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Duane Allman at 70: A Reflection

Alan Bryson By

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Five years passed and now Palmer was also playing gigs at the Fillmore East, and was thus able to get backstage and see shows even when they were sold out. He wrote that when he was in town he never missed seeing the Allman Brothers. Once after a show in which he had experienced Duane "soaring for hours on wings of lyrical song," Duane told him that kind of playing came from listening to Miles and Coltrane, especially Kind of Blue. Duane told him that for the past couple of years he had hardly listened to anything else.

In his liner note Palmer wrote, "I heard a musician who'd grown in ways I never could have imagined. It's rare to see a musician grow that spectacularly, that fast; I'm not sure there's any guitarist who's come along since Duane's early death on the highway who has been able to sustain improvisation of such lyric beauty and epic expanse."

To return to the similarities between the Allman Brothers and Santana Bands, it was Jaimoe who guided Duane on his path of musical discovery that led to Miles and Coltrane, and it was drummer Michael Shrieve, who turned Carlos Santana on to Miles and Coltrane. Carlos Santana in his own words:

"I owe Michael a lot; He's the one who turned me onto John Coltrane and Miles Davis. I just wanted to play blues until Michael came. He opened my eyes and my ears and my heart to a lot of things. Some drummers only have chops, but Michael Shrieve has vision. Michael is like a box of crayons; he has all the colors."

In a 2006 interview with ModernGuitars Santana said:

"Well, you know, out of the original band he and I were kindred spirits. He and I wanted the multi-dimensional thing more than the drugs and the women and all the other stuff that came in with being so young and so naïve. He and I used to lock ourselves in a room and go through Miles [Davis] and [John] Coltrane and whatever was available to us—soundtracks from Fellini movies or whatever. Michael and I were always exploring. How do we express that and make it into our own? So, that's why after all these years we have a beautiful relationship, because we're hungry for new colors, new expression, new feelings, constantly."

This was a key to unlocking the secret of why these two band had affected me so dramatically, though it would take decades for me to truly understand it. Eventually it became clear to me that they had internalized the essence of many of my favorite musicians from the golden age of jazz and blues and fused that with the spirit of the times and the energy of youth culture—and each, in an unmistakable way, had made it his own.

How different the day after the concert would have been if there had been an Internet in 1970: I would have searched for the Allman Brothers tour schedule, and then seen every show I possibly could. But it was a different time, and it wasn't easy to get that kind of information. It was word-of-mouth, or you needed to either see a poster, an ad in a newspaper, or hear a radio ad. Instead I messed around with my guitar and tried to figure out a few things I remembered from the night before, and I listened to their debut album again with fresh ears.

The very next day, September 18, 1970 my newfound musical euphoria took a major hit. It was announced on the radio and the TV network news that Jimi Hendrix had died. Decades later I would learn that the last time he appeared on stage was September 16, 1970 when he sat in with Eric Burdon and War at Ronnie Scott's club in London—the same night I had seen Duane Allman.

On September 23, 1970 the Allman Brothers released their second album, Idlewild South. This was a welcome relief after the shock of Jimi Hendrix's death. With their live performance still fresh in my mind, the 30 minute album paled in comparison. Vinyl at that time had the capacity of 26 minutes of music on each side, so given what I had just witnessed I couldn't understand why Tom Dowd hadn't used more of the 52 minutes available to him. It would have allowed the band to stretch things out a bit so people could hear what they were about—at least on those songs that had no chance of being played on AM radio.

In any case, I was thrilled to have "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed" on an album, and truth be told, I almost wore that album out. Although short and restrained, it was certainly a very good album. Reviews were good, not great, but initially the album was yet another commercial disappointment for their label. Things were, however, still moving in the right direction.





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