Even if he’d never formed the Allman Brothers Band, Duane Allman would be a major figure in American popular music. Long before his name became known to mainstream audiences, he had already established his credentials as a once-in-a-lifetime guitar visionary, leaving his unmistakable stamp on a broad array of recordings. Rounder Records, a division of Concord Music Group, will release the most ambitious retrospective of Allman’s short but influential career titled Skydog: The Duane Allman Retrospective.
The deluxe seven-disc collection, carrying a list price of $139.98, contains the guitarist’s best-known and most commercially successful recordings with the Allman Brothers Band and Derek & the Dominos, as well as session work with Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, Boz Scaggs, Clarence Carter, King Curtis, Delaney & Bonnie & Friends, Ronnie Hawkins, Otis Rush, Laura Nyro, Lulu, the Sweet Inspirations, Laura Lee, Spencer Wiggins, Arthur Conley, Willie Walker, the Lovelles, the Soul Survivors, Johnny Jenkins, John Hammond, Doris Duke, Eric Quincy Tate, Herbie Mann and more.
The set was produced by Galadrielle Allman (Duane’s daughter) and two-time Grammy® winning producer Bill Levenson. Rounder Records’ Scott Billington served as executive producer. Scott Schinder contributed comprehensive historical liner notes, complemented by additional notes by Galadrielle Allman.
In her recollection of her father, who died when she was a young child, Galadrielle writes, “I am very lucky that my father is Duane Allman, an artist who left behind a wealth of incredible music . . . Working on this retrospective, I have gotten closer than I ever have been to understanding my father’s development as a musician and a man.”
Duane Allman, known to his bandmates as Skydog, was born in Nashville in 1946. With Gregg, his only sibling, Duane had his first moment of musical revelation upon witnessing a late ’50s R&B bill that featured B.B. King and Jackie Wilson. By 1960, both Duane and Gregg owned guitars and played in a series of neighborhood garage bands in Tennessee and Florida. Continuing their interest in blues and R&B in the shadow of blues radio station WLAC-AM’s continent-spanning signal, as well as absorbing the influence of the British Invasion, the brothers launched the Escorts in 1965 and the Allman Joys, who recorded a handful of sides in Bradley’s Barn in Nashville in 1966. By 1967, Duane and Gregg signed to Liberty as the Hour Glass and recorded two albums in Nashville and Los Angeles. When the band sought to defy the label and spread its musical wings, they were dropped. The brothers returned to Florida, hooked up with drummer Butch Trucks, and recorded two sides as the 31st of February, and later at Ardent Studio in Memphis as the Bleus.
By this time Duane had developed a reputation as a leading session guitarist. He was on Fame Studio’s A list, his guitar licks coloring hits by Wilson Pickett. Atlantic Records producer and executive Jerry Wexler took note and hired him to perform on Atlantic sessions by King Curtis, Otis Rush, Arthur Conley, the Soul Survivors and Sweet Inspirations. Wexler signed him to a solo Atlantic deal, resulting in a session that contained the raucous original “Happily Married Man” and more. The session, contained on the Skydog set, was abandoned mid-stream. But by then Capricorn Records’ Phil Walden had noticed the rumblings from Muscle Shoals. Duane gathered up brother Gregg, Dickey Betts, Berry Oakley, Butch Trucks, Jai Johanny Johanson and others and the Allman Brothers Band was born.
According to reissue annotator Schinder, “The [Allman Brothers Band’s] music was complex and adventurous, yet unfailingly accessible. The subtle and harmonic interplay between Duane and Dickey’s dual lead guitars was matched by the three-man rhythm section’s surging, swinging cross-rhythms, with Gregg’s massively expressive singing and organ playing keeping the music firmly grounded in human emotion.” The band’s profile grew with each release — the self-titled debut, Idlewild South and eventually the band’s breakthrough, At Fillmore East.
Testament to his energy and ambition, Duane still found time for side projects. When bandmates would hole up at home after tours, Duane joined fellow world-class guitarist Eric Clapton on Derek & the Dominos’ Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs. While not an official member, he quickly emerged as a major contributor to the classic album, his twin guitar interplay with Clapton shaping the hits “Layla” and “Why Does Love Got To Be So Sad.” He also worked with Delaney & Bonnie & Friends and Laura Nyro between Allman Brothers Band projects.
By then acknowledged as one of rock’s premier guitarists, Duane and the Allman Brothers Band began recording their follow-up to At Fillmore East — Eat a Peach. Tom Dowd, another legendary Atlantic house producer, oversaw sessions at Criteria Studios. Then on October 29, 1971, four days after Fillmore had been certified gold, Duane was riding his motorcycle and swerved to avoid hitting a truck. He crashed and died of internal injuries. He was 24 years old.
The band forged ahead as a quintet on Eat a Peach, which became one of their best selling albums. The Allman Brothers, led by Gregg Allman and Butch Trucks, continue to perform to this day.
Schinder notes, “More than four decades after his death, Duane Allman remains a towering figure whose stature has only increased in his absence. His influence lives on, not only in the multiple generations of guitarists who have been motivated by his input, but also in the legions of listeners who have continued to find inspiration in his vibrant vision of American music, which remains as fresh and truthful today as when it was created.”
“When a musician of my father’s caliber dies, every note he ever recorded becomes even more precious,” writes Galadrielle. “Each song is pressed into the service of telling his story. The longer Duane is gone, the clearer it becomes that there will never be another like him.”
Over seven discs, Skydog tells the Duane Allman story with rare and never-before-heard gems alongside smash hits.
“I hope the celebration of Duane’s life inspires you to live fearlessly and enjoy life,” Galadrielle concludes. “I know that would have made him proud.”