duane to
show me anything he could because Duane was as good as there ever
was. He was always very gracious about it. I’d wind up down at their
house and Duane would be showing me how he played this or that.
So the reality is, he didn’t
teach me to play, but when you get with other musicians, that’s when you really
start learning. At the time, Gregg was
the primary guitar player and Duane was more the backup rhythm
player. Then Duane just kind of passed on by him, but Gregg is
still an excellent guitar player.
VG: Do you remember the guitars they were using back then?
SW: Duane had a Stratocaster that Lee Hazen had modified, and
Gregg, I think, was using a Stratocaster, too. But I remember
Duane’s because it had three little switches that Lee had put in
and nobody knew what they were (laughs). I found it real
interesting because I was in London at the Hard Rock Cafe and
there was “Duane Allman’s First Stratocaster” and it wasn’t that
VG: You were in the Nightcrawlers, a band that was sort of in
competition with them.
SW: Yeah, the difference was Gregg and
Duane were always much better musicians.
Their band was always, I thought, a lot better
than we were. We were not near the musicians they were, but we
started writing our own material very early, ‘64 or ’65. We did
that largely because if you tried to play covers, then everyone
who heard you would compare you to the record and we couldn’t be
as good. So we were playing about 80
percent original material and people liked it.
We got the jobs and breaks early because of that. Duane and Gregg
were still playing basic old R & B. They were great, but they were
not getting the recognition because they were a cover band.
VG: You were also friends with Lee Hazen
during that period, right?
SW: Lee really learned his chops recording the Nightcrawlers and
the Allman Joys. We recorded in his kitchen, with the singer
outside. The microphone hung over a tree limb. We were just
making due (laughs).
VG: Did you stay in contact with them after they left Daytona?
SW: I graduated high school in ‘64, Gregg graduated in ‘65.
I quit playing professionally at the end of ‘66, when the original Nightcrawlers broke up. The reason was, quite
frankly, we were all in junior college and were graduating. We
had decided at the beginning that we would break up then. In any
event, I went to Tallahassee and started booking bands when I
was in college at Florida State University. I booked Duane and
Gregg there all the time.
Duane was traveling a lot by then, playing. I know he was doing
sessions in Muscle Shoals and a lot of times Gregg would come up with
a drummer and a couple people and they would play gigs up there.
They often wound up sleeping at my apartment on the floor. I was married by then.
At the same time, I was booking a band from Jacksonville called
the Second Coming. They had twin guitars, one of which was
Dickey Betts, and a girl singer. The bass player was Berry
Oakley. The other band I booked a lot was a band called the
Bitter End. That was Scott Boyer, David Brown and Butch Trucks.
I don’t know what the whole story is, but Duane and Gregg would have
heard both of those bands by that time. This was in 1968, and
all the bands that came through the Tallahassee area hung out and
had parties. Pete Carr lived here at that time too, he grew up
All of us, the guitar players
this is probably pretty significant
were influenced by a man here who’s now in his 70s,
named Ted Connor. To this day, Ted Connor is the best
guitar player I’ve ever seen in my life. He moved here in the late ‘50s and
he plays jazz. I am certain that both Gregg and
Duane took lessons from Ted. I did. Pete did. And he still lives
here. He’s probably the most influential person of all the
guitar players that have come out of this area. He’s just a
down-home, nice man who knows more about the guitar than anyone
you’ll ever talk to. All the guitar players used to go in, even if
we were under age, to listen to Ted, because he was the one who
could teach you all of these neat jazz chords and progression stuff (laughs).
Duane just took off about ‘67, when he started playing slide.
It’s real hard to tell you the exact year. I remember Duane really
beginning to play slide at a place he stayed across from a club
called the Martinique, I really hate to call it this - but it was like a flop
house. You could rent a room for like eight bucks a month. All
of us somehow wound up with a room over there and that’s where
everybody would meet and kind of sit around and play with acoustics.
can remember Duane starting to learn to play slide there. It had to be ‘67.
VG: Do you remember who he was listening to in order to learn
slide? Because there really wasn’t anybody that I heard do
it until him.
SW: No. There wasn’t anybody that I remember doing that.
remember ever really talking to anybody about it. I just remember
Duane coming in one day with a bottle and saying, “Look at this!
This is really neat stuff I’m picking up.” I remember sitting
there saying “Geez, you’re already as good as anybody around
here (laughs) now you’re doing this!”
VG: Everyone tells me he had a real appetite for learning.
