Howard Duane Allman was born on 20 November 1946 in Nashville, Tennessee. He is considered to be one of rock’s most innovative and influential guitarists, particulary in regards to slide guitar.
Duane Allman learned to play guitar in the early 1960s. One Christmas, he received a Harley 165 motorcycle and his younger brother, Gregg received a guitar. Gregg taught Duane to play. After Duane tore up the motorcycle, he sold it for parts and bought a guitar with the proceeds.
Duane educated himself further by listening to Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson, and Blind Lemon Jefferson and others. Like many budding guitarists of the time, he was an avid fan of Eric Clapton's early work. His brother, Gregg has said that in 1968 Duane came down with a bad cold and was in bed for a few weeks. Gregg brought him a copy of Taj Mahal's self-titled first album to cheer him up. (Mahal's arrangement of "Statesboro Blues" was the virtual blueprint of the one the Allman Brothers Band would later make famous.) The next time Gregg saw Duane, he was playing slide guitar, using the small glass Coriciden bottle that had contained his cold medicine. From that time on, the Coriciden bottle became Duane’s trademark for slide playing.
In 1963, he and Gregg were in a local band called the House Rockers near where they lived in Daytona Beach, Florida. The brothers then formed the Allman Joys, touring the southeastern US and recording a single, Spoonful. In the later part of the decade, they moved to Los Angeles to become part of a group called Hour Glass. The band released two albums. Duane left the band and returned to the southeast.
Duane’s playing had impressed Rick Hall, owner of Fame Studio, who hired him to play on recording sessions for Wilson Picket. The sessions resulted in the hit album, Hey Jude (1968). Duane was then invited to join the in-house team of musicians. In the coming months, he would play on sessions for Aretha Franklin, Clarence Carter, Otis Rush, Boz Scaggs and King Curtis.
During this time, Duane often returned to Florida and crossed paths with musicians Butch Trucks (drums), Dickey Betts (guitar), Berry Oakley (bass) and Jaimoe (drums). By 1969, the nucleus of the Allman Brothers Band was formed. Duane called Gregg, still working in Los Angeles, to come home. Within months, they had a manager who encouraged them to relocate from Jacksonville, Florida to Macon, Georgia. It was their they recorded their first self-titled album.
Duane’s reputation as a slide player was further enhanced through his work on Derek & the Dominoes Layla & Other Assorted Love Songs.
Tom Dowd, the album’s producer, is responsible for introducing Duane Allman and Eric Clapton. In 1970, Dowd was in the middle of recording the Allman Brother’s second album, Idlewild South , when Eric’s manager (Robert Stigwood) called to tell Tom that Eric would like to bring his new band, Derek and the Dominos, to Criteria Studios in Miami, Florida to record with him.
Tom later recounted the phone call that began it all. "Now when the call came I was in the studio with Duane. I said, 'Hey, that's a hot one, kid! That was Eric Clapton's management talking about him coming here to record.' Allman looks at me and goes 'You mean the guy from Cream? Do you think he'd mind if I just came to watch?' I told him 'no problem'." *
Eric and the rest of the Dominos arrived at Criteria Studios in late August. During the first week, most of the studio time was spent jamming and piecing together new songs. It was almost as if the band were waiting on some sort of inspiration which would arrive in the form of Duane Allman.
"Then the phone rings one afternoon and its Duane," Dowd continued. "He says, 'Hey, the band's doing a benefit concert at the Civic Center down there on Saturday, [26 August 1970] can I come by?' No problem. So I put the phone down and told Eric who it was. He says 'You mean that guy who plays on the back of 'Hey Jude'? You know him?" I tell him he's doing the concert, so he says 'We have to go! I'm dying to see him play!'” *
Tom and Eric snuck into the show after it had begun. Eric later said, "I just remember driving down to this park and while we were parking the car about one-half mile from this open-air gig. I just heard this wailing guitar coming through the air louder than anything else. You could just hear the band and then this really high-in-the-air sound like a siren. It was just amazing. We walked down to the gig, sat down in front of the bandstand, and there were The Allman Brothers."**
Tom recalled their unique seating arrangements: "They had a barricade between where the public was and the riser for the band, sandbags and gobos up there to keep the people back. They got us in by the side of the stage and we crawled in on our hands and knees so we wouldn't obscure the stage and propped ourselves against these sandbags, sitting on our butts, looking up with our hands holding our knees together." **
Allman was soloing, eyes closed, and head to the sky while the men took their “seats”. When he looked down and spotted Eric, he froze on the spot, bringing his solo to an abrupt ending. Duane stood dumbfounded on stage, staring down, utterly amazed to see Eric sitting on the grass in front of him. "It scared Duane to death!" Gregg later said of this brother's peculiar reaction to Eric’s presence.
Formal introductions were made after the show. Eric invited the entire band to Criteria Studios for a jam. "After the concert was over, they all came back to the studio and jammed until like six the next night," Tom remembered. "They were trading licks. They were swapping guitars. They were talking shop and information and having a ball - no holds barred, just admiration for each other's technique and facility. There was no control. We turned the tapes on and they went on for 15 to 18 hours like that. You just kept the machines rolling. I went through two or three sets of engineers. It was a wonderful experience." *
Duane had hoped he would be able to sit in the studio as an observer while the Dominos recorded, but Eric would have none of that. He told him, "Get your guitar. We got to play!" When Duane arrived at Criteria Studios on 28 August to play on "Tell the Truth", the sessions were lifted to a higher level.
Eric later asked Duane to join the band permanently, but Duane declined as he wished to continue his work with the Allman Brothers Band. He did, however, join the Dominos in concert on 1 December 1970 at Curtis Hixon Hall in Tampa, Florida. This is the only Dominos concert where Duane joined them on stage.
Later in 1970, Ed Shane of WPLO radio in Atlanta, interviewed Duane. During the interview, Duane said, “Eric is a real fine cat. I considered it a privilege and honor to play on his Derek and the Dominos album. He’s a true professional in the studio. It’s his style and his technique - is what really amazes me. He has a lot to say too, but the way he says it just knocks me out. He does so well. I was glad to have the opportunity to work with people of that magnitude - with that much brilliance and talent. Anybody that’s ever met him - he’s just a quiet dude - a real fine cat. It’s hard for me to talk about him because I admire him so much. It’s hard for me to put it in a street context. He’s surely a man of the street - a gypsy - just like everyone else these days.”
In the months following, he continued to tour and record with the Allman Brothers Band. Tragically, Duane died on 29 October 1971 in Macon, Georgia following a motorcycle accident. He was 24.
Eric appeared with The Allman Brothers Band on 19 and 20 March 2009 at the Beacon Theater in New York as a part of the The Allmans fortieth anniversary celebration which was dedicated to Duane Allman.
* Derek and the Dominos: The Layla Sessions 20th Anniversary Edition (Liner notes)
** Crossroads: The Life and Music of Eric Clapton by Michael Schumacher