I can’t say with a lot of certainty exactly where and what I was doing in the late sixties, early seventies. Your guess is as good as mine.
But I can tell you exactly where I was on September 27th of ’70 — Piedmont Park, Hotlanta Jawja. The Allman Brothers were setup for one of their infamous free shows in the covered bandshell.
Looking back at those times I should’ve know it wouldn’t last. Greatness seemed to die quickly in those days. Canned Heat founding guitarist Alan Wilson died the first week of September. Jimi Hendrix a few days later. Standing in the park that day suffering those losses, nobody dreamed Janis would be gone a week later. And in a year Duane Allman, would crash his motorcycle and die on a south Georgia highway.
“Good times, bad times, you know I’ve had my share.”
– Led Zeppelin
Many times in our lives we don’t know how magic the moment is. How the flow of life moves around us and people that are here today can be gone tomorrow. Duane Allman was a magician on the Gibson Les Paul. He was self-taught and when he started playing the slide it was like a talent he was born with. Nobody did it better, before and maybe since.
The Allman Brothers formed in 1969. The original lineup was Duane Allman playing slide guitar, brother Gregg Allman on the Hammond B3 (with Leslie speaker box), Dickey Betts on the second lead guitar, Berry Oakley on bass, Butch Trucks on drums, and unheard of those days, a second drummer, Jai Johanny “Jaimoe” Johanson.
The Allman Brothers were the founding fathers of a distinctly regional music genre—Southern Rock. They brought a full arsenal of style to the stage where an Allman Brother’s show was a steady mix of blues, jazz, improvisational jam and instrumentals.
For the next several months the band toured and made music in roadhouses and concert halls across the south. They released their self-titled album, The Allman Brothers Band, that same year. The song “Whipping Post” sits in the Rolling Stones list of 500 songs that shaped Rock and Roll.
But it was the next release that brought the boys from Georgia the widest audience. At Fillmore East is one of the greatest live recordings of all time, by any band. The double-album set sits at #49 on Rolling Stones 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.
Recorded at the Fillmore East concert hall, the storied rock venue in New York City, on Friday and Saturday March 12, 1971–March 13, 1971. It featured a mix of blues, jazz, and southern rock. Within four months of the session the live album hit the streets and became the must have Allman Brothers album of the era.
Two months later Duane was dead just shy of his 25th birthday. Thirteen months later bassist Berry Oakley died in a similar motorcycle crash just three miles from the scene of Duane’s accident the previous year.
The band tried to move on with Gregg Allman and Dickey Betts leading the survivors but the tragedy ultimately became too much to bear and by 1975’s Win, Lose or Draw, tensions between band members stretched the fine threads holding them together. By the end of the decade the Allman Brothers and Capricorn Records weren’t much more than a fond memory of a Sunday afternoon in Piedmont Park.
“I’m no angel.” – Gregg Allman
Gregg Allman and Dickey Betts went on to put together successful solo careers. In the 90s with various musicians waving the Allman Brothers banner the group toured. Without Duane and Berry Oakley, the Allman Brothers of the new century weren’t even a shadow of what once was.
Duane Allman sits at #2 on the controversial Rolling Stones 100 greatest guitarists of all time. Some of the best rock and roll arguements I remember hearing came out of this list. An artist should of been placed higher or lower, why wasn’t so-and-so listed, or what is that guy doing there, to ‘this list is just garbage’. But I don’t recall ever hearing anyone say that #1 and #2 did not belong to Hendrix and Allman. For those two spots I’m convinced Rolling Stones got it right. In their own way these two guitar masters re-wrote what it meant to play rock and roll.
And now they are gone.
“Duane Allman was one of the best there ever was … when you listen to him, you are hearing a truly gifted individual giving his all to the music, and there is nothing better than that. Duane played music the same way that he rode his motorcycle and drove his car .. he was a daredevil, just triple Scorpio, God’s-on-my-side wide open… that was part of the romance and I loved Duane. I have nothing but admiration for him” – Dickey Betts