James Dean once said, "If a man
can bridge the gap between life
and death, if he can live after
he's died, then maybe he was a
great man." James Dean is
perhaps the charter member of a
modern subset of such
individuals who, due to modern
technology, live on in the
consciousness of others. They
remain frozen in time—ascendant,
vibrant, and youthful.
When you think of James Dean, chances are you can visualize his magnetic good looks with a brooding expression that oozes bad-boy attitude, a hint of danger, and cool. He only appeared in three films, and yet he was the first actor nominated posthumously for an Academy Award for Best Actor. He is still regarded as one of the most significant film actors of all time, someone who moved seamlessly from subtle to intense. He died at the age of 24 in a traffic accident, in the prime of life, with a body of work that promised spectacular things to come.
In his own unique and rebellious way, Duane Allman joined the ranks of this club. By substituting only a few words it is remarkable how well the above description fits Duane Allman. A musician with a magnetic personality that oozes self assurance, a hint of danger, and cut-the-crap cool. A musical icon who only appeared on a handful of albums under his own name, yet is still regarded as one of the most significant rock guitarists of all time. A musician who moved seamlessly from subtle to intense. He died at the age of 24 in a traffic accident, in the prime of life, with a body of work that promised spectacular things to come.
Membership in this club is not simply a matter of dying young, famous, and talented. Timing and a special career-arch are prerequisites. To join this club your career has to be in steep ascendancy, with the perception of tremendous untapped potential. Think of Michael Jackson and what comes to mind? Now imagine if Michael Jackson had also been killed in a traffic accident when he was 24. That would have been in 1982, just as Thriller was released. Imagine if that were your lasting image of him—timing is everything.
The above description of Duane Allman is actually somewhat misleading. James Dean and Michael Jackson were huge stars at 24, but that was not the case with Duane Allman. As I reflected on Duane Allman's 70th birthday and thought back to the first and only time I saw him, I realized how easy that is to forget. He now occupies his rightful place in musical history, but it's striking how significantly his star has risen over the decades since his death.
Before the age of the Internet, bands without famous members rarely gained more than a metropolitan or regional following. With a bit of luck you might learn of a good out-of-town band by seeing them open for someone else if they were booked on a tour circuit that included your area. Even if you were enthusiastic about what you had heard, it wasn't easy to follow up on it. At that time, truly making it nationally was generally a function of being signed by a major label. That increased the odds of having a hit single, a good review in the national rock press, and a national television appearance.
During Duane Allman's life, his band had neither a hit single, nor a national television appearance. A couple of months before his 24th birthday I had a chance to see him live. For younger fans who discovered Duane Allman well after his death, here, within the context of those times, is how I remember his public persona and what it was like to see him live.
In 1968, as the Summer of Love was morphing into the Age of Revolution, my family moved to Daytona Beach, Florida from the suburbs of Washington, D.C.. Although Washington didn't have quite the counter-culture vibe of New York City's Greenwich Village or San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury, we did have Georgetown, DuPont Circle, and the Ambassador Theater—our local version of the Fillmore. That September I would be starting my senior year of high school, and I was old enough to drive and escape the suburbs. It should have been hard for me to leave, but my parents had made Florida sound like we were moving to a tropical paradise like Hawaii, so I was eager to get there.
Daytona Beach, as I soon discovered, wasn't Waikiki. At that time it was a sleepy little Southern town of just over 40,000 people that attracted retirees, a seasonal influx of Canadian snowbirds, NASCAR fans, and spring breakers. Segregation might not have been legal, but in some ways it was still very real. My new high school, from which Gregg Allman had graduated some years earlier, and out of which Duane had dropped, had only a handful of black students. Blacks lived on the mainland, to the West of the train tracks. Whites lived primarily on the peninsula, which is a narrow strip of land between the Atlantic Ocean and the Halifax River. Mrs. Allman had left Tennessee and resettled there ten years earlier with her sons Duane and Gregg.
At the time I had no clue who Duane and Gregg Allman were, but as I started my senior year of high school, they were within walking distance from me, just a few blocks down Peninsula Drive. But the window of opportunity to meet them closed quickly. Gregg soon returned to Los Angeles and Duane made his way to Muscle Shoals, Alabama to break into the session scene. I do remember hearing Duane Allman's name a few times at school, they were, after all, local heroes, but I smugly discounted any tales about the Allman Joys or the Hourglass as they were then called.
During the fall of 1968 there was no dearth of rock music: Cream's Wheels of Fire, Jeff Becks' Truth, the Beatles White Album, Hendrix's Electric Ladyland, The Band's Music from Big Pink, Creedence Clearwater Revival's self titled album, Iron Butterfly's In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida, and although it took a while to break nationally, Johnny Winter's Progressive Blues Experiment. In 1969 the rock tsunami continued: The Beatles' Abbey Road, Led Zeppelin's self titled album, King Crimson's In The Court Of The Crimson King, Rolling Stones' Let It Bleed, Sly and the Family Stone's Stand!, Blind Faith's self titled album, David Bowie's Space Oddity, Santana's self titled album, Jethro Tull's Stand Up, The Chicago Transit Authority's self titled album, and Taj Mahal's self titled album—and those are just some of the more obvious rock releases. When the Allman Brothers Band formed in the spring of 1969, there was no void waiting to be filled, and the world wasn't looking for the next guitar hero.
Had I not lived in Daytona Beach, I doubt I would have been among the initial thirty-some-thousand who bought a copy of the Allman Brothers Band's self titled album. It was released on November, 8, 1969 and of course it got plenty of promotion in their home town. Although I didn't expect too much, I did swing by the Montgomery Ward's record department to pick up a copy. It didn't floor me, but the tight 33 minutes with dual lead guitars and two drummers did manage to stand out. The reluctant skeptic was now interested in the band. Nonetheless, their first album was a commercial disappointment for their label. They were playing for free in parks to gain a following, opening for other bands to keep gas in their Winnebago, and Duane continued doing session work to stay afloat financially. They ended 1969 at the Fillmore East, third on the bill after Blood Sweat & Tears and Appaloosa.
Although they were third on the bill, they gained a very powerful supporter, the legendary Bill Graham, owner and proprietor of the Fillmore East & West auditoriums. Graham recognized their talent and respected their approach and originality. A year and a half later, when he decided to close the Fillmore East, it was, appropriately, the Allman Brothers Band whom he allowed to take the stage last.
Initially Graham's support took the form of putting them on bills with artists they admired, or artists whose fans were likely to appreciate the Allman Brothers Band. Less than three weeks after their debut at the Fillmore East they were in San Francisco at the Fillmore West on the bill with B.B. King and Buddy Guy. (In the accompanying audio Jaimoe talks about that concert and more.) A couple of days later Gregg and Duane were once again in Los Angeles, at the Whiskey A-Go-Go, a venue on the Sunset Strip where they had headlined in 1968 as the Hour Glass. As the Allman Brothers Band they were now supporting Ten Wheel Drive. Earlier this year I asked lead singer Genya Ravan if she remembered that gig: "Well, that night I sat in with them and sang 'Stormy Monday' and that song never sounded better. I can only say it was a testosterone moment and I loved it. Real men, real music!"
Back on their home turf in Georgia, they opened for Santana in Atlanta in March of 1970, and were the opening and closing act at the three day Atlanta International Pop Festival in July. During the summer they had also gained exposure by opening for the group Mountain. Looking over their concert dates you'll find that in May 1970, a year after the band formed, they played two concerts in high school auditoriums. One was at their alma mater in Daytona Beach. Having graduated a year earlier, that escaped my notice, but even if I had known, given the venue I doubt I would have made an effort to go—of course now it is frustrating to think I missed such an opportunity. They were steadily building a fan base, but clearly a long way from stardom.
