Duane Allman - Guide to the World's Best Guitarists
The thing about great musicians from the 60's was they were always dying. Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Brian Jones from the Rolling Stones, Jim Morrison, Keith Moon…and, unfortunately, the guitarist whose nickname was "Skydog," also known as Duane Allman.
But before all of that, Allman was a noted session musician who was rapidly becoming famous for his work on slide guitar and on a little album called Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs with none other than Eric Clapton.
Just Another Southern Brother
There are those who say the South owes a great debt to Duane and his brother Gregg. After all, it's hard to imagine Lynyrd Skynyrd without the Allman Brothers Band first. But the brothers didn't start out playing rock—actually their roots included blues players like Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters and B.B. King. And it was at a B. B. King performance in 1959 that the two were inspired to form their own first band, the Escorts.
The Allman Brothers Band - Statesboro Blues
Several bands and a number of years later, Duane heard another performance that would prove life changing: blues artist Taj Mahal and a rendition of the slide guitar classic, "Statesboro Blues." According to his brother afterward, although Duane had never played slide guitar before, he just "picked it up and started burnin'."
Allman later added the song to the band's regular repertoire (the band at the time was The Hourglass) and assured himself a place in the list of rock innovators. His rendition of the song on the 1971 album At Fillmore East is still considered one of the best examples of Duane's wailing style, ripping through notes at the same time it conveys Allman's southern roots.
Men And Their Toys
Duane's playing was mostly unhindered by effects—just the man and his guitar. That's not to say that just any guitar would do, however. A 1959 Les Paul Junior, a Fender Telecaster with a Stratocaster neck, a '57 Les Paul gold top, a '61 Gibson SG, a sunburst Gibson ES-335, a tobacco sunburst Les Paul…even one of Duane's guitars would bring a good chunk of change on eBay.
Most often he was found playing a good old Gibson Les Paul, though, along with that other iconic piece of '60s rock band equipment, the Marshall speaker stack. Loaded with JBL speakers, his two 4x12 Marshall cabinets were standard equipment for the Allman Brothers Band.
Of course, there was the one toy he allowed himself, and for which he became most well-known: a slide. After initially teaching himself to play slide using a glass medicine bottle, Allman created a bit of a shortage of Coricidin bottles, not because of the drug itself, but rather for the glass bottle as his "slide of choice".
By tuning his guitar to open E (E, B, E, G#, B, E, low to high) and putting the slide over the 3rd finger of his picking hand, Allman was able to transition effortlessly between wailing slide solos, picked arpeggios and triad inversions, and back again.
Clapton v. Allman
The short career of Duane Allman means that there are relatively few albums in the running for that "classic Duane" sound. Most fans would agree it's between his collaboration work with Eric Clapton and Derek and the Dominoes on Layla, or the last work by the ABB to feature Duane Allman, At Fillmore East.
The Allman Brothers Band - You Don't Love Me
Why Does Love Got To Be So Sad?
The recording of Fillmore East gives a chance to hear the brothers' at their most epic. Songs like "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed," and Gregg's "Whipping Post," really pushed the limits of rock music for the time.
10-minute solos and cadenzas that went on like the Energizer bunny were unheard of in the genre of southern rock at the time. Duane's improvisation of the ending to "You Don't Love Me" was proof that he could hang with the big boys when it came to fancy finger-technics.
The trouble with nominating Layla as his most memorable work is the difficulty in telling which is Allman and which is Clapton. Duane attempted to clarify this by explaining in an interview, saying that "Eric played the Fender parts and [he] played the Gibson parts..the Fender had a sparklier sound, while the Gibson produced more of a 'full-tilt screech.'"
Allman can be heard at his best in the song "Why Does Love Got To Be So Sad," with a brief but beautiful solo just before the vocals.
Besides, being confused with Eric Clapton is an honor most guitarists would die for.
Cut short before its time, Duane Allman never had a chance to put his name on anybody's equipment. However, had he lived beyond his 25th birthday, you can be sure that, at the very least, he would have cut a deal with the manufacturers of Coricidin to produce his Duane Allman Signature Slide.
Seriously, though, Duane knew his guitars, and he had a collection to prove it. Anyone looking for the Duane Allman sound had better get their hands on at least two guitars that he used the most: a '59 Gibson Cherryburst Les Paul and a '68 Cherry Gibson SG. Beyond that, the sky, or your credit card, is the limit…
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