By MIKE VINSON
From time-to-time, magazines such as "Rolling Stone," Guitar Player," and "Spin" will feature a poll listing the "100 Greatest Guitar Players of all Time." Though the rankings vary, there is one name guaranteed to be near the top in all of these polls: Duane Allman.
When discussing Southern Rock, many groups come to mind. Lynyrd Skynyrd, Marshall Tucker Band, Charlie Daniels, Wet Willie, Molly Hatchet, .38 Special, and others have contributed significantly to this popular mixture of country, rock, and blues. However, the first time I recall hearing the term "Southern Rock" was in the late '60s - early '70s, when it was applied to the Allman Brothers Band/ABB.
A brief history on ABB:
In the late '60s, soul singer Wilson Pickett (of "Mustang Sally" fame) was doing a recording session at Fame Studio in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. Also hanging out at Fame Studio was a long-haired, free-spirited guitar virtuoso named Duane Allman. Allman and Pickett immediately became kindred spirits, and Allman ended up playing guitar on Pickett's cover of the Beatles' "Hey Jude" (a hit for Pickett, as well as the Beatles).
Phil Walden, head of Capricorn Records in Macon, Georgia, heard Pickett's cover of "Hey Jude" and was so impressed with Duane Allman's guitar playing that Walden decided to form a band with Allman as the nucleus. After a few changes here and there, the original lineup for the Allman Brothers Band came together: Duane Allman on lead guitar; Gregg Allman, Duane's younger brother, on keyboards and vocals; Dickey Betts on rhythm and lead guitar; Berry Oakley on bass; Butch Trucks on drums; and Jai Johnny Johanson on drums.
"That particular part Duane played [on Pickett's "Hey Jude"] changed music - it changed music to the point Southern Rock was born," Fame Studio musician-producer Jimmy Johnson said in a documentary titled "Southern Rock Revolution."
Tragically, just as the Allman Brothers Band had begun to peak, Duane Allman, 24-years-old, was killed in a motorcycle accident on October 29, 1971, in Macon, Georgia.
A solid argument is Duane Allman took "slide guitar" to a whole new level. After hearing Duane's blistering slide work on "Statesboro Blues," off ABB's "At Fillmore East" live album (released July 1971, and, arguably, ABB's breakthrough album), just about every guitar-playing buddy I had was seen with a "aspirin bottle" on his fret hand running it up-and-down the guitar's neck, trying to "nail down some of "Skydog's slide licks," as one musician buddy, in particular, phrased it. As legend has it, Wilson Pickett nicknamed Duane Allman "Skydog" ("Skyman") because Pickett said some of the notes Allman hit on his guitar sounded like birds tweeting in the sky.
A few days back, a friend told me to check out a website: duaneallman.com. I did so, thinking I would encounter vintage ABB music, photos, and stories, which I did. However, it was a personal quote...more like a "life resolution"...by Duane Allman, on duaneallman.com website, that blew me away and left me no choice other than to share it with you.
"This year I will be more thoughtful of my fellow man, expect more effort in each of my endeavors professionally as well as personally, take love wherever I find it, and offer it to everyone who will take it. In the coming year, I will seek knowledge from those wiser than me and try to teach those who wish to learn from me. I love being alive and I will be the best man I possibly can"
Putting it mildly, these words struck a loud "chord" with me, to the extent I momentarily forgot Duane's music legacy and was emotionally fixated on his personal take on life. I don't recall ever having heard anyone say so much in so few words, as did Duane Allman in the passage above...the stuff of a "statesman" extraordinaire!
After listening to the Allman Brothers Band for almost 50 years, I now better understand how Duane Allman played with such great soul: He was a "great soul"!
(NOTE: Visit duaneallman.com.)