In February 1970 the band had begun recording Idlewild South, their second album, under the tutelage of veteran engineer Tom Dowd, whose credits go back the giants of the bebop era. Fortunately for the Allman Brothers, he was also working with Eric Clapton in 1970. The Allman Brothers Band played in Miami at the end of August as Eric Clapton was there to record the Layla album with Tom Dowd.
Dowd took Clapton and his band to the Allman Brothers' concert. Bobby Whitlock, keyboardist and vocalist with Clapton's Derek and the Dominos, already knew Duane from his time Delaney and Bonnie. He remembered the gig well, and gave a telling indication of where the band was at in September of 1970. According to Whitlock, the Allman Brothers Band was set up on the flatbed trailer of an 18 wheeler in the parking lot of the Convention Center in Miami Beach, Florida. He laughingly recalled that bales of hay had been placed before the trailer to keep back the throng of 175 people who had gathered there. His party crawled under the truck and sat directly in front of the stage, resting their backs against the bales of hay and looking straight up at the band.
Whitlock recalled Duane soloing with his eyes closed. When he opened them, he looked down, made eye contact with Clapton, and immediately froze. Dickey Betts then looked over to see why Duane had stopped, then looked down and saw Clapton, and he stopped too. After the concert the band was invited back to the studio where they jammed all night long, and thankfully the tapes were rolling. It took decades, but eventually these jam sessions were officially released.
There was an instant chemistry and musical kinship between Duane Allman and Eric Clapton. Duane's ease in the studio, soulful playing, warm tone, and Southern drawl completely charmed Clapton—in an interview he admitted to being captivated by Duane Allman, both by his playing and his personality. As a result, Clapton asked him to stay on and finish the album with him.
With the exception of a five day break because of concerts dates, Duane was in the studio with Clapton from August 27 until September 10, 1970. From his daughter Galadrielle Allman's excellent book we learn that on September 5th he wrote to his wife from his hotel room in Milwaukee, Wisconsin that Clapton had actually asked him to join his band. It would mean a house in England, five thousand dollars a week, and twenty percent of tour receipts which he assured her would be phenomenal. He cautioned her to keep that secret. Even today, $5000 a week is serious money, but adjusted for inflation that would be over $30,000 a week in today's money—stardom was no longer a dream, he only had to say "yes."
Less than a week later, on September 16th, Duane Allman was back in Daytona Beach for a concert. Mentally he must have been in an unimaginably euphoric place—he and Clapton, his former idol, had bonded musically. Clapton thought of him as the brother he never had, as a peer and musical equal, and he had made him a spectacular offer. Duane knew the album they had just recorded was excellent, and regardless of what he decided, that would give his career a major boost.
That night the Allman Brothers would be playing at the Peabody Auditorium, just off Main Street. It was the premier venue in Daytona Beach. elvis, Frank Sinatra, Itzhak Perlman, Dave Brubeck, Ray Charles, and scores of others had played there. Peabody Auditorium seats about 2500 people and is known for its exceptionally good acoustics, easily the equal of the Fillmore in New York.
Just a few months earlier the Allman Brothers had played at Duane's former high school, and as mentioned above, Clapton had just seen them perform on a truck trailer—so clearly things were looking up. It must have seemed a bit surreal to Duane, the Peabody is within walking distance of the pier where he and Gregg performed as teenagers, and just around the corner from the pool hall where he had regularly hung out when he skipped school.
Being home this time must have been a very different experience, and no doubt he was fired up with the Clapton experience still fresh in his mind. Given such a life changing decision, it seems likely he would have been eager to compare that with playing in front of a home town crowd with his own band. He could say "yes" to Clapton and achieve something he'd always dreamed of, and in so doing destroy the hopes and dreams of his brother and band mates; or he could say "no" and return to touring in a low-rent Winnebago and hope their future albums would do a hell of a lot better than the one they had released a year earlier.
The rest of the band must have been excited by the possibilities that would result from Duane appearing on Clapton's next album. On the other hand, even if they didn't know of Clapton's offer to Duane, on some level they also must have sensed that his interest in Duane represented a risk to their own future. Would his loyalty to them withstand such temptation? Considering all that, it is easy to imagine that they too were fired up and had something to prove, to each other, and especially to Duane. There was also one other bit of excitement in the works. In exactly one week, on September 23rd, their second album, Idlewild South, would be released.
Of course at that time I didn't have a clue about any of this. The Allman Brothers had become a minor blip on my musical radar. It had been almost a year since I bought their debut album, and other than a few album reviews, there was little indication in the national rock press that they even existed, let alone any mention of them making any significant impact on the music scene. In a couple of months Duane would be turning 24, and returning to my opening theme, he was far from famous.
September 16th, 1970 was a typical Wednesday in Daytona Beach—temperatures in the high 80s and tolerably muggy. That night's concert had slipped my mind, but luckily over on the mainland I bumped into a guy from high school I hadn't seen in over a year. He needed a lift back to the beach side so we decided to hang out and catch up. By the time we crossed the Silver Beach Bridge I had agreed that I "had to" see this amazing band that night. I did my best to keep my teenage snobbery in check as I listened. After graduation I had spent the summer in England and hitch-hiked around Europe, and I had seen several impressive groups live: Taste with Rory Gallagher, Fleetwood Mac with Peter Green, Led Zeppelin with Jimmy Page, John Myall, Savoy Brown with Kim Simmonds, Chicken Shack with Stan Webb, and The Nice with Keith Emmerson.
There was certainly no reason to expect that I would see something extraordinary that evening. Friends up North I shared the Allman Brothers Band debut album with hadn't become instant fans. I knew little about them other than what was in the album note, and the studio versions of seven songs: "Don't Want You No More," "It's Not My Cross to Bear," "Black Hearted Woman," "Trouble No More," "Every Hungry Woman," "Dreams," and "Whipping Post." Inside there was of course the photo of six full grown men hanging out nude in a creek in the Georgia woods, which might have been better suited as an alternative cover for James Dickey's 1970 novel Deliverance. It's not that I didn't want to see the Allman Brothers, but my expectations were modest.
As we approached the Peabody Auditorium it was twilight and the heat had dissipated. We were immediately approached by hippy girls panhandling for money to buy a ticket, and there was a palpable sense of excitement in the air. We bought our tickets at the box office without any difficulty and got seats about a dozen rows back.
Over the years I've had a chance to hear most of the recorded shows from the Duane Allman era that are in circulation in the fan community. It is fascinating to hear the band grow tighter, and you can also hear them growing as musicians. Yet for various reasons, few of these recordings convey how extraordinary this band was live. Those recordings, interesting as they are, are so different from the musical experience emblazoned in my mind that they hardly seem real. The only recording that truly captured their magic as I remember it, was their breakout album The Allman Brothers Band At Fillmore East. As I sat waiting for the concert to begin, that album's release would be ten months in the future. Little did I suspect what an improbable bit of serendipity was at play.
Looking back at that concert now, what more could an Allman Brothers fan hope for: headlining without an opening act, an ideal venue with near perfect acoustics, Duane Allman in an incredibly good place, and the band motivated to really bring it. Add to all that, the element of utter surprise. At that time, I remember the typical question you asked someone who went to a rock concert was: "Were they as good as the record?" Generally speaking, that was as good as it got, and in my experience that was rarely the case. My expectation for the Allman Brothers was that they might be almost as good as their first album.
As the house lights went down, my buddy's wide-eyed enthusiasm and imploring grim seemed way over the top, but I was about to be served a huge slice of humble pie. I would soon learn there was indeed a band that was not only better than their album, they were remarkably better. No studio could capture that magic, and no vinyl disk or home sound system could do it justice. This was a band that had to be seen live in order to be fully appreciated.
I'm so grateful that I hadn't heard Idlewild South or The Allman Brothers Band At Fillmore East prior to seeing them live. Listening to their live album on a great sound system is an excellent way to be introduced to the original band, but imagine seeing them live and hearing that very same music for the first time in a venue with ideal acoustics. No need to debate the superiority of vinyl compared to digital, this was Duane Allman's warm tone coming directly from his amp—not only could you see what he was doing, you could hear it, and thanks to the loud-but-clear volume, feel it.
