Chances are that you’ve had the odd debate with your friends about who is the greatest guitarists of all time. When such conversations arise, the usual suspects are largely pushed forward to take the top spot: Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, B.B. King and so forth. But one of the most criminally overlooked players from this set of definitive rock ‘n’ roll guitarists is the late, great Duane Allman. An integral member of the Allman Brothers Band, Duane sadly lost his life in a motorcycle accident at a tragically young age, just 24, and never quite got to fulfil his potential which, judging by the below, was immeasurable.
Providing something of a short education on the brilliant musician, we’ve collected six of the guitarist’s greatest solos of all time and it’s a truly impressive list. It’s not enough to simply say that Allman should be considered one of the greatest of all time, one has to hear it and, judging by the collection, he’s cemented his place in the pantheon of rock. A progressive player and a man who lived too fast for his own good, Allman defined what instrumental innovation was.
Born in the musical Makkah of Nashville, Tennessee, Allman was a founding member of the Allman Brothers Band as well as a solid session musician for some of the greats. That said, it is his inspirational improvisations, especially on slide guitar, that made Allman such a well-regarded player. With the likes of Eric Clapton and Co. calling him one of the finest guitar players of all time, you know that he had some serious skills.
Known as ‘Skydog’, Allman is also regarded as being one of the few lead guitarists who really helped his band. Celebrated for bringing the best out of the musicians he was sharing the studio with, Allman defied the ego-driven rhetoric of the rock world’s adoration of lead guitarists and instead made sure, first and foremost, that the music was right. That didn’t mean he couldn’t kick out a solo every now and then though.
Here, we’re collecting six of our favourite Duane Allman guitar solos in celebration of the great man and as a quick reminder of the abundance of talent that he had at his disposal.
Duane Allman’s best guitar solos:
Eric Clapton and Duane Allman were a force of absolute nature when they teamed up in Derek and The Dominoes and, while they may have only released the one record together, it was one hell of a timeless creation. The stand out track from the record is the titular number ‘Layla’, an effort which is a perfect example of what happens when you get two of the best guitarists in the same room to create magic. The remarkable noise they assembled on ‘Layla’ is a joy when heard in the normal fashion but, when heard isolated, it is perhaps even greater.
The collaboration between Allman and Clapton arrived after The Dominos headed to Miami for a recording session which ended up being a completely different type of ‘session’ to the one that the record label hoped for. There wasn’t a lot of work getting done to create the album and, instead, they were enjoying the many vices that Miami had to offer. Atlantic Records producer Tom Dowd knew something needed to be done and decided to send Clapton and the rest of the band to watch the Allman Brothers perform live.
It was the first time Clapton would see the guitarist play in person and he was instantly smitten. He invited Duane back to the band’s hotel and the two instantly connected over their shared love of the blues and expert playing. Clapton himself has said, Allman was “the musical brother that I never had but wished I did.”
‘You Don’t Love Me’
A fifteen-minute jam is always a great place to find a cracking solo and Allman doesn’t disappoint, providing quite simply one of the most touching solos you’ll ever hear. First up there are two guitar solos which are, naturally, fantastic. Then it all goes quiet and the imposing sound of silence reigns supreme.
That is until Allman kicks back in with one of his most almighty solos ever. Drenched in the glory of the blues, Allman delivers the kind of solo which would make all rock musicians wince in pain, stunned by the talent of the man. It’s the kind of performance which rightly sees him contend with Hendrix and Clapton for the top spot in your next greatest guitarists of all time debate.
An Eat A Peach cut, one of the band’s finer records and the final recording Allman ever made, the album has become a key piece of iconography for the guitarist. Written and sung by Dickey Betts, ‘Blue Sky’ is one of the most crystalline moments of the entire album.
A beautiful ballad which was written about the love of Betts’ life, who he nicknamed ‘Bluesky’, the song allows both he and Allman to display some of the most soulful guitar solos of their career. The one-minute mark welcomes Allman’s solo and it lands with some serious musical chops.
Somehow, without words, Allman manages to convey all the tender emotions of Betts and does so with staunch authenticity.
Eat A Peach is seen as one of the Allman Brothers Band’s greatest releases. Comprised of studio recordings and live recordings from their legendary Fillmore East show, it captures the band just before Allman’s tragic death. One of the undoubted highlights of that performance was this recording of ‘Mountain Song’.
Somehow the band managed to jam on one single song, this track, for an astonishing 40 minutes, proving just how gifted a guitarists Allman was. The solo that he unleashes around the 2:42 mark is bafflingly brilliant. Managing to skirt the line between light and evaporated, Allman’s technique is second to none.
Then, some twenty minutes later, Allman returns with a new solo, this time utilising his bottleneck slide guitar skills to deliver quite possibly his finest slide guitar solo. It’s as magnificent to hear as we imagine it would have been to watch Picasso paint.
One of Allman’s finest performances and quite possibly one of the most overlooked rock songs of all time, ‘Whipping Post’ is Allman very near his peak. The album version of the song is sensational but it’s the live jam session from the Filmore East that has real guts and glory.
While Allman largely made his name in the rock circle by being one of the greatest slide guitarists of all time, on this track he plays some pretty straight blues but with a drenching of his impeachable innovative style. There’s an unpredictability to his playing which, when complemented by his sheer speed, has a dizzying but captivating sound.
If there’s one reason that Skydog was considered one of the greats then you can find it in the clip, below.
Taking on a Beatles song is always a brave thing to do. Not only did Duane join the great Wilson Pickett for a cover of The Beatles classic ‘Hey Jude’ but they joined forces very shortly after the band had released the song themselves, meaning the original was still very fresh in the minds of their shared audience. But, as ever, what Allman provides is a searing piece of slide guitar improvisation.
“To this day, I’ve never heard better rock guitar playing on an R&B record. It’s the best,” said Eric Clapton of Duane Allman’s playing on this enigmatic cover. Certainly the best cover of this endlessly covered song’s life, Pickett’s vision of ‘Hey Jude’ is sublime and serene. It was, however, a controversial one — to try and cover such a well-loved song so early after it was released, seemed like a death sentence.
“Pickett came into the studio, and I said, ‘We don’t have anything to cut,’” recalled Rick Hall, the owner of famed Muscle Shoals studio, “We didn’t have a song. Duane was there, and he came up with an idea. By this time he’d kind of broken the ice and become my guy. So Duane said, ‘Why don’t we cut ‘Hey Jude’?’ I said, ‘That’s the most preposterous thing I ever heard. It’s insanity. We’re gonna cover the Beatles? That’s crazy!’ And Pickett said, ‘No, we’re not gonna do it.’ I said, ‘Their single’s gonna be Number 1. I mean, this is the biggest group in the world!’”
Adding: “And Duane said, ‘That’s exactly why we should do it — because [the Beatles single] will be Number 1 and they’re so big. The fact that we would cut the song with a black artist will get so much attention, it’ll be an automatic smash.’ That made all the sense in the world to me. So I said, ‘Well, okay. Let’s do it.’”