SW: Yeah. Learning what he wanted to learn (laughs)! Between the
two of them, Gregg has always been the smarter one, I thought,
intellectually. I thought we really had a healthy rivalry between our two bands.
It really helped both because we were trying to get better,
musically, and they were beginning to realize that the only way
to hit it big was to start doing their own material. I don’t think that there was any, “...we’re-going-to-do-this-because-these-guys-are,”
but I know they had to wonder when they were better musicians,
why we had a huge record and they didn’t. I think they realized
that the only way they were going to get anywhere was to
develop a sound that comes from your own material.
Duane was an absolute driver, personality wise. He also always
showed a destructive side. He would go after what he wanted with a vengeance and that was always good, but
he always had
self-destructive side. I’m probably not the first to tell you that and
don’t mean it in a bad way. It’s just...that was Duane. He was
absolutely the best. His
thing in life was, he wanted to play the guitar really well and he sure
Not long ago, my pal Jack Pearson
introduced me to Johnny Sandlin, a man who has played quite an
important part in the history of the Allman Brothers. Jack
called one evening and invited me to the Capricorn release party
of Jimmy Hall’s new album,
Rendezvous With the
Blues, which Johnny
produced, engineered and mixed in his studio in Decatur,
Alabama. I met with him that evening and asked about doing a
short interview about Duane Allman and his association with the band.
At first a little reluctant, due to many of the varied versions of the
truth surrounding Duane and the band, Johnny finally agreed to
sit down for a short talk. As we sat in the studio (which is a
converted house on the back of his property) he opened up with
some wonderful insight to the life and times of Duane Allman. It
turns out Johnny’s dad built this smaller house so the band could
have a place to rehearse without bothering the neighbors. Johnny
and his wife, Ann, made me at home and said Duane used to come
here to hang out while he was doing his Muscle Shoals studio work.
Our conversation went as follows:
VG: Are you from Decatur?
JS: Yes, I was born here and lived here until I was 20. I moved around, went to California
for a while, Miami, Macon,
Atlanta, Birmingham and then moved back here in ‘81. The move to
California was because of the record deal the Hourglass had with
Liberty Records. After that, I came back here for awhile before
getting a job in Miami, playing drums on sessions at Tone
Studios. Henry Stone had this big record distributorship down
there, and he had a little studio upstairs where he did R & B
records and songwriter demos.
VG: Speaking of the Hourglass project, how did you hook up with Duane and Gregg?
JS: I’m not exactly positive of the year. It seems like it must
have been ‘66. I was playing in a band called the Five Minutes,
in Pensacola. Duane and Gregg had a band called the Allman Joys.
At that time, there was a lot of talk about any band that had long
hair, and Gregg and Duane both had shoulder-length blonde hair.
A friend of mine from Tuscaloosa, named Bill Connell, was playing
drums in the band. He had replaced the
original drummer from the Allman Joys.
The Five Minutes had a regular gig at this club called the Spanish
Village, and one
weekend the Allman Joys played there on the outside patio.
That’s the first time I saw them play and it was just amazing, the
band I had ever heard. They came in and listened to our band play
and were real nice to us. I don’t know what they really thought (laughing).
But we had a pretty good band then; Eddie Hinton on guitar and
vocals, Paul Hornsby, keyboards and guitar, Fred Styles on bass, and myself on drums.
About six months after that, the Allman Joys lost
their bass player and drummer, and [the Five Minutes] lost our
guitar player/singer. We got in touch with Duane and Gregg, and
they came up from Florida to Decatur to my folks’ house, just up the
street, and we started rehearsing. The band was first
called the Allman-Act, but was renamed the Hourglass when we went
to California. Being in a band with Duane and Gregg was more
than a musician could hope for, however the whole California scene
was anything but fun. We were like fish out of water.
VG: Didn’t the Hourglass do some recording at Muscle Shoals?
JS: Yes. I’d worked at Fame Studios since I was in high school. Rick
(Hall) had used me to play guitar on some sessions in the early
‘60s. I’d been around the studio and I knew it always sounded
great, so I kept telling the guys that we needed to go to Fame
and get Eddie Hinton to produce us. Eddie had always been a great
help to me, and probably could have been the best producer,
songwriter and musician ever if things had gone a little
differently for him.
The Hourglass recorded at Fame, after the band had given up on California, where things just weren’t going well. We never felt
like we played good or that the records sounded good, or we had
the right material. We’d decided to come back and live in the
South. On the way back from L.A., we had a gig in St. Louis that
actually paid pretty good, for a change. So we took the money
and went to Muscle Shoals.
