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37

Duane Allman at 70: A Reflection

Alan Bryson By

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At the time I had no clue who Duane and Gregg Allman were, but as I started my senior year of high school, they were within walking distance from me, just a few blocks down Peninsula Drive. But the window of opportunity to meet them closed quickly. Gregg soon returned to Los Angeles and Duane made his way to Muscle Shoals, Alabama to break into the session scene. I do remember hearing Duane Allman's name a few times at school, they were, after all, local heroes, but I smugly discounted any tales about the Allman Joys or the Hourglass as they were then called.

During the fall of 1968 there was no dearth of rock music: Cream's Wheels of Fire, Jeff Becks' Truth, the Beatles White Album, Hendrix's Electric Ladyland, The Band's Music from Big Pink, Creedence Clearwater Revival's self titled album, Iron Butterfly's In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida, and although it took a while to break nationally, Johnny Winter's Progressive Blues Experiment. In 1969 the rock tsunami continued: The Beatles' Abbey Road, Led Zeppelin's self titled album, King Crimson's In The Court Of The Crimson King, Rolling Stones' Let It Bleed, Sly and the Family Stone's Stand!, Blind Faith's self titled album, David Bowie's Space Oddity, Santana's self titled album, Jethro Tull's Stand Up, The Chicago Transit Authority's self titled album, and Taj Mahal's self titled album—and those are just some of the more obvious rock releases. When the Allman Brothers Band formed in the spring of 1969, there was no void waiting to be filled, and the world wasn't looking for the next guitar hero.

Had I not lived in Daytona Beach, I doubt I would have been among the initial thirty-some-thousand who bought a copy of the Allman Brothers Band's self titled album. It was released on November, 8, 1969 and of course it got plenty of promotion in their home town. Although I didn't expect too much, I did swing by the Montgomery Ward's record department to pick up a copy. It didn't floor me, but the tight 33 minutes with dual lead guitars and two drummers did manage to stand out. The reluctant skeptic was now interested in the band. Nonetheless, their first album was a commercial disappointment for their label. They were playing for free in parks to gain a following, opening for other bands to keep gas in their Winnebago, and Duane continued doing session work to stay afloat financially. They ended 1969 at the Fillmore East, third on the bill after Blood Sweat & Tears and Appaloosa.

Although they were third on the bill, they gained a very powerful supporter, the legendary Bill Graham, owner and proprietor of the Fillmore East & West auditoriums. Graham recognized their talent and respected their approach and originality. A year and a half later, when he decided to close the Fillmore East, it was, appropriately, the Allman Brothers Band whom he allowed to take the stage last.

Initially Graham's support took the form of putting them on bills with artists they admired, or artists whose fans were likely to appreciate the Allman Brothers Band. Less than three weeks after their debut at the Fillmore East they were in San Francisco at the Fillmore West on the bill with B.B. King and Buddy Guy. (In the accompanying audio Jaimoe talks about that concert and more.) A couple of days later Gregg and Duane were once again in Los Angeles, at the Whiskey A-Go-Go, a venue on the Sunset Strip where they had headlined in 1968 as the Hour Glass. As the Allman Brothers Band they were now supporting Ten Wheel Drive. Earlier this year I asked lead singer Genya Ravan if she remembered that gig: "Well, that night I sat in with them and sang 'Stormy Monday' and that song never sounded better. I can only say it was a testosterone moment and I loved it. Real men, real music!"

Back on their home turf in Georgia, they opened for Santana in Atlanta in March of 1970, and were the opening and closing act at the three day Atlanta International Pop Festival in July. During the summer they had also gained exposure by opening for the group Mountain. Looking over their concert dates you'll find that in May 1970, a year after the band formed, they played two concerts in high school auditoriums. One was at their alma mater in Daytona Beach. Having graduated a year earlier, that escaped my notice, but even if I had known, given the venue I doubt I would have made an effort to go—of course now it is frustrating to think I missed such an opportunity. They were steadily building a fan base, but clearly a long way from stardom.

In February 1970 the band had begun recording Idlewild South, their second album, under the tutelage of veteran engineer Tom Dowd, whose credits go back the giants of the bebop era. Fortunately for the Allman Brothers, he was also working with Eric Clapton in 1970. The Allman Brothers Band played in Miami at the end of August as Eric Clapton was there to record the Layla album with Tom Dowd.

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