If you were going to choose three albums to put in a time capsule representing the best of the best of blues-rooted rock ‘n’ roll guitar, The Allman Brothers’ Live At Fillmore East and Derek And The Dominos’ Layla would likely be two of them – and Duane Allman is featured on both.
The sobering fact of all this is that the music on Skydog was recorded between 1965 and 1971. In six years’ time, Duane Allman went from being a high schooler in a rock band to a legend, gone way too soon.
The Skydog compilation was co-produced by Bill Levenson and Duane’s daughter Galadrielle. We had the opportunity to speak with Galadrielle about her father and his music.BR: I can’t come up with a better phrase to describe the Skydog box than “put together with love” – both in terms of the music and even the box itself, adorned with his treasured Les Paul. I laughed when I first opened it up and saw the guitar case lining inside and the “string packages” for the individual CDs.
GA: I’m so glad you appreciated that! I think it really speaks to what my dad’s priorities were, you know? He really didn’t like having his picture taken or being separated out from the rest of the band. He loved that guitar; it felt right to design the box that way … and I think he would approve.
I should know this – how old were you when your father died?
I was two. I was born in August of 1969, which was essentially the same time that the band was forming. I was born in Macon, GA and luckily my father happened to be home when I was born, which was a great blessing. (laughs) The band was really busy at that point in time.
I’m actually writing a book about my family right now that’s going to come out next year. I went on a lengthy couple of years of traveling and talking to friends and learning a lot about him. Working on the box set was kind of a nice counterpoint to that; I’ve been spending the last four years really learning a lot about my father and his career and his personality … it’s really been a great experience.
My folks were both older than I am now when they passed away. They never leave you, of course; their presence is always there – but I have a sense of them being older than me. Your father, on the other hand, was a young man when he died. When you think about him – and the influence he’s had on your life – is he 20 years or so younger than you are now?
It’s funny … I remember very well when I turned 24 how hard it was; how sad it was – and how startling it was at the same time. I was working as a cashier in a restaurant when I was that age. (laughs) I hadn’t accomplished anything that I’d be remembered for!
He was just such a focused and driven artist. Without exception, everyone that I talked to has said that my father seemed older and wiser than his years. Even in photographs: he has this real confidence and presence that makes him seem quite grown up.
In the box set, you can hear that even his earliest high school cover bands had such a polish; a kind of professional intent. He took himself and his work very seriously for someone his age and it shows.
INTERLUDE: DISC ONE 1965 – 1968
The Skydog box set takes flight with three previously unreleased cuts by The Escorts, a four-piece band Duane and Gregg originally formed in 1964. Even in their teens, the brothers were already performing with a musical maturity beyond their years. As Disc One progresses through music from The Allman Joys, Hour Glass, 31st Of February, and The Bleus, it’s almost shocking to hear how Duane Allman began finding his own guitar voice at such a young age.
BR: When you’re listening to The Escorts doing “Lovelight” it’s so easy to forget how young they were.
GA: I know!
Until a little over two minutes in when Gregg’s voice cracks –
And it’s the sweetest thing, as you realize they might sound like these old bluesmen, but they were just kids. (laughter)
And he was probably 17 then – or about to turn 17. My grandmother took what they were doing seriously, as well. She was a single parent – their father was killed when they were little children – but she would take them to clubs before they were old enough to go alone. She’d take them to meet the club owners, shake their hand, and say, “These are my boys.”
God bless her!
Oh, she was very supportive – made them join the musician’s union and treat it professionally. She always said, “You can do anything you want with your life, but you’ve got to work.” She always wanted them to have a work ethic.
That’s where that came from … and I think that’s another thing that people don’t necessarily think of: what it took to get where they were with the Allman Brothers. There was a huge amount of work that led up to that point; to be such strong players by that point in time.
I know you could only include so much in the collection, but I think Skydog does do a great job of representing how much music Duane had been a part of before the actual formation of the Allman Brothers Band.
We had concerns that the later music is so well known. It would’ve been easy to overload the box with Allman Brothers music, but the focus isn’t on the band – it’s on his life story … and I hope that fans can understand it and get a new perspective on him through the balance.
And this early music certainly does that. “No Name Instrumental” sort of captures Link Wray’s darkness – although Duane never sounds sinister … I don’t think he had it in him to sound sinister. (laughter)
I don’t know – “Black Hearted Woman” gets pretty tough. (laughter) But I think you’re right about that instrumental – a Link Wray … almost surf sort of influence. They were raised in Daytona, after all … (laughter)
And then on the Allman Joy tunes, you hear a lot of Jeff Beck in Duane’s playing. But on his first solo during their version of “Spoonful” that’s included here – that’s the first time that I felt, “Right there – that’s some classic Duane phrasing.” His sound is starting to percolate.
