Skydog is a 7-disc collection celebrating the life and legacy of the late Duane Allman, with music spanning from high school days (with brother Gregg) to powerful live performances by the original Allman Brothers lineup (Berry Oakley, Dickey Betts, Butch Trucks, Jaimoe, Gregg, and Duane) only a few weeks before Duane’s death. Included in the collection are many samples of the great session work he did – much of it in the hallowed setting of the FAME Recording Studios in Muscle Shoals, AL.
If you were going to choose three albums to put in a time capsule representing the best of the best of blues-rooted rock ‘n’ roll guitar, The Allman Brothers’ Live At Fillmore East and Derek And The Dominos’ Layla would likely be two of them – and Duane Allman is featured on both.
The sobering fact of all this is that the music on Skydog was recorded between 1965 and 1971. In six years’ time, Duane Allman went from being a high schooler in a rock band to a legend, gone way too soon.
The Skydog compilation was co-produced by Bill Levenson and Duane’s daughter Galadrielle. We had the opportunity to speak with Galadrielle about her father and his music.
BR: I can’t come up with a better phrase to describe the Skydog box than “put together with love” – both in terms of the music and even the box itself, adorned with his treasured Les Paul. I laughed when I first opened it up and saw the guitar case lining inside and the “string packages” for the individual CDs.
GA: I’m so glad you appreciated that! I think it really speaks to what my dad’s priorities were, you know? He really didn’t like having his picture taken or being separated out from the rest of the band. He loved that guitar; it felt right to design the box that way … and I think he would approve.
I should know this – how old were you when your father died?
I was two. I was born in August of 1969, which was essentially the same time that the band was forming. I was born in Macon, GA and luckily my father happened to be home when I was born, which was a great blessing. (laughs) The band was really busy at that point in time.
I’m actually writing a book about my family right now that’s going to come out next year. I went on a lengthy couple of years of traveling and talking to friends and learning a lot about him. Working on the box set was kind of a nice counterpoint to that; I’ve been spending the last four years really learning a lot about my father and his career and his personality … it’s really been a great experience.
My folks were both older than I am now when they passed away. They never leave you, of course; their presence is always there – but I have a sense of them being older than me. Your father, on the other hand, was a young man when he died. When you think about him – and the influence he’s had on your life – is he 20 years or so younger than you are now?
It’s funny … I remember very well when I turned 24 how hard it was; how sad it was – and how startling it was at the same time. I was working as a cashier in a restaurant when I was that age. (laughs) I hadn’t accomplished anything that I’d be remembered for!
He was just such a focused and driven artist. Without exception, everyone that I talked to has said that my father seemed older and wiser than his years. Even in photographs: he has this real confidence and presence that makes him seem quite grown up.
In the box set, you can hear that even his earliest high school cover bands had such a polish; a kind of professional intent. He took himself and his work very seriously for someone his age and it shows.
INTERLUDE: DISC ONE 1965 – 1968
The Skydog box set takes flight with three previously unreleased cuts by The Escorts, a four-piece band Duane and Gregg originally formed in 1964. Even in their teens, the brothers were already performing with a musical maturity beyond their years. As Disc One progresses through music from The Allman Joys, Hour Glass, 31st Of February, and The Bleus, it’s almost shocking to hear how Duane Allman began finding his own guitar voice at such a young age.
BR: When you’re listening to The Escorts doing “Lovelight” it’s so easy to forget how young they were.
GA: I know!
Until a little over two minutes in when Gregg’s voice cracks –
And it’s the sweetest thing, as you realize they might sound like these old bluesmen, but they were just kids. (laughter)
And he was probably 17 then – or about to turn 17. My grandmother took what they were doing seriously, as well. She was a single parent – their father was killed when they were little children – but she would take them to clubs before they were old enough to go alone. She’d take them to meet the club owners, shake their hand, and say, “These are my boys.”
God bless her!
Oh, she was very supportive – made them join the musician’s union and treat it professionally. She always said, “You can do anything you want with your life, but you’ve got to work.” She always wanted them to have a work ethic.
That’s where that came from … and I think that’s another thing that people don’t necessarily think of: what it took to get where they were with the Allman Brothers. There was a huge amount of work that led up to that point; to be such strong players by that point in time.
I know you could only include so much in the collection, but I think Skydog does do a great job of representing how much music Duane had been a part of before the actual formation of the Allman Brothers Band.
We had concerns that the later music is so well known. It would’ve been easy to overload the box with Allman Brothers music, but the focus isn’t on the band – it’s on his life story … and I hope that fans can understand it and get a new perspective on him through the balance.
And this early music certainly does that. “No Name Instrumental” sort of captures Link Wray’s darkness – although Duane never sounds sinister … I don’t think he had it in him to sound sinister. (laughter)
I don’t know – “Black Hearted Woman” gets pretty tough. (laughter) But I think you’re right about that instrumental – a Link Wray … almost surf sort of influence. They were raised in Daytona, after all … (laughter)
And then on the Allman Joy tunes, you hear a lot of Jeff Beck in Duane’s playing. But on his first solo during their version of “Spoonful” that’s included here – that’s the first time that I felt, “Right there – that’s some classic Duane phrasing.” His sound is starting to percolate.
It’s interesting to hear how his style developed. You can find Duane … even in all these different genres he had a real touch that you can hear. But he wasn’t a showboat; as strong as he was, even in something like “Hey Jude” where he does sort of take off and fly – standing toe-to-toe with someone like Wilson Pickett couldn’t have been easy to do – he doesn’t overpower.
He always communicated with the other musicians – always – and he always did what the song needed and deserved.