When they took the stage they got a warm and enthusiastic hometown reception. Luckily we had taken seats on the left side of the room, so we had a particularly good view of Gregg and Duane, but the entire band was clearly visible. They were dressed in typical hippy street clothes of the day, and there were no theatrics or stage antics. They opened with a driving version of Taj Mahal's great cover of Blind Wille McTell's "Statesboro Blues."
It was when Dickey Betts took the night's first solo that I had my first holy crap moment—he was on fire. I'd seen lots of great rock guitarists by this time, but for me Dickey Betts embodied a whole new level of honesty and intensity. His sound and musical choices were completely original. It was as if he were solving tricky musical equations with an onslaught of blisteringly fast serrated loops, or stitching the complex pattern of a musical kaleidoscope with his guitar. I distinctly remember thinking to myself: "Why in the world would they need two lead guitarists? This guy is fantastic!"
The set list was such that it took a while before I had a chance to experience Duane Allman as a lead guitarist. Initially it seemed like, "oh, now I get it, Dickey plays lead guitar, and Duane plays slide," and at that time I had a fairly limited appreciation of slide guitar. I'd seen Peter Green masterfully recreate Elmore James' signature licks and sound, and on record I'd heard Johnny Winter tap into the authentic sound and technique of the blues masters. So at first I just soaked in this new sound and approach. Duane's blues slide was interesting and exotic, but Dickey's playing was something I could readily appreciate.
Nonetheless, even on straight ahead blues I recognized that compared to the slide I'd heard before, Duane was more fluid and lyrical, and his tone was unusually warm. With natural ease he played notes higher on the neck than a conventional guitarist could —so it didn't take long before his intensity began to capture my attention. Also, you didn't need an expert to explain to you that his slide sound had a lot in common with a blues harp. But it was on songs like "Dreams" that he took the slide to places it had not gone before—there it had more in common with a horn than a blues harp.
In terms of style, as the night progressed there was no doubt that the Allman Brothers had their own unique sound. They are widely credited with being the originators of "Southern Rock," but I've always spurned that label. There was plenty of rock energy, and certainly a solid blues foundation, with a tinge of gospel and country twang, but also unmistakable elements of jazz. When I interviewed Jaimoe, he dismissed labels and spoke of "improvised American music," and that is an apt description.
Musically there were some life-changing moments for me during the concert. The most powerful and lasting memory was when I heard "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed" for the very first time. The opening was so beautiful, the dual guitar harmonies with the B3 were so compelling, the great bass lines, the dual drums—it was absolutely magical. Several minutes in, just after Gregg finished a well constructed, tasteful and pace-changing Hammond B3 solo, Duane played a conventional lead guitar solo and tapped into something other-worldly.
It was like the back wall of the auditorium had become a canvas, and Duane Allman used his guitar as a paint brush. His eyes were shut tightly and his mouth was wide open as he filled the hall with colors. Visually and acoustically it was so highly charged that you could almost imagine he was plugged into an electric outlet. As he played I kept going back and forth between him and Berry Oakley, whose playing was also so compelling. They were completely in sync—at times the band seemed like a group of motorcycles racing down the highway, weaving in and out around each other, on a journey you hoped would never end. The closest analogy I can find to convey what that was like, is something you might recognize if you've ever been in a automobile accident. That sensation when you see the inevitable coming, time slows down to a crawl, and you are completely focused and in the moment like never before. That's what it was like.
Watching and listening to Duane Allman that night was a spellbinding experience that affected me profoundly. Color and form are powerful tools in the hand of an artist, but that night I realized that sound and rhythm are truly magical. Music, speaking for myself, is the acme of artistic expression. It wasn't just Duane's tone and melodic choices, his approach to time was almost as important. That's perhaps one of the reasons why he would not have been an outstanding power trio guitarist—he wasn't a driving, steady, lick specialist. He was a tour guide who used time in a very unusual way. The band would be roaring along, and suddenly it was like he rode his bike up a ramp and was hanging in thin air, sustaining a note, motionless, yet somehow still traveling with the band. Then he would land and seamlessly transition to a whole new emotional soundscape and the band would follow.
Another extremely powerful memory was their cover of Willie Cobbs' "You Don't Love Me." By 1970 this song had been covered several times, but the Allman Brothers turned it into something epic. During this song the secret of their unique appeal became easier to perceive. The song began with a single guitar playing the familiar riff. Gradually rest of the band joined in, until it became a powerful locomotive. While this was happening you began to realize that the two drummers, Jaimoe and Butch Trucks, were fundamentally different. Their contrasting temperaments and approaches could have been a real problem, but somehow these two jagged pieces of the puzzle fit together perfectly. Butch Trucks was the steam in this engine who could really put the pedal to the floor and sustain a high level of energy, while Jaimoe improvised within that framework to accentuate what the rest of band was doing.
"You Don't Love Me" began as an inventive blues cover of a classic tune, but after a few minutes it took off in a completely unexpected direction. The locomotive stopped and each of the guitarists took turns playing essentially alone. Unconstrained by the rest of the band, they went where the mood took them. Playing in isolation gave the audience a unique chance to experience each guitarist's style, expression, technique, and tone. It wasn't self indulgent noodling, it was riveting. Finally they cued the locomotive and the train began roaring down the tracks again, with the guitars doing a long series of calls and responses. There was no sense of one trying to cut the other, it was joyful.
It also became clearer how different these two guitarists were, and why this worked so well. A band with two lead guitarists easily could have become an egotistical nightmare—a danger Duane and Dickey were well aware of, and had discussed. Duane and Dickey's innate and unmistakable musical differences allowed them to keep things interesting by giving them the freedom to explore and express themselves without stepping on each others toes, and to appreciate each other without feeling jealous or threatened.
When the song "Whipping Post" began, it was something I immediately recognized from their first album, and I thought I knew what to expect. It was another aspect of why the band had initially impressed me; the song had blues roots, but it also had an intro with an 11/4 time signature, and a vintage sound without any cheesy effects. But this was not the straight five minute studio version I knew, it might have been three or four times that long. It was transformed into another epic soundscape, an odyssey with slow foreboding interludes that would gradually build and speed up until they reached astounding crescendos. It was an unlikely brew with some serious mojo: a big dose of Sonny Boy Williamson, with some John Coltrane and Richard Wagner mixed in.
There is one more distinct and vivid memory to share, the song "Hoochie Coochie Man." It was emblematic of all the blues classics they covered. The Model T Ford was still recognizable, but it was now a bad ass hot rod with their unmistakable styling and power upgrades, yet somehow tasteful and respectful of the original.
"Hoochie Coochie Man" was essentially the same as the studio version I knew, yet so different because of the intensity, volume, and live energy. It was about as different as the experience of seeing a hot rod on television, compared to riding around in one. In the studio mix I hadn't really appreciated the power of the gradual build up of the introduction, followed by explosive drum rolls and the dual lead guitars playing the signature Allman Brothers style riffs. It was also especially memorable because Berry Oakley sang, and in contrast to the mournful or heavy nature of the songs Gregg sang, this was light and fun.
Although Duane wasn't presented as the leader of the band, somehow there was no doubt that he was in charge. I can't really explain why, but that was my clear sense. He introduced the songs, but, as far as I remember, he hardly interacted with the audience. Although Gregg sang, he rarely spoke. Berry Oakley, however, was quite animated and did interact with the audience at times. At one point, he pointed out Duane and Gregg's mother in the front row and asked the crowd to give her a big hand, which we willingly did—I think he called her Mama Allman.
