Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Skydog – The Duane Allman Story by Randy Poe

Living through my adolescence in the 70’s and listening to r’n’r, it was inevitable that I would be familiar with the Allman Brothers. Even before “Ramblin’ Man” became a Top 40 hit, their songs had been played regularly on FM radio, so any guitar player was familiar with “Whippin’ Post” or “Statesboro Blues”.

But, while I did like the songs that I had heard, I wasn’t enough of a slide guitar fan to really appreciate just how goddam good Duane Allman was. To this day I still find it a little embarrassing to admit that I like the band, mainly due to their extended jams – which, of course, is one of the reasons why they are so famous!

But, over the years I’ve tried to overcome my own damn “coolness” and go back and re-listen to many of the great late 60’s and early 70’s guitarists and appreciate what they did. A number of years ago I found a used copy of the double album set “Duane Allman – An Anthology” for the absurd price of 99 cents and discovered what a session genius he had been!

This book follows the career of Duane from his start as a guitarist – begging his mom for a guitar because his brother Gregg had bought one (that he paid for himself!). Because Duane kept taking Gregg’s, their mom bought Duane a ’59 Les Paul Jr. which he used through his early days in a surf band, the Escorts, who even opened for the Beach Boys in 1965!

There are a million stories here, as the brothers cross the country numerous times with various bands before splitting up and Gregg attempting a solo career in LA and Duane becoming a session musician. Duane played with some true superstars – from Aretha Franklin to Eric Clapton – and the anthology album compiles a number of the most memorable cuts.

Duane eventually finds the right people to put together the Allman Brothers band, forces Gregg to come back from LA and literally threatens him until he agrees to be the lead singer and the rest truly is southern rock history.

Poe’s story goes through the good times and the bad, the alcohol and the drugs (funnily enough only alluding to the sex) and the slow climb to stardom. Sadly, the band’s greatest successes come after Duane’s death, but none of it would have happened without his guidance and creativity.

His untimely death at a ridiculously young age (24) literally almost brought me to tears as I was reading this, even though you know it is coming. The tragic, unnecessary waste really is heartbreaking.

Of course, one reason why Duane is so legendary (besides being an incredibly creative performer) is that he did die so young, but it seems like he really did still have a lot to contribute and to call it a shame is more than an understatement.

Poe’s book does follow the careers of the rest of the Allmans after Duane’s deaths up until today, which is somewhat understandable because Duane’s story is so much the story of the band, but it does lose a little focus in those last few chapters.

But, it’s a fine book, very detailed and there is even a chapter on the equipment that he used, including a hilarious anecdote about a friend finding Duane’s first electric guitar in a pawn shop without realizing it because Duane was drunk when he pawned it and could never remember where he left it!

Anyone with an interest in great 70’s guitar players should definitely pick this up, along with the Anthology record!
(Again, sorry for the Amazon.com photo - I guess I should have spent more time looking around for pix!)


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