Not only was the era deemed as ‘classic rock’ characterised by its game-changing music, wild tales of excess and questionable fashion choices, but it was also marked, in part, by the way in which many of the era’s most lauded figures became close friends. Harry Nilsson and John Lennon spent the majority of the infamous ‘Lost Weekend’ lost in a haze of alcohol and narcotics, Keith Moon broke into Mick Jagger’s room as Batman, and so on and so forth.
Due to the fact that rock music was a tight-knit community back then, with the age of the subgenre still 20 years or so away, the fact that many of the genre’s early heroes were friends is unsurprising. Much like any literary crowd that rubbed shoulders with each other in the smoky bars of Europe, the ‘classic rock’ cohort did the same, just usually it was getting up to wild hijinx around the city of Los Angeles, the home of all things excessive.
In 2016, fans were amazed when they were let into some incredible knowledge from someone close to one of the era’s most celebrated bands. The messenger came in the guise of Steve Vest, a little known Florida-based singer-songwriter who opened for some of the state’s best-loved musical heroes; Tom Petty, Lynyrd Skynyrd and The Allman Brothers in the late 1960s and early ’70s. Vest, it transpired, was long-term friends with The Allman Brothers.
In the story, which he recounted via his YouTube channel, Vest discussed a brilliant interaction between two of the most iconic guitar heroes of all time, Jimi Hendrix and Duane Allman, back in 1970. What piqued Vest’s interest at the time was the way both Hendrix and Duane’s brother, Gregg Allman, were sharing their opinions on Lynyrd Skynyrd, although the ‘Freebird’ heroes were yet to release a record yet.
Casting his mind back, Vest explained: “The year is 1970, it’s July 4th in Byron Georgia, the famous Atlanta Pop Festival. The Atlanta Pop Festival was not in Atlanta, Georgia but in Byron. I was there, Tom Doucette and I played the harmonicas for The Allman Brothers Band and Jimi Hendrix and his Experience was there. Jimi was up backstage with me and Gregg.”
He continued: “So Gregg was on his right side and I was on his left side. Jimi made a statement about Lynyrd Skynyrd. He said ‘Gregg, I’m surprised that Lynyrd Skynyrd is not here. They are one great rock and roll band’, and Gregg said, ‘Yeah, they opened up for us in Jacksonville for a while, they were there. They are a really great rock and roll band, I agree, Jimi!’.”
Vest remembers being perplexed. He said: “I thought to myself, ‘How did Jimi know what Lynyrd Skynyrd sounded like when they are back in Jacksonville? And it was 1970.” The only reason he could think that Hendrix would have known about Lynyrd Skynyrd would be via Duane Allman.
Hot on the trail of the mystery, Vest remembered: “So later on, Duane and I got together. Duane said to me ‘Steve, let’s go over the concession stand and get ourselves a hot dog’. So I said, ‘Duane, there is only one way that Jimi Hendrix could have known about Lynyrd Skynyrd’s music and that would mean you.”
“He (Duane) said ‘My stash, man!’. Now, he wasn’t talking about a stash of drugs, he wasn’t talking about a stash of money. He was talking about his own private collection,” Vest’s suspicions were correct. “You see, Duane had his own reel-to-reel tape recorder as The Allman Brothers had their own reel-to-reel tape recorder. Duane’s was a little smaller, secured in a satchel, and he would tape all the live concerts with other bands.”
Vest concluded his crazy tale: “So he had this huge collection that he called his ‘stash’. He said ‘Steve, I taped Lynyrd Skynyrd live with us, when they were playing with us. Then I turned them on to Jimi Hendrix before the Atlanta Pop Festival. Knowing Duane, I had the privilege of knowing Duane for 6 years. So I knew that this was just Duane’s personality, you see, Duane ate, breathed and lived the music.”
It’s wild stories like these that really help to keep the flame of classic rock alive. Tragically, neither Hendrix nor Duane Allman would make it past 1971, with Hendrix passing in ’70 and Allman the year later. Both artists are two of the most lauded guitarists of all time, and without their invaluable input into the realm of guitar playing, it would not be the incredibly broad and visceral beast it is today.
The crossover that Vest’s story makes between southern rock and Hendrix’s hard-hitting psychedelia shows clearly just how tight-knit rock was back then, even if the Skynyrd were “back in Jacksonville”. The love that Hendrix and Gregg Allman showed for Lynyrd Skynyrd is indicative of a time when musicians were supportive of one another, not like today.
Watch Vest tell his story below.