Those are my distinct memories of that night. Other than that, much of the concert is fused into a shadowy composite of impressions. I remember how they looked on stage, how they behaved, how they sounded, and strangely how it felt—by that I mean feeling the power of the sound vibrations, a sensation that is beyond my ability to describe. I wish I could replay those solos in my mind, but they are by nature spontaneous and ephemeral. It is like waking up and trying desperately to recall details of a vivid dream. They are there, but frustratingly just beyond reach. Yet in a strange way, I'm glad this was prior to the invention of cell phone video and YouTube. There is simply no substitute for experiencing music live, and you can't capture that kind of magic. Moreover, there is a danger that with time the limited inferior copy will gradually replace the actual memory. That memory might be incomplete, but I cherish it.
Because I didn't know all the music prior to the concert, I can't be sure of every song they played that night, but of these I am sure: "Statesboro Blues," "Done Somebody Wrong," "Trouble No More," "You Don't Love Me," "In Memory of Elisabeth Reed," "Don't Keep Me Wondering," "Dreams," "Stormy Monday," "Hoochie Coochie Man," and "Whipping Post." There were a few more, and from old set lists I could probably guess which they were, but it would only be a guess.
When the house lights came back up, the dreamlike atmosphere vanished as the audience made its way to the exits. The concert had been an overwhelming experience that I couldn't quite process. I had considered the Allman Brothers Band just another local band that had managed to cut an album —I wasn't even aware of their local hero status in Georgia, or that they were gaining fans in several major metropolitan areas. Yet my ordered musical universe had been thrown into chaos. This wasn't simply a matter of adding a new band to my list of favorites, it was instead the realization that in terms of rock music, I had just experienced something that was markedly superior to anything I had ever experienced—with one possible exception.
My buddy smiled and tapped me on the arm, "Didn't I tell you!?!" Indeed he had, and as I agreed with him, I heard my own voice as if someone else were talking—empty platitudes were all I could muster. I didn't want to wake up from this dream like state, so I begged off and drove down South Atlantic Avenue and parked at the first motel that afforded a view of the ocean. I watched the waves come in with "Liz Reed" and "You Don't Love Me" replaying in my mind.
As I thought about it, the only other experience that had come close to this was seeing Santana perform "Soul Sacrifice" on the big screen in the Woodstock documentary film. When I saw the film, they too were complete unknowns to me, but their soulful honesty, intensity, infectious rhythm, unique sound, inspired playing, and obvious dedication to the music set them apart, and they blew me away.
There were obvious similarities between the original Santana Band and the Allman Brothers Band: Duane Allman and Carlos Santana were exceptional guitarist whose playing seemed preternaturally inspired, each had an impressive and unmistakable sound, spot-on tone, and a compelling musical vision. Each band had multiple drummers, and a Hammond B3 player who sang lead vocals. Decades later I would learn they had even more in common—both had been heavily influenced by Miles Davis and John Coltrane.
In 1997 Robert Palmer, saxophonist and music critic, wrote the liner notes to the Legacy/ re-release of Kind of Blue by Miles Davis. To demonstrate its impact and influence on the music world, he used the example of Duane Allman. Anyone who does not understand why Duane Allman has been covered so extensively on All About Jazz can read it for an answer. Palmer had met him in New York City in 1965 when Duane was there with the Hourglass. He had played John Coltrane's Olé for Duane and noted that he had been fascinated by it.
Five years passed and now Palmer was also playing gigs at the Fillmore East, and was thus able to get backstage and see shows even when they were sold out. He wrote that when he was in town he never missed seeing the Allman Brothers. Once after a show in which he had experienced Duane "soaring for hours on wings of lyrical song," Duane told him that kind of playing came from listening to Miles and Coltrane, especially Kind of Blue. Duane told him that for the past couple of years he had hardly listened to anything else.
In his liner note Palmer wrote, "I heard a musician who'd grown in ways I never could have imagined. It's rare to see a musician grow that spectacularly, that fast; I'm not sure there's any guitarist who's come along since Duane's early death on the highway who has been able to sustain improvisation of such lyric beauty and epic expanse."
To return to the similarities between the Allman Brothers and Santana Bands, it was Jaimoe who guided Duane on his path of musical discovery that led to Miles and Coltrane, and it was drummer Michael Shrieve, who turned Carlos Santana on to Miles and Coltrane. Carlos Santana in his own words:
"I owe Michael a lot; He's the one who turned me onto John Coltrane and Miles Davis. I just wanted to play blues until Michael came. He opened my eyes and my ears and my heart to a lot of things. Some drummers only have chops, but Michael Shrieve has vision. Michael is like a box of crayons; he has all the colors."
In a 2006 interview with ModernGuitars Santana said:
"Well, you know, out of the original band he and I were kindred spirits. He and I wanted the multi-dimensional thing more than the drugs and the women and all the other stuff that came in with being so young and so naïve. He and I used to lock ourselves in a room and go through Miles [Davis] and [John] Coltrane and whatever was available to us—soundtracks from Fellini movies or whatever. Michael and I were always exploring. How do we express that and make it into our own? So, that's why after all these years we have a beautiful relationship, because we're hungry for new colors, new expression, new feelings, constantly."
This was a key to unlocking the secret of why these two band had affected me so dramatically, though it would take decades for me to truly understand it. Eventually it became clear to me that they had internalized the essence of many of my favorite musicians from the golden age of jazz and blues and fused that with the spirit of the times and the energy of youth culture—and each, in an unmistakable way, had made it his own.
How different the day after the concert would have been if there had been an Internet in 1970: I would have searched for the Allman Brothers tour schedule, and then seen every show I possibly could. But it was a different time, and it wasn't easy to get that kind of information. It was word-of-mouth, or you needed to either see a poster, an ad in a newspaper, or hear a radio ad. Instead I messed around with my guitar and tried to figure out a few things I remembered from the night before, and I listened to their debut album again with fresh ears.
The very next day, September 18, 1970 my newfound musical euphoria took a major hit. It was announced on the radio and the TV network news that Jimi Hendrix had died. Decades later I would learn that the last time he appeared on stage was September 16, 1970 when he sat in with Eric Burdon and War at Ronnie Scott's club in London—the same night I had seen Duane Allman.
On September 23, 1970 the Allman Brothers released their second album, Idlewild South. This was a welcome relief after the shock of Jimi Hendrix's death. With their live performance still fresh in my mind, the 30 minute album paled in comparison. Vinyl at that time had the capacity of 26 minutes of music on each side, so given what I had just witnessed I couldn't understand why Tom Dowd hadn't used more of the 52 minutes available to him. It would have allowed the band to stretch things out a bit so people could hear what they were about—at least on those songs that had no chance of being played on AM radio.
In any case, I was thrilled to have "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed" on an album, and truth be told, I almost wore that album out. Although short and restrained, it was certainly a very good album. Reviews were good, not great, but initially the album was yet another commercial disappointment for their label. Things were, however, still moving in the right direction.
Fortuitously, on the same day Idlewild South was released, the Allman Brothers were at the Fillmore East playing a show that was filmed for National Education Television. N.E.T. would eventually morph into P.B.S. Bill Graham had assembled several groups who each played a short set as part of a program entitled, "Welcome to the Fillmore East." On October 10, 1970 it was broadcast on local television in New York City. At that time there was no such thing as stereo sound on television, so the audio was simulcast on a local FM radio station.
Unfortunately, the original Allman Brothers Band's television debut was marred by a major technical glitch. As a result, Gregg's vocals were barely audible for most of the first half of their short set. Moreover, the camera work, for me at least, is equally as frustrating. In general, the camera operators seemed to have been utterly oblivious about what was happening on stage, as if they had not understood the concept of a solo. It is particularly vexing with respect to Duane Allman; it almost seems as if they were purposefully avoiding close-ups of Duane's playing. During his solos there are often long distance shots of the band, tight facial close-ups of the band, and even tights shots of Dickey's hands playing rhythm guitar as Duane was soloing.