It’s interesting to hear how his style developed. You can find Duane … even in all these different genres he had a real touch that you can hear. But he wasn’t a showboat; as strong as he was, even in something like “Hey Jude” where he does sort of take off and fly – standing toe-to-toe with someone like Wilson Pickett couldn’t have been easy to do – he doesn’t overpower.
He always communicated with the other musicians – always – and he always did what the song needed and deserved.
INTERLUDE: DISC TWO 1968 – 1969
The second disc of Skydog is brimming full of classic Duane Allman performances from his period as a session man in Muscle Shoals, AL. It’s not just Duane’s playing that’s so captivating – it’s the range of his playing and all the different styles he easily melds with. These handpicked FAME Studio sessions are as much studies in Duane’s ear and attitude as they are his abilities.
BR: Again, it’s easy to lose track of how old Duane was back then. He was an in-demand session man at the age of what – 22? Forget the talent: how many people have the sort of maturity required to exist in an ever-changing situation like that?
GA: It’s true. And these things were usually cut in one or two run-throughs … with people he’d just met that day. Boz Scaggs told me that the session they did [when the classic “Loan Me A Dime” was recorded] was the first time they’d met – about an hour before they started to play! Which is incredible, because the music sounds so personal and developed.
Duane had the gift of being able to just walk into the room, shake hands with everybody, set up, and then let it rip! (laughter)
It’s humbling to me … I just don’t know where that comes from, that kind of confidence.
I think Duane was the greatest horn man that ever played a guitar.
(laughs) That’s a great way to put it. Much of his inspiration came from jazz horn players, for sure. And I think Jaimoe was the one who brought that music out of him.
When my father was playing at FAME, Jaimoe came down to check him out and see what all the buzz was about. They started jamming in whatever room wasn’t being used at the studio. Berry was there, also – they became a trio … a tiny seed of what became The Allman Brothers Band.This has nothing to do with the music, except I believe it was a photo taken at FAME. On page 43 of the Skydog booklet, there’s this great shot of your dad – it’s black and white, but I’m guessing that’s a pretty wild-colored print on his shirt, which might have clashed with the pattern on his guitar strap … (laughter) … and a big ol’ honkin’ neckerchief and a pair of massive studio headphones clamped to his head. It’s the expression on his face that I love: his eyes are squeezed shut and his mouth is wide open as he digs into a note – a look of sheer bliss.
(laughs) I’ve actually had it for quite a while and you’re right: it is a great picture. Stephen Paley took that – a lot of the photos in the book are by him. He really did capture some incredible moments. I bet [Allman Brother archivist] E.J. Devokaitis knows what session that was and who he was playing with that day – just by tracking his clothes.
Oh, I bet. (laughter)
INTERLUDE: DISC THREE 1968 – 1969
Disc Three of Skydog documents Duane’s brief stint as a solo artist, along with more Muscle Shoals session work – including the soul-wrenching “Loan Me A Dime” recorded by Boz Scaggs in May of 1969. It ends with the opening tracks off The Allman Brothers’ self-titled debut.
BR: The solo tunes “No Money Down” and “Happily Married Man” are good-time romps and the vocals fit the mood … they’re just plain goofy and fun. But “Goin’ Down Slow” has some fine, fine blues singing by Duane.
GA: Absolutely. It’s interesting, as I think he got teased a lot for his singing voice, but he had really great phrasing and emotion … that’s a very moving performance. In the early bands, he and Gregg traded off singing a lot. And Gregg also played guitar … eventually it became clear who did what the best, I guess.
That one-two punch of “Don’t Want You No More” into “It’s Not My Cross To Bear” was the world’s introduction to the Allman Brothers on record. What do you feel when you listen to it today?
Oh, I love those two songs so much – and how they move into each other. I’m pretty sure from talking to Butch that those are the first songs they worked up together – in their first jams before they were even a band. The pairing of those two songs is interesting: a blues standard with their own spin on it blended with a song that Gregg had written. It’s a nice start to the vision of what they wanted the band to be.
No question about it: a few moments in, you know this is more than just another blues band.
I feel like even coming out of the Boz Scaggs material on that disc – which is incredibly strong and powerful – there’s something about the Brothers that you can really feel … how they’re free to stretch out and how they’re supporting each other to explore and create this new and different sound.
Between the end of Disc Three and the beginning of Disc Four, you have the debut album in its entirety, which is a great move, I think.