We got to Fame, and Eddie was there. Jimmy Johnson engineered the
session. We recorded the “B.B. King Medley,” along with “Ain’t
No Good to Cry,” and “Been Gone Too Long,” songs we were doing
in our live set. We got the tape and
were really happy about it. We sent it to our manager in L.A.
and he took it to Liberty Records. They thought it was terrible.
They weren’t interested in us if that’s what we wanted to do.
Meanwhile, Jimmy was knocked out with Duane’s playing and played
a copy of our tape for Rick Hall. Rick’s a smart man, he heard Duane play on
those Hourglass tapes and put him on the (Wilson Pickett) “Hey
Jude” session. For a while after that, he had Duane on all his
sessions. Duane would just inspire any situation. The
players in Muscle Shoals were the best players in the world, but
where they were kind of conservative, Duane was like a wild man,
in contrast, but they loved it and he did a lot of work there.
VG: Do you remember when you first saw Duane learning to play
JS: Yeah. He was in his apartment in L.A. with an old acoustic guitar.
It didn’t sound very good al all back then when he first started.
A lot of people don’t realize that before he learned to play
slide, Duane was one of the top five players in the world. It seemed to me at the time that the slide was a detour in his playing.
I’m not really proud of that lack of vision. Jesse Ed Davis was Duane’s very first influence. He got
interested in slide after we’d seen Taj Mahal play sometime in ‘67. We
loved that first Taj record, the whole band loved it
was almost required listening. The Hourglass started playing
Taj Mahal's version of “Statesboro Blues” shortly after that,
and it was the first song I remember hearing Duane play slide on.
Later, he went back and listened to Elmore
(James), Muddy (Waters) and other slide masters. Back then slide
was a real strange thing. You didn’t see a young rock and roll band
with a slide guitar player. Now you see it everywhere, but then
don’t even know if I realized what Jesse Ed was doing or how he was doing
it. Duane didn’t invent slide, but
he certainly popularized it and took it to new levels. It was just like
a whole different instrument. Today you expect a lead guitar player to be able to at least play
at it, but not then.
VG: How did you make the transition from
drummer to producer?
JS: I had been working in Miami in ‘68, playing sessions. Duane
and I had stayed in touch and he called me to tell me about the [Allman
Brothers] band. I went up to Daytona to hear them one night and
they were just incredible. We talked and he told me Phil Walden,
who I’d met in Muscle Shoals during an attempt al Duane’s solo
project, had opened a new studio and was putting together a
studio band. He told me I should consider moving to Macon to work
at what later became Capricorn, but I told him I had a job I really liked and
I didn’t think I wanted to leave.
Phil called me and then Duane called again. By that time, I
didn’t think I was going to get to do what I wanted to do in
Miami, which was produce records, so Pete Carr and I drove up to
Macon and I liked the town. Phil was really nice to me and offered
me a deal to let me play drums, put together a studio band, and
do some production. So I took the job and moved to Macon.
VG: You have an ongoing relation with Phil
and Capricorn, right?
JS: Yes. Since they’ve reopened in Nashville, I’ve
produced several albums for them. I did Widespread Panic’s self-titled album and their second
album, Every Day, and two with Colonel Bruce Hampton and
the Aquarium Rescue Unit. Their first album was recorded live and self-titled and the second one was Mirrors of Embarrassment.
was executive producer on the Dixie Dreggs’ live album (Bring
‘Em Back Alive) and more recently I did an album with Jimmy
With the Blues)
and one with Johnny Jenkins (Blessed Blues), which I think
is the first
album he’s done since 1970. He’s an incredible singer and guitar
player from Macon. I’m hoping that this time around he’ll get
the recognition he’s entitled to. The first album I ever produced in Macon was Johnny Jenkins’ Ton Ton Macoute
when I first started working at Capricorn. In fact, Duane and I co-produced
two tracks on that record.
I believe it was the
second album released on the label. The Brothers’ self titled
original album was the first.
When I moved to Macon, the Brothers had just finished that album.
It was recorded in New York and produced by Adrian Barber. After
that, when the Brothers were in town, they’d often come down to
the studio and I would do demos with them. A lot of these songs were
Idlewild South, which was produced by Tom Dowd. He also
produced ...Fillmore East.
The band had been listening to a 7½”
ips tape of the album that sounded good, then
they got a ref in. I guess I should explain what a ref is for
all the young people out there (laughing). It’s a reference disc
that’s cut on the actual mastering lathe. It’s not one that’s
going to last. It’s a disc that you can put on a record player
to make sure it sounds good before the records are manufactured.