Nonetheless, this rare footage was an unexpected treasure that, thanks to the Internet, resurfaced in the early 2000s. For me it was an especially exciting development because it documents the band less than a week after I had seen them in Daytona Beach. It allowed me to compare this resurfaced video with my decades old memory of the band. Visually it is spot-on and captures the band as I remember them on stage. Actually, for the me the odd camera views, while frustrating, were also interesting because they showed extremely tight facial close-ups I couldn't have seen from a dozen rows back, and it showcased the skill of the drummers, who are more often than not relegated to the background.
With respect to the music, even though the sound quality isn't bad, it does not come close to capturing the experience of hearing them live with good acoustics. How would I compare it to being there? It is very difficult to find an analogy that combines the visual and auditory experience, so I'll just give you a visual analogy and note that the same degree of difference would also hold true for the sound.
Imagine if that same film crew had filmed the Grand Canyon in 1970. If you then compared that film to the experience of actually being at the Grand Canyon—that is the way I would describe the difference. The film is wonderful to have, but no substitute for the real thing. Nonetheless, thanks to the visual imagery it provides, if you use your imagination and shut your eyes in a dark room while listening to Tom Dowd's Fillmore recordings, that's about as close to the experience of being there as you can get.
A final thought about the video. Broadcast quality video footage of Duane is exceedingly rare; as far as I know, this is the only such visual recording of him playing an entire song. Given that, it's also worth mentioning that I remember him being much looser on stage and his playing seemed more fluid. To me he seems tense on the Fillmore video. Despite very marginal quality, the YouTube clips of him in Central Park and at Love Valley are much closer to my memory of him on stage.
Most of us know the feeling of driving when you notice a police car in the rear-view mirror; suddenly natural and routine actions are replaced by the conscious act of trying to steer perfectly, stay in the middle of the lane, and not exceed the speed limit. Did the prospect of the television appearance, the short set, drugs, or something else bother him? Of course I might be completely wrong in my assessment, but if you watch the Fillmore video closely, after 18 minutes you'll notice he misses a cue and is clearly lost during Whipping Post —a very rare occurrence indeed. Nonetheless, even on an off night Duane Allman is still Duane Allman.
There was another big surprise later that week, Delaney and Bonnie Bramlett released a new album, To Bonnie from Delaney. To my astonishment, this time it wasn't Eric Clapton or George Harrison guesting on guitar, it was Duane Allman! I rushed home with this one to listen to it. Delaney's vocals never quite did it for me, but Bonnie had always knocked me out. "Lay My Burden Down," the "Come On Into My Kitchen" medley, and Duane's slide on "Living on the Open Road" became instant favorites in my music collection.
Duane sat in with Delaney and Bonnie in early October 1970 during their concert at Carnegie Hall, and he was starting to garner some attention in the press. Also it was probably in October that I heard the rumors about Duane Allman joining Eric Clapton's band, although it would be over a month before the Layla and other assorted love songs album would be released. He was still very far from stardom, but having seen him myself, I certainly thought of him as a musical giant. Decades later I learned he almost died of an opium overdose at the end of October, and missed a concert because he was hospitalized.
By coincidence, I happened to interview someone who met Duane on November 3, 1970, just a couple of days after he was released from hospital. That someone was Joey Molland from the band Badfinger.
As unimaginably hectic as Duane Allman's touring life was, and given what had just happened with the overdose, the question of why he would have made the effort to go alone to a Badfinger concert is intriguing. Was he still weighing Clapton's offer to join his band and come to England? If so, did he think he could he learn something from these British musicians that would help him make a decision? Or might it have been simple curiosity? Recall that news of the Beatles' break-up had stunned the music world earlier in the year (April of 1970,) and Badfinger were closely associated with them. In fact, they were often covered by the rock press as the Beatles' natural successors. Badfinger were famously one of the first bands signed by the Beatles' Apple label. Back in January of 1970 they had an international top ten hit single, "Come And Get It," that was written and produced by Paul McCartney. So a view from the inside would have been interesting.
Badfinger were in the middle of their first U.S. tour when they met Duane Allman in Atlanta, and that Tuesday night concert at the Emory University gym must have been down right strange. The tour's organization and promotion had been highly uneven, and on that particular night less than 30 people showed up—and Duane Allman was among them. One of the roadies, as well as an audience member, clearly remembered Duane Allman standing up front and studying Pete Ham during the entire concert.
The band would have been an unexpected surprise for Duane. Pete Ham was a blues fan who had played Freddie King's "Hideaway" on live shows all around the UK prior to "Come and Get It," and Liverpudlians Joey Molland and Tom Evans were hard rock and rollers. Judging Badfinger by their first hit would be like judging the Allman Brothers by "Midnight Rider."
According to the roadie, after the concert Duane introduced himself and went back to their hotel to jam with Pete on acoustic guitars. (In the accompanying audio you can listen to Joey Molland speak of Duane Allman.) Clearly that unlikely jam session would have made for a fascinating bootleg for guitar fans, and it would have also evoked some macabre interest. Duane Allman now had less than a year to live, and Pete Ham died in 1975. (Pete Ham is a member of the 27 Club, which refers to musicians who died at the age of twenty seven: Robert Johnson, Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain, and Amy Whitehouse.)
At first blush you wouldn't think Badfinger and the Allman Brothers had much in common, but there are actually a number of parallels, a few of which are almost eerie. Both bands formed in 1969. Both bands had two lead guitarists. Both bands had a lead guitarist who was also famous as a slide guitarist. The age difference between these two slide guitarists was only 4 months, and each had a girlfriend named Dixie. Like the Allman Brothers, Badfinger had a tragic history: the death of lead/slide guitarist Pete Ham, followed by the death of bassist Tom Evans. Another noteworthy happenstance, Badfinger's second album No Dice would be released the following week, on the same day as Clapton's Layla (November 9, 1970.) It included "No Matter What," the band's first hit single written by Pete Ham.
In terms of understanding Duane Allman's public persona and level of fame during his years with the Allman Brothers, Pete Ham's career is a near perfect point of comparison, and it is uncanny that their meeting occurred at such an eventful point in their lives. Duane would be turning 24 in only a few weeks, and Pete Ham in a few months—and both of their career trajectories were in the launch phase.
Duane Allman got a boost by working with Eric Clapton, and Pete Ham was championed by none other than George Harrison. In fact, Duane probably learned from Pete that he was playing a Gibson SG given him by George Harrison. If Duane shared his experience of working with Clapton, Pete would have been able to tell Duane about working with him too at George Harrison's studio. Three weeks after Duane Allman met Pete Ham (November 24, 1970) Harrison made a point of showing up at Ungano's Club in New York City to introduce Badfinger to the American press. He sat in the front row with Pattie Boyd (Clapton's Layla) and recorded the show himself on a tape recorder he had recently purchased, and then played it back to the band in their dressing room.
George Harrison had been rather famously associated with Delenay and Bonnie. Badfinger, like Harrison, were enamored with their approach to music. In fact, to a certain extent they adopted it. No doubt there were some disappointed American audience members who came to their concerts to hear Beatlesque pop and were treated to shows that opened with extended jams of Dave Mason's "Only You Know and I Know," and "Feelin' Alright." (Search YouTube for Badfinger BBC concert to get an idea of what Duane would have heard.)
The reason George Harrison was able to introduce Badfinger in New York City is because his single "My Sweet Lord" had been released in America the day before, and his triple album All Things Must Pass was released a few days later on November 27, 1970. As a Duane Allman fan, over the decades I've come to associate him with putting slide guitar on the map in terms of rock music. In reality, George Harrison's crisp clean signature slide guitar on "My Sweet Lord" was an enormous redwood tree that overshadowed everyone. It's hard to exaggerate the impact of that recording. It was a number one worldwide hit, and was like crack cocaine for radio deejays. The tambourine you hear on "My Sweet Lord" was played by Badfinger's drummer, and to create his wall-of-sound, Phil Spector enlisted Pete Ham, Joey Molland, Tom Evans and Eric Clapton to play acoustic guitars.
