Duane Allman at 70: A Reflection

Alan Bryson By

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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.
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