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Duane Allman at 70: A Reflection

Alan Bryson By

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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.





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