George Harrison had assembled a stellar group of musicians for the album that included the members of Badfinger (John Lennon also used Badfinger on his Imagine album.) Harrison's album was incredibly well received by critics and was a tremendous commercial success—in America was a 6x Platinum hit. Let us recall, Eric Clapton's Layla had also been released in November. The cover was a painting of a woman who reminded Clapton of Harrison's wife Pattie Boyd, and the album itself was art-as-therapy for the lovelorn Clapton. His photo was nowhere to be seen on the cover, and his name did not appear—it was a Derek and the Dominos album. There were certainly plenty of people in record stores who had no idea it was an Eric Clapton album.
As a result, it didn't even chart in the UK, and in the US it peaked at 16. The single "Layla" didn't make it into Billboard's Top Ten. Now it is rightfully regarded by many as Clapton's greatest work, but in 1970 it was, by rock star standards, a flop. Brother Duane's association with Eric Clapton was no doubt an important boost, but certainly less than he might have anticipated. Obviously, in terms of recognition it paled in comparison to Pete Ham's close association with George Harrison.
George Harrison had been overshadowed by John Lennon and Paul McCartney in the Beatles, but his debut as a solo artist was nothing short of astounding. In May of 1971 he was suddenly the most successful of any of the Beatles as a solo artist. At this time, Badfinger gained renewed attention when the white hot Harrison himself decided to produce their third album Straight Up! This album included their third international hit single, "Day After Day," which featured a slide duet with George Harrison and Pete Ham, and Leon Russell on piano.
Progress on the album was delayed when Harrison decided to organize the first major benefit rock concert for the people of Bangla Desh, and had to give up his role as producer. The concert was held at Madison Square Garden on August 1, 1971 and featured George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Bob Dylan, Ravi Shankar, Leon Russell, Billy Preston, Eric Clapton, and Badfinger. George Harrison shared the spotlight with Pete Ham when they performed an acoustic version "Here Comes the Sun." It was a long way from the hotel jam session with Duane Allman—two sold out Madison Square Garden concerts which produced another number one international triple album (Grammy Album of the Year), and a hugely successful film that broke daily box office records at the time.
As the Concert for Bangla Desh was going on, the Allman Brothers were taking a rare two week break from touring. The previous month, July 1971, At Fillmore East, a double album of only seven songs, was released. Around the middle of March Tom Dowd had recorded the band over two nights at the Fillmore East. The Atlantic label had initially rejected the concept of releasing these long jams, but thankfully their manager, Phil Walden, not only convinced them to do it, but got them to accept the Allman Brothers' demand of offering the double album at the price of a single LP. Bottom line alarm bells must have been going off everywhere at Atlantic, but it turned out to be a brilliant idea. The band was able to finally present themselves as the masters-of-live-music that they were. It was an entire concert, impeccably recorded, and it was a double album that fans with hippy finances could afford to buy. In contrast to their first two studio albums, it took off immediately.
During the final weeks of Duane Allman's life, the seeds sown during his band's relentless touring came to fruition. In October 1971 their new live album was certified gold, and at long last they had some money to spend. Now they were flying first class, and Duane even allowed himself to think out loud about the band owning a plane for touring. Another sign of their changing status was evident when Rolling Stone magazine decided to do a feature article on the band.
By yet another strange coincidence, associate editor Grover Lewis traveled with the band for a week during the final weeks of Duane Allman's life. A month later the magazine carried two stories about Duane Allman. In one, his band was introduced to the nation, and the other, with unplanned irony, covered his death and funeral. The feature article by Grover Lewis was headlined on the cover as: "Duane Allman's Final Days on the Road." This could have been an extraordinary opportunity to capture the band at this pivotal time in their history, and leave an insightful pen portrait of Duane Allman for posterity. Instead the article was an egregiously vindictive hit piece, cravenly published just a few weeks after Duane Allman's death. Given all that, the article, "Hitting the Note with the Allman Brothers Band" (Rolling Stone, November 25, 1971, Issue No. 96 ) requires serious examination.
Grover Lewis is known as one of the originators of the so-called "New Journalism" of the 1960s and 1970s. With undeniable literary flair and an acerbic combination of contempt, condescension, and venom, he snidely lanced the boil of Southern counter-culture he considered the Allman Brothers Band to be. In an insightful 2005 letter to the editor of the New York Times, Butch Trucks set the record straight with respect to Grover Lewis' article:
"In these 35 years of criticism I have read reviews and articles that run the gamut, but there has always been one article that stands above all the rest as being the single most meanspirited piece of fiction ever written about us. It is to journalism what an ant is to an aardvark. That is the Rolling Stone article about the Allman Brothers Band written by Grover Lewis..."
In hindsight, this encounter with the national press was very poorly handled by their management. At that point in time (decades before the Internet), being featured in Rolling Stone had enormous significance. As everyone knows, you can only make one first impression, and at this point the band members were neophytes in dealing with the national press. Their manager, Phil Walden, could have sought advice from Bill Graham about what to expect from Grover Lewis and how to deal with him. At a minimum, he should have ensured that the band was on board, and he should have prepared them.
Duane and Gregg appear to have been particularly hostile to the idea and behaved accordingly. Grover Lewis doesn't seem to have had a meaningful conversation with either of them, not even a brief one, and without Duane's blessing this was destined to end badly. Being joined at the hip with this journalistic appendage obviously represented "selling out" and the phony "star trip" Duane Allman despised. Although Lewis was given complete access to the touring brotherhood, it must have been excruciatingly awkward for him, like Mr. Jones in Bob Dylan's "Ballad of a Thin Man":
"Well you walk into the room like a camel and then you frown You put your eyes in your pocket and your nose on the ground There ought to be a law against you coming around You should be made to wear earphones Cause something is happening and you don't know what it is do you, Mr. Jones? "
A contributing editor scorned is a potential publicity nightmare, and Grover Lewis had his revenge —he eviscerated the Allman Brothers Band. According to the editorial comment at the beginning of the article, it was submitted a week prior to Duane Allman's death. Thus, Lewis and his editor had a month to react to what had happened, but Lewis didn't allow tragedy to lessen his wrath.
The approach of his piece is readily apparent: come readers, climb up onto my cynical perch, snuggle up next to me under this smug blanket, and look down on this "hoard of Dixie greasers." Music was parenthetical to his chronicle, the "new journalism" focused on other priorities:
..." The Allmans are fast asleep, their mouths characteristically ajar. Duane, whose nickname is 'Skydog' but who resembles a skinny orange walrus instead, looks bowlegged even when he's sitting down." It's fitting that the article features an iconic photo of Duane and Gregg by Anne Leibovitz (which was also a popular poster in the 70s.) Contrary to Lewis's description, her photo captured both of them in the back of a car in a deep sleep with their mouths tightly closed. He felt the need to describe Dickey Betts as having a "bony chest" and wrote: "he has that kind of bony, back-country face that calls to mind the character Robert E. Lee Previtt in James Jones' From Here to Eternity."
A reader in 1971 might have imagined that someone that captious must be quite the physical specimen himself, perhaps a rugged Robert Redford type with a rapier wit. In an appreciation of Grover Lewis published in the L.A. Times on June 25, 1995, his fellow "new journalism" colleague Dave Hickey wrote:
"Since my old pal Grover Lewis no longer walks among us, let me begin by saying that, as a physical creature, by the standards of the culture, Grover was nobody's dream date. But he had an air about him, something likable and complicated. He had this lanky Texas stance, a big mouth with a big smile, and attired as he usually was, in boots, jeans and some goofy '40s shirt, faintly squiffed and glaring at you through those thick Coke-bottle glasses, he was a caricaturist's delight: all eyes, mouth, angles, sweetness and ferocious intelligence. Moreover, he was a Southern Boy to the end. "
Discovering that he was more geek than hunk wasn't nearly as surprising as the assertion he was "a Southern Boy to the end." Throughout the article he refers to himself as "fellow traveler" and misses no opportunity to depict his fellow travelers as backward "Gawgian" lowlifes and churls. In his letter to the New York Times Butch Trucks wrote: "In Lewis's article, all the dialogue among members of our group seemed to be taken directly from Faulkner. We are from the South. We did and still do have Southern accents. We are not stupid. The people in the article were creations of Grover Lewis. They did not exist in reality."
