One of the greatest tragedies in rock and roll was that one of the genre’s most influential bands never truly got to live up to its name. Combining southern rock with experimental jam band sensibilities, the Allman Brothers Band were always considered one of the most exciting and talented bands to ascend out of the late 1960s. Through their increasingly elaborate improvisations on stage, the Allman Bros were a fluid and dynamic unit that always served the music above a single member’s personal stardom. However, by the time they truly hit it big, Duane wouldn’t be around to see any of it.
Still, it never would have happened without Duane Allman. Allman’s reputation as a session musician and guitar hero in the making was the foot in the door that the Allman Bros needed in order to establish themselves in the first place. Duane was more famous than the band, but he never let his guest appearances or killer slide abilities overshadow the group’s music. Duane knew how to feed into the ever-building churn created by Berry Oakley, Butch Trucks, Jaimoe, and his brother Gregg, and he was met note for note by an equally talented guitarist in the form of Dickey Betts. Betts was initially a reserved presence within the band, but Duane’s encouragement led him to play more elaborate solos and even venture into songwriting as the band began to rise in fame.
It was during the first sessions for Eat a Peach that Betts stepped forward and offered a brand new tune: a love song for his eventual wife Sandy Wabegijig entitled ‘Blue Sky’. Betts presented it to the band under the assumption that it would be sung by Gregg, just as he had done on Betts’ previous songwriting contribution ‘Revival’, but Duane heard Betts’ voice in the composition and insisted that Betts sing it himself.
Betts had purposefully kept the verses and choruses succinct, leaving ample room for the band’s signature exploratory jams. Allman’s signature tone takes over the first solo, with Betts joining in on harmony towards the tail end of Allman’s run and taking over to finish out the solo section, a passing of the torch that took on additional resonance once Allman died in 1971. ‘Blue Sky’ would be one of the final songs that Allman completed before his death.
Engineer Johnny Sandlin noted the bittersweet elements of completing the song. “As I mixed songs like “Blue Sky,” I knew, of course, that I was listening to the last things that Duane ever played and there was just such a mix of beauty and sadness, knowing there’s not going to be any more from him,” Sandlin said.
‘Blue Sky’ remains such a radiant and euphoric declaration of love, but there will always be a slight twinge of sadness hearing those solos. Allman brought the beauty and vivacity of life to all of his work, all the way to the very end.