Eric Clapton once revealed the one piece of guitar playing that he ranks above all else, opening up about the heavenly feeling that soared through his body after he heard it for the first time. In fact, Clapton was so infatuated with the guitarist’s skill that he’d later initiate a band with the artist in question.
The happenings across the Atlantic has been a constant source of inspiration to Clapton. For him, there was something innately magical about the otherworldly creative nature of his US contemporaries; it was a feeling that ran wild in his mind as an adolescent. Later, he brought that blues spirit into the bustling clubs of London, and it helped him stand out in what was already a thriving scene. It should be no surprise that the guitarist who made the most significant splash on him came from the States rather than closer to home.
An artist who Clapton held in the highest of regard and views as one of the very best to ever pick up the instrument is the late Duane Allman. The Nashville born musician founded the Allman Brothers Band, but he was also one of the most in-demand session musicians on the planet.
Initially, his work with Wilson Pickett alerted Clapton to his greatness after he heard their take on The Beatles song ‘Hey Jude’. The former Cream man later recalled, “I remember hearing ‘Hey Jude’ by Wilson Pickett and calling either Ahmet Ertegun or Tom Dowd and saying, ‘Who’s that guitar player?’ I just filed it away.”
Clapton added, “To this day, I’ve never heard better rock guitar playing on an R&B record. It’s the best.”
In Randy Poe’s book, Skydog: The Duane Allman Story, collaborator Rick Hall recalled the unlikely circumstances which led to Allman featuring on ‘Hey Jude’. He remembered, “Pickett came into the studio, and I said, ‘We don’t have anything to cut.’ 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 on. 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 one 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, OK. Let’s do it.'”
Duane’s genius move worked, and a few years later, following Cream disbanding, Clapton would give him a call to help him with his new project, Derek and The Dominoes. Although Allman wasn’t a fully-fledged member of the band, on their only album, he added a sprinkling of wizardry that combined with the Englishman exquisitely. If it wasn’t for his work on ‘Hey Jude’, perhaps, their paths would never have combined.