Rereading Lewis's article after all these decades, and reflecting on it light of his friend's description of him, it's not difficult to imagine what the source of his caustic treatment of the Allman Brothers Band might have been: A geeky teenager with talent and ambition graduates high school in 1950 ends up in San Francisco in the late 60s and 70s as a star reporter for Rolling Stone. In 1971 he could make or break people with the written word, and rock musicians treated him accordingly. By then he saw himself as cool and projected a cocksure attitude, but this constructed identity rested on a fragile foundation—below the surface the underlying insecurity and resentment remained. Unfortunately, Duane Allman's personality was kryptonite for Lewis's ego, and the star reporter was suddenly whisk back in time to his former geekdom. Not only did Duane Allman refuse to kiss his ass, when Grover Lewis mouthed off to him, Duane Allman threatened to kick his ass.
The unfortunate result was that his influential article became of revenge-of-the-geek piece. Butch Trucks echos that thought in his letter to the New York Times: "I am sure that our fellow traveler was used to bands falling all over themselves at having one of the great writers from Rolling Stone magazine around. He was somewhat taken aback by our lack of interest in his presence." That would explain his hostile treatment of the Allman Brothers Band, but his self loathing portrayal of Southerners is perplexing.
Dave Hickey's appreciation of Lewis turned out to be quite interesting reading. Grover Lewis had planned to write an autobiographical book entitled "Goodbye If You Call That Gone." Like Gregg and Duane, Grover Lewis had experienced tragedy as a child, as the opening for his proposed book revealed: "In the spring of 1943, my parents—Grover Lewis, a truck driver, and Opal Bailey Lewis, a hotel waitress—shot each other to death with a pawnshop pistol. For almost a year, Big Grover had stalked my mother, my four-year-old sister and me across backwater Texas, resisting Opal's decision to divorce him. When she finally did, and when he finally cornered her and pulled the trigger as he'd promise[sic] to do, she seized the gun and killed him, too."
Hickey notes the courage it took for Grover Lewis to reveal his own story: ..."he was handing every armchair psychologist we knew a false key to his heart, because, clearly, the crazy, loving, violent figure of Big Grover flickered behind half the people he had written about, behind all the bad guys, rough necks and broken poets, behind Robert Mitchum, Duane Allman, Lee Marvin, Lash LaRue, Art Pepper, John Houston and Sam Peckinpah, and Grover knew it. 'I can see it now, of course,' he said, 'how I would want to talk to somebody who was like Big Grover, who was bad and good, and sweet and violent. How I would want to speculate on how he might have survived, done well and been redeemed. That's a reasonable interest, I think, but it doesn't explain anything. That was just the assignment, you know, and I'm too good a reporter to let the assignment distort the story. I always got the story that was there. From all these people. The only difference Big Grover made, I think, was that I was really interested in those guys and predisposed to forgive them for their rough edges. That made better stories, I think.' "
Butch Trucks called Lewis's article mean spirited fiction, with inaccurate and incomplete quotes, and laughable dialog. Grover Lewis claimed: "I'm too good a reporter to let the assignment distort the story. I always got the story that was there. From all these people." Well, the "assignment" may not have distorted the story, but something certainly did. To me, his "story" of Duane Allman's final days on the road is a corrupting tale in which elements of the truth are tethered to a distorted reality clouded by the writer's personal agenda. It is presented as fact, but stylistically it reads like narrative fiction—actually quite good fiction. That makes it powerful, seductive, and pernicious.
He was essentially tagging along with the road crew, who regaled him with their own excesses and exploits. These are reported in detail and represents a significant portion of the "story." His intent seems to have been guilt by association. For example, he couldn't report on any salacious encounters between the band and groupies, so fellow traveler veered off the main road to report from the gutter: "Off to one side, Red Dog is whispering in the ear of the lone groupie who's shown up, a big-nosed redhead with deep acne scars. The girl listens expressionlessly, then finally nods yes to whatever, sucking on a joint as if it were the last sad drooping cock in the world."
In fact, he got next to nothing from Duane Allman, and was merely tolerated by the band. He overheard a few of the musicians' conversations, observed their drug use, and in an entire week only managed to have a few exchanges with the band. From that vantage point he wrote a compelling narrative that conveys the monotony, banality, and exhausting nature of touring. You can actually imagine yourself sitting next to a member of the crew in this tangential reality, but he ignores the beauty of the art. Instead, he cattily focuses on the imperfections of the all too human vessels who were making it—and their crew. In a similar situation Ludwig van Beethoven, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Charlie Parker, or Miles Davis, would not have fared better.
To the outsider, the crew's and band's use of the title "brother" may have seemed worthy of ridicule. Actually, their extraordinary loyalty to each other set the original Allman Brothers Band apart from many other bands. That was due in large part to Duane Allman, who was by all accounts a natural leader. James Brown may have run a tight ship by fining his musicians and insisting they refer to him as Mr. Brown, but Duane Allman's band mates and crew would have followed him to the ends of the earth on an empty stomach without a paycheck—that is a rare thing. Again, Butch Trucks echoed this in his letter to the New York Times: "First, let me state unequivocally that Duane Allman was one of the most powerful, charismatic and trustworthy men I have ever known. I would use the word 'messianic' to describe the impact he had on the people around him..." The impact of his leadership was probably as important to the band as his guitar skills.
He had been a rebellious juvenile delinquent, but as the 60s unfolded he tuned-in, turned-on, dropped out, and devoted himself to music. He absorbed the Zeitgeist of the love generation, but still retained his rough edges, and remained a Southerner through and through. He was at home with hippies or bikers. Under his leadership, draft-dodgers in his band and hardened veterans in his crew developed a fierce loyalty to each other. These brothers of the road forged a bond as they scraped by at a subsistence level during their first year, and their group dynamic didn't change when they had a gold record. This closeness, loyalty, and mutual respect came through in their music. In a musical genre replete with giant egos, jealousy, and clashes, the original Allman Brothers Band and their crew were an exception.
Their album At Fillmore East was a perfect embodiment of what they were about. A simple black and white photo of the band sitting on their equipment cases in front of a brick wall, and on the back cover, the same photo, but this time of the crew holding their beer cans. The music was a pure reflection of what they were doing night after night. It was unintentional on Grover Lewis's part, but a perceptive reader can indeed uncover some insights about Duane Allman from his surly behavior toward Lewis, and the sparse quotes attributed to him. Duane was beginning to get more attention than the rest of the band as a result of his association with Eric Clapton, and Delaney & Bonnie, but he obviously did not want this to become a problem. On the contrary, when doing interviews he made a point of praising Dickey Betts. For example, this was the only thing he went out of his way to say to Grover Lewis: "Brother Dickey's as good as there is in the world, my man. And he's gonna be smokin' tonight. Listen to him on 'In Memory of Elizabeth Reed.'"
