By Matt Dolloff (@mattdolloff)
Duane Allman didn’t become a legendary guitar player by accident.
Through years of practicing his craft, and a constant desire to be the best, he grew into his role in the early Allman Brothers Band and ended up arguably the greatest slide guitarist that ever lived. Exhibit A: “Whipping Post” in the video above. He had a brief but brilliant music career and though he died back on October 29, 1971, his influence has deepened with time.
All Duane ever really wanted to do with his life was music, and he dedicated himself to always getting better at the guitar. It’s what just about any of the greats did during their careers. Though he needed a few fortuitous life events to occur for him to grow into a transcendent slide guitar player, once he knew what he wanted he never quit striving for it.
Despite always being known for his guitar work, it wasn’t necessarily guitar players that provided all of Duane’s inspiration. And he may have never even picked up a slide if not for a completely unrelated accident. Here are more cool stories about the late Duane Allman that you may or may not already know:
1. His first slide was a pill bottle
So Duane was laid up in a hospital bed due to injuring his elbow in a fall, and needed coricidin to help with his apparent fever. So Gregg brought him a bottle of the medicine. Only Duane didn’t use it to take the pills – instead he emptied the bottle and slipped it onto his finger.
As he ripped through a rendition of “Statesboro Blues”, Duane realized the possibilities of the slide sound and Gregg realized his brother was a natural. “He just picked it up and started burnin’,” Gregg said.
2. He dropped out of high school to focus on guitar
Like a lot of rich, famous, and otherwise successful people, Duane Allman rose to prominence through dedication and good old-fashioned hard work. He didn’t go to a fancy music school (not that there’s anything wrong with that) or get any kind of formal training; he just picked up the guitar and played. And played, and played, and played, until he was amazing.
We do not condone dropping out of high school for any reason, but Duane is certainly a big example of someone who dropped out and ultimately found success. But he was Duane Allman and you’re not!
3. A B.B. King show got him interested in forming a band
Good thing Duane bought this ticket. Who knows what direction he would’ve taken his life in had he not seen B.B. King rip through his best cuts in a live setting.
The (largely unconfirmed) story goes that both Duane and Gregg just stared in awe as King enthralled the crowd with his emotive blues guitar, and at one point Duane looked over to Gregg and said “We got to get into this.” Guess that turned out to be a pretty good idea.
4. His first recording as a session guitarist was on a soul album
Duane wasn’t just a great Allman Brothers Band guitarist, he was also a prominent session musician in his time. And he didn’t limit himself to rock and roll or even blues.
His first gig as a session guitarist was on the Wilson Pickett cover of “Hey Jude”. His work on that record caught the eye of record execs, and also Eric Clapton – who eventually brought Duane in to record some slide guitar for Derek and the Dominos’ Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs.
5. Two of his biggest influences didn’t play guitar
Duane’s guitar solos were wild, adventurous, melodic and highly engaging. You’d think he got some of that from, say, Eric Clapton. But it was actually two famous jazz musicians who weren’t even known for playing guitar that influenced him the most.
Duane once cited Miles Davis (trumpet) and John Coltrane (saxophone) as the biggest influences on his style, which does explain the adventurousness of his solos – but doesn’t quite explain how he rocked so hard.
MORE ON THE ALLMAN BROTHERS BAND:
- Warren Haynes Checked In With K&M
- Warren Haynes on the Last Days of the Allman Brothers Band
- Warren Haynes on the Confederate Flag: ‘You Don’t Need a Symbol to Be Proud of Who You Are’
- Watch John Belushi Join the Allman Brothers Band for “Hey Bartender” in 1979
- Warren Haynes Gets North Carolina Music Hall of Fame Nod
“Duane Allman Remembered”, Guitar Player Magazine, October 1981
Freeman, Scott, “Midnight Riders: The Story of the Allman Brothers Band”, Little, Brown & Company, 1995, p. 5