Unless they've gone back and re-discovered those wonderful early-1970s albums, most modern-day fans of the Allman Brothers Band know little of band founder Duane Allman. To listeners that latched onto the ABB during the 1980s, or even the '90s, the band has always been a showcase for the guitars of Dickey Betts, Warren Haynes, and Derek Trucks.
There's no denying that Duane Allman was a phenomenal guitarist, however, especially when he broke out his slide and began playing. Although brother Gregg and the other band members soldiered on after Duane's tragic death in October 1971, the band's first two studio albums - along with the classic live two-disc set At Fillmore East - stand as timeless blues-rock gems. The Allman Brothers Band helped launch the decade's Southern rock explosion, which was largely popularized by Duane's scorching fretwork.
Duane Allman's An Anthology
Aside from his too-brief, but brightly-burning career as the leader of the Allman Brothers Band, Duane earned a well-deserved reputation as session player. As outlined by Randy Poe's excellent Allman biography, Skydog, Duane supported himself throughout much of his time with the band by lending his six-string talents to recording sessions by a literal who's-who of rock, soul, and R&B artists.
The two-disc collection An Anthology was released as an attempt to cash-in on Allman's death, the posthumous set piecing together examples of the guitarist's session work along with scraps of his early band work. Although the original goal was exploitation of a deceased artist, An Anthology has outlived the label's crass intentions to become a stellar document of Duane Allman's transcendent talents.
Rock, Rhythm & Blues
An Anthology kicks off with "B.B. King Medley," which combines the blues legend's "Sweet Little Angel," "It's My Own Fault," and "How Blue Can You Get?" into a seven-minute musical workout that displays a different side to Allman's playing. Recorded by one of Allman's earliest bands, the Hourglass, which included successful future producers in pianist Paul Hornsby and drummer Johnny Sandlin, the demo-quality recording is a welcome reminder of the guitarist's soul-blues roots and wide range of ability.
The first disc of An Anthology includes highlights from several of Allman's vital soul sessions, beginning with the enormous Wilson Pickett hit "Hey Jude." Allman lobbied for the soulman to record the popular Beatles song, and between Pickett's dynamic vocal performance and Allman's stinging extended leads. Just as Pickett winds up into the song's roaring finish, shouting and screaming above the mix, Allman matches him note-for-note with his fractured, jagged-edged fretwork.
Allman also brought his talents to bear on hits such as Aretha Franklin's cover of the Band's song "The Weight" and the instrumental King Curtis smash "Games People Play." Allman provides Queen Aretha with a subdued but highly funky guitar line beneath her soaring vocals, while his gentle, soulful interplay with the King's sax brings out the best in both men. The overlooked Boz Scaggs' gem "Loan Me A Dime" is the blue-eyed soulman's finest moment, perhaps because of Allman's emotionally-charged guitarplay.
Layla & Little Martha
The second half of An Anthology features an abundance of Allman's rock-oriented material, including five Allman Brothers Band songs and, of course, the incredible Eric Clapton collaboration, "Layla." The raucous "Livin' On The Open Road" by Delaney & Bonnie & Friends is a fine example of Allman's participation as one of the rock-n-soul duo's "friends," a rambling, light-hearted rocker with a lot of heart.
"Down Along The Cove" is one of the two tracks here by bluesman Johnny Jenkins, the Georgia native and Jimi Hendrix mentor backed by the ABB on this inspired Dylan cover, a swamp-blues rave-up that allows Duane the chance to break out his slide. "Layla," of course, was the result of Allman's work with Derek & the Dominos, and one of the most enduring of classic rock songs.
Of the Allman Brothers Band songs included on An Anthology, the band's live romp through the Blind Willie McTell standard "Statesboro Blues" is a long-time fan fave, but another vintage Fillmore East track, "Don't Keep Me Wondering," shows the full integration of Allman's talents in the full band context. The lovely "Little Martha," released after Allman's death on the band's 1972 Eat a Peach album, shines an entirely different light on the guitarist. The winsome and somewhat bittersweet instrumental features Duane on dobro and Dickey Betts on acoustic guitar, the pair weaving pure musical magic.
The Reverend's Bottom Line
Duane Allman was a once-in-a-generation talent, a self-taught guitarist of innate skill that could grab a song by its throat and shake something unexpected and special out of the performance. The work that he did with the Allman Brothers Band on their self-titled debut and Idlewild South, its follow-up, is nothing short of amazing.
At Fillmore East stands as one of the finest live performances ever captured on tape, and Allman's contribution to the Derek & the Dominos' Layla album is the stuff of legend. If you have even the slightest interest in the Allman Brothers Band, or in fine bluesy slide guitar, you should check out Duane Allman's An Anthology. (Polygram Records, released 1972)