Reading the article you have to feel sorry for the photographer, Anne Leibovitz. Duane and Gregg turned her job into the assignment from hell. You can imagine that she had been given instructions to get some shots of the blonde brothers after whom the band was named. At one point their manager's assistant, Bucky Odum, tried to get Duane and Gregg to pose for her without the rest of the band. Both of them were furious at the suggestion, with Duane exclaiming (as quoted by Lewis), "Fuck man, we ain't on no fuckin' Star Trip!" In San Francisco, Duane refused to go to a studio for a shoot, and Gregg wouldn't allow a light bulb in a dressing room to be changed so she could have adequate light. The next day in Santa Barbara, Duane again refused to go to a shoot with the photographer, so she agreed to come back the next day. The next morning things got worse, Anne Leibovitz had learned that everyone in the band had the same mushroom tattoo on his calf, so she wanted them in a semi-circle with their calves exposed. Duane refused: "This is jive bullshit, man, it's silly!" Grover Lewis described what happened next: "At the fellow traveler's teasing suggestion that it's no sillier to shoot a picture of everyone's tattoo than it is to have them put on in the first place, Duane coldly offers to punch him on the spot." Butch Trucks recalled it like this: "This was the final straw for Duane. That was when he looked Grover Lewis in the eye and said, 'One more crack like that out of you and I'm gonna knock your block off.'" Later Leibovitz tried one final time to get a group shot, and Duane lost his temper again, "Fuck it, either take the fuckin' picture or don't take the fuckin' picture. I'm not gonna do any of that phony posin' shit for you or nobody else."
Grover Lewis's story focused on the boredom, the bedlam, the raunchy excess of the Allman Brothers touring experience. He described Duane Allman's disagreeable reaction to a star reporter and star photographer from Rolling Stone, but failed to registered how remarkable that actually was. Duane Allman left absolutely no doubt that he wasn't interested in stardom, fame, or being on the cover of Rolling Stone. So the obvious question should have been: why would someone put himself through such an ordeal day after day? Grover Lewis had the privilege of experiencing Duane Allman at the height of his career and musical development, so the answer to that question should have been obvious. His life revolved around the rush, the exuberance, and the magic of making music. The closed-eyed, open-mouthed, transfixed Duane Allman connecting with receptive spirits and feeding off their energy—that was Duane Allman hittin' the note. How could someone have witnessed him night after night at that point in time, and felt the need to ask what hittin' the note means? Interestingly, he asked everyone in the band that lame question except Duane Allman.
Contrary to his own assessment, he indeed missed the story, and despite his considerable literary gifts he failed to convey anything about Duane Allman's musicianship and musicality. In the last paragraph of his article, despite his vengeful slant, he finally shared a brief glimpse of what he had been privileged to witness: "When the band's set gets underway downstairs, the usually-comatose Strip yells its lusty approval from the first chorus of 'Statesboro Blues.' By the time Dicky[sic] Betts thunderballs into his solo jam on 'Elisabeth Reed,' people are standing on their chairs, yodeling cheers. As the band jam-drives to a sexy and demonic close, sounding not unlike tight early Coltrane, a flaxen-haired waitress is passing out draughts of beer to the screaming patrons in the second-story gallery. The beer is streaming amber and glistening down her bare arms, and the Allman Brothers Band from Macon, Gawgia, is—what else—Hitting the Note."
Serious Duane Allman fans have probably felt the heartbreaking sense of loss that comes from the realization that he was still growing as a musician at the time of his death. Even Gregg Allman had noticed the phenomenon of his continuing musical growth. As an adult he had only been separated once from his brother for a significant period of time, when he returned to Los Angeles to fulfill contractual obligations. When he came to Jacksonville to join the band at Duane's urging, he had been amazed by how his brother's playing had developed. Even comparing Duane's playing from the clear audio of the Atlanta International Pop Festival in July of 1970 to the At Fillmore East concerts recorded in March of 1971, you are struck by the unmistakable development in just nine months. This progress continued during the final eight month of his life, and thanks to our Internet age you can actually follow this development on audience recordings—although the audio quality is sometimes quite meager. That's not to imply that every show was a gem. He had substance abuse problems, and although he kicked opiates shortly before he died, he had replaced them with cocaine. So Duane Allman wasn't always in top form.
Fortunately, after the band's famous live album, two more concerts were professionally recorded which capture his development on very good nights. There was the final concert at the Fillmore on June 27, 1971 when the Allman Brothers took the stage in the middle of the night and left at sunrise. It's an excellent recording, although the sleep deprived audience is understandably zapped of energy. (At one point Duane remarked how quiet the crowd was, and wondered aloud if they were too high.) The other treasure from the final months of Duane Allman life is the recording of the A&R Studios concert broadcast on WPLJ-FM in NYC on August 26, 1971. For the broadcast they packed about 200 people into the studio. Duane mentions during the concert that they are having trouble hearing themselves, but the band is on fire, the audio quality is quite good, and in contrast to the last Fillmore concert, the small crowd's energy is high.
When Duane Allman died on October 29th of 1971, he and the band were on the verge of stardom, but still not there. Despite a gold album, they were an insider tip compared to bands like Santana and Ten Years After. By this time I was going to college out West, and I remember turning people on to the Allman Brothers Band during the autumn of 1971 and early 1972. As a matter of fact, in Europe, where I've spent most of my adult life, they have always been an insider tip—although they have an extremely dedicated fan base here. National fame did come fairly quickly to Duane Allman and his band after his death. Willie Perkins, the band's tour manager, told Grover Lewis they were averaging $7500 a gig in October of 1971. In Cameron Crowe's, December 6, 1973 cover story about the Allman Brothers Band in Rolling Stone, he reported that during the previous six months they had averaged between $50,000 and $100,000 per night, and now their albums were routinely going gold—fame had indeed arrived.
The void Duane Allman left seemed unfathomable at the time, and I can vividly remember the shock and grief I felt when I learned of his death. When I indulge in a bit of daydreaming about how Duane Allman's might have developed, I'm confident he would have grown tremendously as a player, and I can imagine all kind of glorious collaborations and amazing music. Of course, it could have developed much differently. What if he were still milking the music he made back in the early years of the Allman Brothers, or if he had made a series of uninspired albums? We'll never know, but the beauty is that every fan has an empty canvas upon which to paint a version of what might have been. William Shakespeare famously wrote that the world is a stage. If so, Skydog certainly nailed his exit. Here we are, on his 70th birthday, 46 years after his passing, essentially yearning for more. It's fitting that even the numbers line up: 70 minus 24 equals 46, and 46 was his year of birth.
The similarities between James Dean and Duane Allman also relate to their attitude towards life. James Dean said: "Dream as if you'll live forever. Live as if you'll die today." Duane Allman's life was lived in such a manner. He probably experienced more in those 24 years than many do in seven decades—one Skydog year surely equals several ordinary years. Chances are that an average fan who had the good fortune to see him play, has spent hundreds of thousands of hours in mundane situations at work, in school, in traffic, doing chores, standing in line, and on and on. That was not the road Skydog traveled.
He lived in the moment and followed his passions—even as a boy. There was no time for school, or a job. There was no need for long weekend getaways, or annual vacations. Music was his calling, and life was his spring break. How can you measure in hours and minutes what Duane Allman experienced during the final years of his life? Imagine the wonder of 300 nights a year on stage stretching the time continuum with those Zen like musical moments.
Over the years here at AllAboutJazz, Duane Allman has come up often in my interviews, and I thought I would put together the audio as a fitting way to honor his memory. There's the Groovemaster, Jerry Jemmott, the legendary bassist from Atlantic Records and King Curtis Band, who was with Duane during several of those legendary sessions in Muscle Shoals and Atlantic Studios in New York at the beginning of his session career—and they reunited again shortly before his death when they were recording Herbie Mann's album Push Push. The legendary Chuck Leavell who as a teenager saw Gregg and Duane on tour before the Allman Brothers formed. He was also famously the first person asked to join the Allman Brothers Band after Duane's passing. Jaimoe who, after Duane, could arguably be considered the next person to join the band that came to be known as the Allman Brothers Band. Joey Molland, the sole surviving member of the Badfinger formation that met Duane in Atlanta. John McLaughlin who met Duane during some joint engagements. John Scofield who jammed with the Allman Brothers Band at the Beacon during their 40th anniversary celebration dedicated to Duane—I spoke with him just a couple of days after that appearance. Last but by no means least, Derek Trucks whose extraordinary slide playing allowed generations of people born after Duane's death to experience the magic of the band he formed a decade before Derek was even born.