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Duane Allman at 70: A Reflection

Alan Bryson By

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Dowd took Clapton and his band to the Allman Brothers' concert. Bobby Whitlock, keyboardist and vocalist with Clapton's Derek and the Dominos, already knew Duane from his time Delaney and Bonnie. He remembered the gig well, and gave a telling indication of where the band was at in September of 1970. According to Whitlock, the Allman Brothers Band was set up on the flatbed trailer of an 18 wheeler in the parking lot of the Convention Center in Miami Beach, Florida. He laughingly recalled that bales of hay had been placed before the trailer to keep back the throng of 175 people who had gathered there. His party crawled under the truck and sat directly in front of the stage, resting their backs against the bales of hay and looking straight up at the band.

Whitlock recalled Duane soloing with his eyes closed. When he opened them, he looked down, made eye contact with Clapton, and immediately froze. Dickey Betts then looked over to see why Duane had stopped, then looked down and saw Clapton, and he stopped too. After the concert the band was invited back to the studio where they jammed all night long, and thankfully the tapes were rolling. It took decades, but eventually these jam sessions were officially released.

There was an instant chemistry and musical kinship between Duane Allman and Eric Clapton. Duane's ease in the studio, soulful playing, warm tone, and Southern drawl completely charmed Clapton—in an interview he admitted to being captivated by Duane Allman, both by his playing and his personality. As a result, Clapton asked him to stay on and finish the album with him.

With the exception of a five day break because of concerts dates, Duane was in the studio with Clapton from August 27 until September 10, 1970. From his daughter Galadrielle Allman's excellent book we learn that on September 5th he wrote to his wife from his hotel room in Milwaukee, Wisconsin that Clapton had actually asked him to join his band. It would mean a house in England, five thousand dollars a week, and twenty percent of tour receipts which he assured her would be phenomenal. He cautioned her to keep that secret. Even today, $5000 a week is serious money, but adjusted for inflation that would be over $30,000 a week in today's money—stardom was no longer a dream, he only had to say "yes."

Less than a week later, on September 16th, Duane Allman was back in Daytona Beach for a concert. Mentally he must have been in an unimaginably euphoric place—he and Clapton, his former idol, had bonded musically. Clapton thought of him as the brother he never had, as a peer and musical equal, and he had made him a spectacular offer. Duane knew the album they had just recorded was excellent, and regardless of what he decided, that would give his career a major boost.

That night the Allman Brothers would be playing at the Peabody Auditorium, just off Main Street. It was the premier venue in Daytona Beach. elvis, Frank Sinatra, Itzhak Perlman, Dave Brubeck, Ray Charles, and scores of others had played there. Peabody Auditorium seats about 2500 people and is known for its exceptionally good acoustics, easily the equal of the Fillmore in New York.

Just a few months earlier the Allman Brothers had played at Duane's former high school, and as mentioned above, Clapton had just seen them perform on a truck trailer—so clearly things were looking up. It must have seemed a bit surreal to Duane, the Peabody is within walking distance of the pier where he and Gregg performed as teenagers, and just around the corner from the pool hall where he had regularly hung out when he skipped school.

Being home this time must have been a very different experience, and no doubt he was fired up with the Clapton experience still fresh in his mind. Given such a life changing decision, it seems likely he would have been eager to compare that with playing in front of a home town crowd with his own band. He could say "yes" to Clapton and achieve something he'd always dreamed of, and in so doing destroy the hopes and dreams of his brother and band mates; or he could say "no" and return to touring in a low-rent Winnebago and hope their future albums would do a hell of a lot better than the one they had released a year earlier.

The rest of the band must have been excited by the possibilities that would result from Duane appearing on Clapton's next album. On the other hand, even if they didn't know of Clapton's offer to Duane, on some level they also must have sensed that his interest in Duane represented a risk to their own future. Would his loyalty to them withstand such temptation? Considering all that, it is easy to imagine that they too were fired up and had something to prove, to each other, and especially to Duane. There was also one other bit of excitement in the works. In exactly one week, on September 23rd, their second album, Idlewild South, would be released.





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