If you’ve read any of my blog thus far, you’ll know that I have somewhat of a predilection for the blues. (Although that said, this will not just be a blues blog). But while we’re doin’ that blues thing, I thought it would be appropriate to talk about my very favorite guitarist, Duane Allman.
For those of you who don’t know his playing, you need to listen to some of his stuff. For those of you who know and love his playing, you already know what I’m talking about.
Now you’ll see that I added a link to Aretha Franklin’s version of The Band’s “The Weight.” I guess I could just as easily have used one of Duane’s trademark Allman Brothers songs like “Statesboro Blues” or “One Way Out.” But in thinking about it I realized that this song encompassed several vital pieces of information about Duane.
- He did session work for a while. I wanted to show that.
- He was a great blues player. His feel, tone, taste and timing are impeccable.
- His improvisational skills are second to none.
In my post about Layla, I mentioned that Duane played on the album. The story of how he got on the album, in a nutshell, is that during his session work with Wilson Pickett (that’s him with Duane in the below picture) he played guitar on the Wicked Pickett’s version of “Hey Jude.” (Which Duane convinced him to cut).
In the last minute or so of the song, Duane plays a wild solo. Eric Clapton, on hearing it on the radio, was blown away. He called Atlantic records and said, “I have to know who that is right now.”
Long story short, they met, Duane played on the album and history was made. He was asked to join the band but the Allman Brothers were in full swing, on their way up and I think Duane wanted his own thing and to not just be another sideman.
So what do I love about his playing? It’s really hard to put into words but I’ll try. Firstly, he was a great bluesman. He absorbed all the players before him and played sparingly and tastefully. He was the first great electric slide player. (Some would argue that it was Bonnie Raitt or Lowell George, which, ok).
He played the slide more like it was a harmonica than a guitar. He was also a great improviser. By his own admission, he spent at least as much time listening to Miles Davis and John Coltrane as he did rock or blues. So while he was not a jazzer per se, he was heavily influenced by them.
I think perhaps my favorite solo by Duane is from the Allman Brothers’ “At Fillmore East” where he plays the second solo on “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed.” (Dickey Betts, BTW, is no slouch either). It’s pure Duane – fiery, emotional, melodic and – at the end especially – just explosive. Note how Duane comes roaring out of the gate. And on a personal note, while I rarely play slide, Duane was the guy who pushed me over the top to learn to play guitar.
I could say a lot more. But just listen. (That’s all Dickey up front till after brother Gregg’s organ solo).