Duane Allman was one of the best guitarists this world has ever seen. His tragic passing from a motorcycle crash in 1971 at just age 24 continues to be a terrible loss for the world of blues and rock music. He was best known as the founder and original leader of the Allman Brothers Band, famously playing alongside his brother, Gregg Allman.
Allman was also a highly sought after session musician before and after his stint in the Allman Brothers Band. He performed with many blues and soul greats, including Aretha Franklin, King Curtis, Boz Scaggs, Wilson Pickett and Herbie Mann. His truly expressive guitar playing, particularly when using a slide, and his ability to endlessly improvise guitar solos made him one of the most in demand guitarists of the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Allman, who went by the affectionate nickname ‘Skydog’, was said to bring out the best in other musicians, which is most likely the reason for his covetousness. Being in a room with the Nashville-born blues legend was inspirational; he had a drive and intensity to his playing that would focus the rest of the room into creating the best possible music at that moment.
Skydog also featured at great length on Derek and the Dominos’ only album Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, which featured one of the best known blues rock tunes of all time, ‘Layla’, often referred to as Eric Clapton’s greatest musical achievement. Allman was a big fan of Clapton and took great delight in being able to play with another of the world’s greatest guitarists.
Allman once said: “Well, I went down there to watch them make that record because I was interested in it, I thought, ‘Well now, the cat’s got him a band’. Because I’ve been an admirer of Eric Clapton for a long, long time; I’ve always dug his playing, he inspired me a lot and I always just personally dug his playing.”
Clapton had been to watch the Allman Brothers Band in Miami, where he was recording the Dominos album, and after Allman had asked Clapton if he could come down to the studio to watch the sessions, Clapton told him to bring his guitar along too. Producer Tom Dowd claimed that the two stayed up all night, “trading licks, swapping guitars, talking shop and information and having a ball – no holds barred, just admiration for each other’s technique and facility.” Clapton later wrote in his autobiography that he viewed Allman as the brother he never had but wished he did.
On going down to the recording sessions, Allman said, “Figured I’d get a chance to meet him and watch this thing go down, y’know, so I went down. So when I saw him he acted like he knew me, like I was an old friend, ‘Hey man, how are you’, y’know. And he said, ‘As long as you’re here we want you to get on this record and make it with us, we need more guitar players anyway’. So I did, I was real flattered and glad to be able to do it.”