So Atlantic sent that ref to Phil, and of course it was passed
on to the Brothers. It didn’t sound very good and they weren’t pleased with it, so they asked me to go to New York, to
Atlantic, and supervise the mastering.
After that, the Eat A Peach album was recorded, and Tom
Dowd was producing what turned out to be Duane’s last album.
Also about that time Capricorn, which had
been distributed by Atlantic, signed a new distribution deal
with Warner Brothers. The way I remember it, Tom had another commitment and didn’t have time to finish the album. Everything
was basically done except a few of Gregg’s vocals. Since Tom was leaving,
I was asked to come down and mix the album. So I went to
and mixed the album, except for the intro to “Les Brers (in A
Minor),” which was already mixed. After that, they asked me to do the albums.
I did Brothers & Sisters
and then did Laid
(Gregg’s first solo album), a solo album with
Loose or Draw.
VG: Do you remember when you
heard about Duane’s accident?
JS: I was at the Capricorn offices, a couple blocks from the
emergency room when I heard about it. It seemed like someone was
always getting hurt either riding horses or at the Capricorn
softball games. All I’d heard was that Duane had been in a
motorcycle accident and they were taking him to the hospital.
The gravity of it didn’t hit me at all.
So I walked right up there to see what was happening, and when I
there, everybody was crying. I said “What’s the deal, he’s going to be all right, isn’t he?” Of course
he wasn’t, and it was
a really dark, sad day. The leader of the whole Macon music community, of the musicians and their friends who were there
because of the music, was gone and we didn’t have anybody to
carry the torch. There was nobody there at the time that could halfway fill in for that loss.
VG: You and Duane were close friends. What are some of the
things you remember most about him?
JS: It’s been said often that Duane was a genius, and he was.
He was brilliant. He read extensively, was well-spoken and had
a huge vocabulary. He had a great sense of humor and was
extremely loyal to his friends. Duane didn’t like to waste any
time. He was always busy and when he wasn’t, he'd take a nap. We’d
be sitting around watching TV and he’d fall asleep, then he’d
come in and try to roust you out of bed at six in the morning
to go do something. If he couldn’t get anything going, he’d go
back to sleep. Looking back, it seems as if he knew he had a lot
to do and didn’t have a lot of time left to do it. He was on 78
while the rest of us were on 33⅓
in the way he advanced, the way he was learning.
When Duane was off the road and in
Macon, he’d bring his guitar to the studio
and ask, “Do you need me to play on anything?” Now, of course, I
wish I would have taken advantage of that offer more often.
Duane was never intimidated and he never intentionally intimidated
other players. You would play the best you could, and if you
were putting it out in your heart, he loved it. There weren’t
very many people who played with him that didn’t try to
play their best. He made people a lot better than they normally
would be, by just being there. He was extremely strong and he
knew how to deal with folks. He would inspire them to do what
they ought to be doing. You could tell he knew where he was going and
he would invite you to come along - just don’t get in the way. I miss
• • • • •
Some people claim one person can’t really make a difference.
never met Duane Allman, I’ve toured his house, stood beside his
final resting place, played a few songs there, talked to his
brother and many others involved with the Brotherhood,
but as I said, I never met him. But he did change my life. At a time
when a lot of the people I looked up to in the music world were
leaving this earth, I thought I had latched onto the next really big
thing. Soon after I found it, Duane was taken from us. Afterward,
I became even more enthralled with the music, if that was
I obsessed about how to get away from my job in a print shop and
follow my heart, playing music full-time. One night I dreamt I met Duane.
I told him I wanted to be a real
musician, but didn’t know how to make it happen. His answer was,
“You’ve just got to do it, man!”
That puzzled me for about a week. Then a childhood friend showed up
out of the blue, telling me that he and his brother were
looking for a guitar player to go on the road with an act out of
Nashville. I thought, here’s my chance to “do it.” So I did.
Most people thought I was crazy to
leave a secure job, with benefits, to follow the advice I had
gotten in a dream, but there was this feeling that it was meant to
be. Duane Allman inspired me to make my own spot in the music
world, however small, which, in turn, has given me the
opportunity to touch and affect other people’s lives, hopefully
in a positive way. I’ve played with some of my musical heroes and traveled over
most of this country and halfway around the world doing it. One
person can make a huge difference. Duane Allman made a huge
difference in my life and I encourage you all to go out and make
“The road goes on forever.”