It’s powerful music. Gregg wrote the originals in one big creative explosion.
INTERLUDE: DISC FOUR 1969
Even after The Allman Brothers formed, Duane still made time for session work, as documented on Disc Four. From the raw-boned rockabilly soul of Ronnie Hawkins to the packaged pop of Lulu, Duane Allman found his place in every session and contributed to each song’s soul. His work on John Hammond’s “Southern Fried” album is a window into what could have been a great musical pairing in years to come, had fate allowed it.
BR: The cuts with Ronnie Hawkins are a hoot. He’s like a character out of a big ol’ rock ‘n’ roll comic book or something.
GA: (laughs) It’s true. I’m sure that was a big, fun rocking session.
I’d never heard the Lulu material before.
I was surprised at how well those held up, actually. It would be easy to think of them as novelties, but there really is some incredible playing there that captures the mood of the times, you know?
It’s so easy to imagine that Duane and John Hammond would’ve done a lot of projects in the years to come if the opportunity had been there. The two of them were naturals together.
I believe that’s true. The two of them were so well-suited to each other. Duane spent some time with John at his home just before he died; I think they definitely would’ve made some more music.
They had the same love of the music … I don’t think Duane loved anything more than to hang out with players who felt that same way – to exchange ideas and feed each other.
INTERLUDE: DISC FIVE 1969 – 1970
Layla – the song; the album; the story behind it all – is the stuff of legends. By Eric Clapton’s own admission, the song and the album would’ve been different if it hadn’t been for Duane Allman joining the Layla sessions in the fall of 1970. Disc Five of Skydog offers some moments of Duane’s stints as a Domino and one of Delaney & Bonnie’s “friends” along with some more classic ABB tunes.BR: The whole Layla story is a mark of how powerful Duane’s connection with the band and his brother was – that he could go into a session that made musical history; do the job; and simply leave on good terms to get back on the road with the Brothers.
GA: I know, it’s remarkable – and it speaks to his priorities. I think he took his bond with the band really seriously. Plus, I think he had absolute creative freedom in the Brothers that I don’t know he would have had in the Dominos … I don’t know that, but he probably couldn’t help but think of it as Eric’s band, you know? But I know he really loved and was proud of the music that he and Eric created together.
There were, what – two Dominos shows that he sat in on?
But no recordings that you considered for the Skydog box?
I think there are low-quality audience tapes. That was a big part of putting the box together: making decisions to try to keep things really high-quality rather than completest – in terms of live material where the sound quality gets funky.
My hat’s really off to Bill Levenson who co-produced this package. He really has high standards for what sounds good and wanted the discs to hang together so that you could put it all on and listen to it straight through. The music transitions well and has a feeling of being listenable without any jarring differences in sound quality.
I’ve talked with Gregg a lot about the kind of music they would want released and he feels strongly we use the best of the best. He can see the historical value of things, but I think he really gets embarrassed by what they sounded like at the age of 16. (laughter)
At the same time, I think it’s good for people to realize where it all came from – it wasn’t magic from the sky; it was work. They were working hard at what they loved to do and learning new things.
INTERLUDE: DISC SIX 1970 – 1971Disc Six of Skydog offers some of the widest-ranging music of any single disc in the set, ranging from some intimate acoustic picking with Delaney & Bonnie to funky jazz jamming with Herbie Mann – and a freewheeling sit-in with the Dead … along with the Brothers at the Fillmore.
BR: The two Delaney & Bonnie tunes on Disc Six –“Gift Of Love” and “Sing My Way Home” – are so, so sweet.
GA: Aren’t they wonderful? I really think those are the heart of the album. We actually thought about naming the box set “Gift Of Love” at one point but it felt a little too sentimental … although it could have been called that and it would’ve been appropriate. But yeah – I love that music.
I believe those are from the sessions for Motel Shot – that’s one of our favorite Sunday-morning albums.
I think Duane truly loved playing with Delaney & Bonnie. It was a real escape for him to be able to go off and jump in mid-tour to sit in with them.
And then we have a run of some great, great Allman Brothers stuff from various Fillmore East shows – “Statesboro Blues” and “Elizabeth Reed” from At Fillmore East and then later on “One Way Out” from Eat A Peach – but in the middle of things is that wild version of “Sugar Magnolia” with the Dead. Now that was fun.
(laughs) That was a recording from the Dead’s incredible archives. And, yeah, it’s very cool. Again, he sounds totally at home in that setting.
The Herbie Mann stuff is yet another side of Duane’s playing. I love the moment on “Push Push” where Duane begins his solo and – after laying some groundwork – you can hear him flipping the toggle switch to change pickups and really let loose … it’s like a pitcher going into his windup.
