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Book Reviews

Duane Allman & Eric Clapton: The Triumph And Tragedy Of Two Guitar Heroes

By Published: January 27, 2007

The resulting picture of Allman—his Skydog nickname formalized by Wilson Pickett—is that of a serious musician getting more serious all the time. Just as the iconic Southerner's talent might have begun to fossilize, his discovery of the jazz dynamic, furthered through his introduction (via Capricorn major domo Phil Walden) to former Percy Sledge drummer Jai Johanny Johansson, escalates his drive to a higher level. It leads inexorably, as do many other of his transitions, to the next fateful step of his career, in this case his work with King Curtis and Herbie Mann.

In keeping with his tempered tone, Poe understates Allman's contribution to Layla. Instead of over-dramatizing the encounter with Clapton, Poe lets the sequence of events speak for itself, including how Allman devised the famous opening to the title song on the album. He points out, crucially, how Allman forsook ABB gigs to be sure to complete the recording. It's here that Allman, only 24 years old at the time of his death, sounds like a wise and knowing individual beyond his calendar years.

The artful depiction of this phase of Allman's career makes his tragic death in the motorcycle accident of 1971 seem inevitable as well. As Allman continued to do session work even as the demand for ABB grew and grew, the fatigue factor, combined with increasing drug use throughout the band, resulted in a vicious downward spiral. Duane's brother Gregg is conspicuously absent as this theme unfolds, his presence supplanted by Berry Oakley. Killed in an accident eerily similar to Duane's in 1972, the bassist took Allman's death the hardest of the ABB family, plunging into a morass of alcohol and drugs resembling nothing so much as a death wish.

The author references how Allman himself alluded, somewhat morbidly, to his own early demise in the later months of his own life. It's symbolic of the man's influence on the young Southern culture of the late 1960s and early 1970s that Poe speaks without melodrama of the ABB's post- death activities. Again he allows the facts, such as they are, to speak for themselves as he talks of Gregg Allman's marriage to Cher and the sale of the Muscle Shoals recording studios where Duane first made a reputation for himself. Throughout Skydog: The Duane Allman Story, a selection of photos both illustrates the unfolding story and piques the reader's curiosity, ultimately making the book worthy of close perusal.

It's a tribute to Poe and his subject that the later chapters don't come across as rushed or superficial, as is the case with all too many contemporary biographies. Given that, it's odd that current Allman Brothers members such as Derek Trucks and Oteil Burbridge aren't allowed to provide some perspective on the legacy of Duane Allman. Perhaps that's for a revised edition some years in the future—or even another book altogether, one capturing the recurring rites of passage navigated by ABB, all of which was set in motion by the indomitable (if slightly flawed) free-spirit of its figurehead Duane Allman.

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