Duane Allman (November 20, 1946 - October 29, 1971) is generally regarded as one of the greatest rock and roll guitarists, noted for his mastery of the slide guitar. He was a founding member of the Allman Brothers Band, and also had a major role in Eric Clapton's album, Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs.
He was born in Nashville, Tennessee. While he was still young, he lost his father, an Army sergeant, who was murdered in a robbery while home on leave. As a teenager in Florida in 1960, Duane was motivated to take up the guitar by the example of his younger brother Gregg, who had obtained a guitar after hearing a neighbor playing country music standards on an acoustic guitar. Gregg later said that after Duane started playing "... he ... passed me up like I was standing still."
Another important early influence had come in 1959, while they were back in Nashville visiting family. They went to see a rock'n'roll show which included B. B. King, and both promptly fell under the spell of the music. Gregg reports that Duane turned to him in the middle of the show and said ".. we got to get into this".
After Gregg graduated from high school in 1965, the two formed another band called the Allman Joys, and went on the road. This was followed by another unsuccessful band, the Hour Glass, this time in Los Angeles, which did manage to produce two albums. At this point Duane added electric slide guitar to his repertoire, after hearing Taj Mahal and his group perform the Willie McTell classic, Statesboro Blues (later a signature tune for the Allman Brothers).
Duane's playing on their two albums had caught the ear of Rick Hall, owner of the famous studio in Muscle Shoals, who hired him to play on an album with Wilson Pickett. Duane's work on that album, Hey Jude (1968) got him hired as a full-time session musician at Muscle Shoals, and brought him to the attention of a number of other musicians, such as the guitar great Clapton, who later said "I remember hearing Wilson Pickett's Hey Jude and just being astounded by the lead break at the end. ... I had to know who that was immediately - right now."
While at Muscle Shoals, he was featured on releases by a number of artists, including Clarence Carter, King Curtis, Aretha Franklin, Otis Rush, Boz Scaggs and Percy Sledge, but the limits of session playing frustrated him. The time in Muscle Shoals was not a waste, however, as Duane had rented a small secluded cabin on a lake, and spent many solitary hours there refining his playing.
During a visit home to Florida, a jam session with a group of local musicians turned into what all present recognized as a natural bond; with the addition of brother Gregg, called back from Los Angeles, the Allman Brothers Band was formed. They went on to become one of the best and most influential rock groups of the 1970s, described by Rolling Stone's George Kimball in 1971 as ".. the best .. rock and roll band this country has produced in the past five years" .
A group date in Miami gave Duane the chance to participate in Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs. Clapton had long wanted to meet Duane; when he heard that the Allman Brothers were due to play in Miami, where he had just started work on Layla, he insisted on going to see their show, where he met Duane. Afterwards, the two returned to the studio and formed a deep bond quite literally overnight ; as a result, as the recording of the album progressed, Duane wound up participating in most of the tracks, contributing some of his best-known slide guitar work.
He then returned to the Allman Brothers band, despite being offered a permanent position with Clapton. The band went on to record Live at Fillmore East, one of the classic live albums of rock and roll.
Tragically, Duane was killed shortly thereafter, at the age of 24, in a motorcycle accident in Macon, Georgia, where the Allman Brothers band were working on their album Eat a Peach. While attempting to avoid a log truck, he lost control of his Harley-Davidson motorcycle and struck his head; he died several hours later, despite intensive surgery.
- The Allman Brothers Band: Dreams liner notes