That’s a great description. (laughs) I think there’s a photo of him on stage with Delaney & Bonnie along with Herbie Mann in the book; I hadn’t seen that picture before and it was really an exciting find. I believe it was taken on stage in Central Park at a Delaney & Bonnie show – Herbie was a guest and so was Duane. I think that’s where they met and the sessions happened after that.
It’s really cool to hear him playing in that jazz setting and realize just how flexible he was. He could really put his touch on anything.
INTERLUDE: DISC SEVEN 1971
Saxophonist King Curtis died on August 21, 1971; Disc Seven includes Duane’s tribute to his friend as he leads the Allman Brothers through a live medley of “You Don’t Love Me” into “Soul Serenade” a few days after Curtis’ death. Also included are live performances of “Blue Sky” and “Dreams” from a Brothers show on September 19th. Duane Allman died in a motorcycle accident on October 29, 1971 – three weeks shy of his 25th birthday.
BR: Duane’s tribute to King Curtis on the final disc is an example of so many colors of sound – beautiful and raucous at the same time.
GA: He really loved King and they had a special connection. They admired each other and spent time outside the studio fishing … talking … they had a great friendship.
I’m going to stick my neck out here and tell you that the live version of “Blue Sky” on Disc Six is one of my favorite Brothers pieces ever. When Dickey and Duane were locked in, there just wasn’t – and hasn’t been since – anything quite like it.
That’s right – and Dickey wrote some of the most beautiful songs imaginable. I think Duane would tell you – and I know it to be true myself – Dickey had a different style and different strengths and came from different influences than Duane. But the two of them played off of each other so beautifully and raised each other’s game. I really think that that’s what happened throughout most of Duane’s career – he paired up with musicians who could really push him … and he pushed them. Leaders and followers, back and forth.
And I don’t care how many times it’s been played over the years while the crew coils up the chords and rolls the cabinets off the stage – “Little Martha” is the perfect way to end things.
I know Berry’s wife Linda told me that Duane would sort of riff on that tune long before “Little Martha” was written – it was sort of a little rambling tune he would play when he would just sit down with an acoustic guitar … which he was very seldom not doing when he was just hanging out. (laughs) I think it was long time in the making as it slowly evolved … it kept him company for a long time before it became “Little Martha”.
I always stand on stage and wait for it to end when I go to see them play because it’s so sweet. (laughs)
Do you have an early musical memory of your own – a piece that your father was involved in that got ahold of you early on?
You know, it’s strange: I don’t have specific memories like that: there is no time in my memory that pre-dates the Brothers. The music is so deeply in me that I was probably a teenager before I knew the names of the songs – but I already knew every note of the songs … they were part of the fabric of my life. There’s no one thing that really stands out for me … the music was always present.
My mom does tell a story about me being about 3 years old when she took the Layla record to a friend’s house to listen to it. When the song “Layla” came on, I stood up and started dancing – and danced right through the whole song in very joyful way that kind of blew everybody’s mind … (laughs) … it’s a long song for a tiny kid. (laughter) She loves to tell that story.
But the music was always a big part of my life – and I’m grateful for it, because it gives me a real sense of him, you know? It’s so personal; so powerful; I’ve really been raised with it and have learned from it. It sets a high bar for loving what you do and doing what you love – trying to be open to people and being creative. There’s a lot to learn … a lot to pick from his music … and I do.
That’s a lesson for us all: if you apply your father’s approach to music to anything you want to do in life, things are going to happen.
That’s right – that’s really a fitting tribute to him: for people to take what they love to do seriously. Get behind yourself and explore it; take the time to learn how to do something that you love and put your heart into it. You can feel that: when you dedicate yourself to something, and you meet like-minded people; be open to other people and exchange ideas … it’s a beautiful model.
That’s why the package ends the way it does with the quote from his diary – it’s the last page of the booklet – and it really speaks to the kind of generous, creative person he was. It’s a beautiful note to end on.
Oh, Galadrielle – you’re so right. And you know what? With your blessing, perhaps that’s the best way to close this piece.
Oh, you absolutely should. Please do.
FINALE: FROM DUANE ALLMAN’S DIARY 1/1/69
This year I will be more thoughtful of my fellow man, exert more effort in each of my endeavors professionally as well as personally, take love wherever I find it, and offer it to everyone who will take it. In this coming year I will seek knowledge from those wiser than me and try to teach those who wish to learn from me. I love being alive and I will be the best man I possibly can. – Duane Allman
This piece was originally published by Jambands.com in March 2013.