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Duane Allman at 70: A Reflection

Alan Bryson By

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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.





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