November 20, 1946 – October 29, 1971 (24 years old)
Howard Duane Allman (November 20, 1946 – October 29, 1971) was an American guitarist, session musician, and the co-founder and primary leader of the The Allman Brothers Band until his death in a motorcycle accident in 1971 at the age of 24.
The Allman Brothers Band was formed in 1969 and based in the Southeastern United States. In the early 1970s, the band was hugely successful. Allman is best remembered for his brief but influential tenure in the band and in particular for his expressive slide guitar playing and inventiveimprovisational skills. In 2003, Rolling Stone magazine ranked Allman at #2 in their list of the 100 greatest guitarists of all time, second only to Jimi Hendrix and in 2011 he was ranked #9. His tone (achieved with a Gibson Les Paul and two 50-watt bass Marshall amplifiers) was named one of the greatest guitar tones of all time by Guitar Player.
A sought-after session musician both before and during his tenure with the band, Duane Allman performed with such established stars as King Curtis,Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, and Herbie Mann. He also contributed heavily to the 1970 album Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs by Derek and the Dominos.
Duane Allman’s skills as a guitarist were complemented by personal qualities such as his intensity, drive and ability to draw the best out of others in making music. He is still referred to by his nickname "Skydog".
Duane Allman was born on November 20, 1946 in Nashville, Tennessee. He was the eldest son of Willis Allman, a career United States Army sergeant, and Geraldine (née Robbins). His younger brother Gregg Allman was born in late 1947.
While the family were living near Norfolk, Virginia, his father was murdered by a fellow veteran hitchhiker. In order to retrain as an accountant, Geraldine "Mama A" Allman sent Duane and Gregg to Castle Heights Military Academy in Lebanon, Tennessee, which they both disliked intensely. In 1957, the family moved to Daytona Beach, Florida where the boys attended Seabreeze High School.
The boys returned to Nashville to spend summers with their grandmother where Gregg learned guitar basics from a neighbor. In 1960, Gregg had saved enough money to buy his first guitar, a Japanese-made Teisco Silvertone while Duane acquired a Harley 165 motorbike. Duane began to take an interest in the guitar, leading to fights over it, and eventually their mother bought Duane a Gibson Les Paul Junior.
It was also in Nashville that the boys became musically inspired by a rhythm and blues concert they attended, at which blues guitar legend B. B. King performed. Apparently, Duane turned to Gregg and said, "We got to get into this."
Duane learned to play very quickly and soon became the better guitarist of the two, dropping out of high school to stay home during the day and focus on developing his guitar skills.
The two Allman brothers started playing publicly in 1961, joining or forming a number of small, local groups. Shortly thereafter, Duane quit high school to stay home during the day and focus on his guitar playing. Their band the Escorts opened for The Beach Boys in 1965 but disbanded and eventually became the Allman Joys. After Gregg graduated from Seabreeze High School in 1965, the Allman Joys went on the road, performing throughout the Southeast and eventually being based in Nashville and St. Louis, Missouri.
The Allman Joys morphed into another not-completely-successful band, The Hour Glass, which moved to Los Angeles in early 1967. There the Hour Glass produced two albums that left the band unsatisfied. Liberty, their record company, tried to market them as a pop band, completely ignoring the band's desire to play more blues-oriented material.
In 1968, Gregg Allman went to visit Duane on his 22nd birthday. Duane was sick in bed, nursing an injured left elbow from a fall. Gregg brought along a bottle of Coricidin pills for his fever and the debut album by guitarist Taj Mahal as a gift. He left it on the front porch and rang the bell, as Duane was angry with him for the injury. "About two hours after I left, my phone rang," Gregg states. "Baby brother, baby brother, get over here now!" When Gregg got there, he found that Duane had poured the pills out of the bottle, washed off the label and was using it as a slide to play "Statesboro Blues", an old Blind Willie McTell song that Taj Mahal covered. "Duane had never played slide before," says Gregg, "he just picked it up and started burnin'. He was a natural." The song would go on to become a part of the Allman Brothers Band's repertoire, and Duane's slide guitar became crucial to their sound.
The Hour Glass broke up in early 1968, and Duane and Gregg Allman went back to Florida, where they played on demo sessions with the 31st of February, a folk rock outfit whose drummer was Butch Trucks. Gregg returned to California to fulfill Hour Glass obligations, while Duane jammed around Florida for months but didn't get another band going.
