DUANE ALLMAN

©1997 Dave Kyle

REMEMBERING DUANE ALLMAN

[ DUANE ARTICLES ]

 


 

DAVE KYLE:
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.




PHIL WALDEN

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 describe it.
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 musicianship.
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
great 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 speak.
But with Gregg in the band, it really was magical. They basically woodshedded in Macon and rehearsed every day for about a year.
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, "...you 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
6Os 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 Georgia peach."
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 devastated you.
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 time.”
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.




JIMMY NALLS

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 fame.
I started by asking how he became associated with Capricorn Records.

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. area
- 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 died.
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! Go ahead!”
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 those guys.
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.




THOM DOUCETTE

I 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 albums.
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 really stick.
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 it.
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.
I 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
doing sessions and occasional dates with the Allman Brothers Band and Gregg Allman and Friends. A Yoga instructor and student of the Zen philosophy, I found his help and conversation invaluable.




LEE HAZEN

While researching this article, I discovered 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 to Duane.

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. I had 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. I 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 the brothers?

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 month!
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 Singleton.




JIM MATHERLEY

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 I called Jim, he was also very open and willing to talk about those memories.

VG: How did you get hooked up with the Allmans?
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.

VG: 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 together.




SYLVAN WELLS

Sylvan Wells 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 guitar.
“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 worked like 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 guitar (laughing)!

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 here.
All of us, the guitar players
- and 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. I 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. I don’t 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
a self-destructive side. I’m probably not the first to tell you that and I 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 accomplished it.




JOHNNY SANDLIN

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 best 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 slide?
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
- 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 I 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. I was executive producer on the Dixie Dreggs’ live album (Bring ‘Em Back Alive) and more recently I did an album with Jimmy Hall
(Rendezvous 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 on 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 Criteria studio 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 Back (Gregg’s first solo album), a solo album with Dickey (Highway Call) and Win 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 got 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 33
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 him.



• • • • •

Some people claim one person can’t really make a difference. I 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 possible.
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 your own.
“The road goes on forever.”

 

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