Allman's playing on the two Hour Glass albums and an Hour Glass session in early 1968 at FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama had caught the ear of Rick Hall, owner of FAME. In November 1968 Hall hired Allman to play on an album with Wilson Pickett. Allman'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 Eric 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."
Allman's performance on "Hey Jude" blew away Atlantic Records producer and executive Jerry Wexler when Hall played it over the phone for him. Wexler immediately bought Allman's recording contract from Hall and wanted to use him on sessions with all sorts of Atlantic R&B artists. While at Muscle Shoals, Allman was featured on releases by a number of artists, including Clarence Carter, King Curtis, Aretha Franklin, Laura Nyro, Wilson Pickett, Otis Rush, Percy Sledge, Johnny Jenkins, Boz Scaggs, Delaney & Bonnie and jazz flautist Herbie Mann. Shortly after he recorded the lead break in "Hey Jude", he recorded all of the lead guitar in Boz Scaggs' "Loan Me a Dime".
Duane Allman was killed in a motorcycle accident only months after the release and initial success of At Fillmore East. On October 29, 1971, in the western part of Macon, Georgia, during a band break from touring and recording, Allman was riding his motorcycle at a high speed at the intersection of Hillcrest Avenue and Bartlett Street as a flatbed truck carrying a lumber crane approached. The flatbed truck stopped suddenly in the intersection, forcing Allman to swerve his Harley-Davidson Sportster motorcycle sharply to the left to avoid a collision. As he was doing so, he struck either the back of the truck or the ball on the lumber crane and was immediately thrown from the motorcycle. The motorcycle bounced into the air, landed on Allman and skidded another 90 feet with Allman pinned underneath, crushing his internal organs. Though he was alive when he arrived at the hospital, despite immediate emergency surgery, he died several hours later from massive internal injuries.
After Allman's funeral and some weeks of mourning, the five surviving members of the Allman Brothers Band carried on, resuming live performances and finishing the recording work interrupted by Allman's death. They named their next album Eat a Peach for Allman's response to an interviewer's question: "How are you helping the revolution?" Allman replied: "There ain't no revolution, only evolution, but every time I'm in Georgia I 'eat a peach' for peace." Released in February, 1972, this double album contains a side of live and studio tracks with Allman, two sides of "Mountain Jam", recorded with Allman at the same At Fillmore East stand in March, and a side of tracks by the surviving five member band.
Bass guitarist Berry Oakley died less than 13 months later in a similar motorcycle crash with a city bus, three blocks from the site of Duane Allman's fatal accident. Oakley's remains were laid to rest beside Duane Allman's in Macon, Georgia's Rose Hill Cemetery.
The variety of Allman's session work and Allman Brothers Band bandleading can be heard to good effect on two posthumous Capricorn releases, An Anthology (1972) and An Anthology Volume II (1974). There are also several archival releases of live Allman Brothers Band performances from what the band calls "Duane's Era".
Shortly after Allman's death, Ronnie Van Zant of Lynyrd Skynyrd dedicated the song "Free Bird", to the memory of Duane Allman. Van Zant would sometimes allude to this in concert; in the "Free Bird" performance at Skynyrd's famed 1976 appearance at Knebworth, England, Van Zant says to pianist Billy Powell, "Play it for Duane Allman." Many people assume the song was written about Allman. However, it had actually been written well before he died. (Allen Collins wrote the song after his then girlfriend asked him the question "if I leave here tomorrow, would you still remember me?")
In 1973, fans carved the very large letters "REMEMBER DUANE ALLMAN" in a dirt embankment along Interstate Highway 20 near Vicksburg, Mississippi. A photograph was published in Rolling Stone magazine and in the Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll; the carving itself lasted for over ten years.
In 1998 the Georgia State Legislature passed a resolution designating a stretch of State Highway 19, US 41, within Macon as the "Duane Allman Boulevard" in his honor.
Country singer Travis Tritt, in the song "Put Some Drive In Your Country" on his debut album, sings "Now I still love old country/I ain't tryin' to put it down/But damn I miss Duane Allman/I wish he was still around."
In 2013, Skydog, a seven-CD box set tracing the virtuosity of Duane Allman on the slide guitar was released with the help of his daughter, Galadrielle Allman. A March 16 interview with her on NPR's Weekend Edition Saturday by Scott Simon ran over eight minutes, includes many details, and is highlighted with clips of his playing, including links to an audio file prepared for the broadcast.