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Despite the name Allman Brothers Band, the legendary Southern rock group only included two brothers – Duane Allman and Gregg Allman. After Gregg’s death on Saturday, May 27 at age 69, both are gone. Duane Allman was one of the greatest guitar players to ever live, recording a mind-blowing body of work in just 24 years of life.
Duane was born on November 20, 1946, just 13 months before his brother Gregg. The brothers were born to Willis Allman, who served in the U.S. Army during World War II, and Geraldine Allman. Almost exactly two years after Gregg’s birth, their father was murdered.
Duane died on October 29, 1971 in a motorcycle crash, just months after the Allman Brothers Band began having their own chart success with the legendary live album At Fillmore East.
He was survived by two children, including Geladrielle Allman, who she never knew.
Here is what you need to know about Duane Allman.
1. Daughter Gadrielle Wrote a Book About Her Father, Despite Having No Memory of Him
In 2014, Geladrielle wrote a book about her famous father, Please Be With Me: A Song for My Father, Duane Allman. Born in 1969, she was only two years old when Duane died, but she learned much about his life while touring with the Allman Brothers Band and interviewing her grandmother in Daytona Beach. She went on the road for two years for research for the book.
“He died just shy of his 25th birthday and he accomplished so much,” Geladrielle told SFGate at her North Berkeley home. There, she has Duane’s favorite Les Paul guitar and other Gibson guitars her father used.
Her mother was Donna Allman, who was Duane’s common-law wife. Nine months before her death, Allman forced Donna and his daughter to leave the “Big House,” a communal home where the Allman Brothers Band’s wives and children stayed. Donna Allman now lives in Oakland.
“My closest friends knew, but being Duane Allman’s daughter wasn’t part of my identity at all,” Geladrielle told SFGate in 2014. “I was a punk rock teenager, and I was living in a culture where that wasn’t cool.”
Before his relationship with Donna, Duane did have a daughter with Patty Chanley. The daughter was born deaf.
2. Duane Performed the Lead Guitar on Eric Clapton’s ‘Layla’ & Wrote the Signature Riff
While “Layla” is a song most associated with Eric Clapton, it’s Duane’s incredible guitar playing that makes it a key part of rock history. The song appears on the album Layla & Other Assorted Love Songs by “Derek and the Dominoes,” a group Clapton set up for just one album. During a break from the Allman Brothers Band, Duane played on the album as a guest musician, contributing the famous guitar parts to the title track.
According to an Eric Clapton fan site, it was producer Tom Dowd who was responsible for introducing the two guitarists. Dowd got a call from Clapton’s manager, Robert Stigwood, while he produced the Allmans’ Idlewild South album. Clapton wanted to take Derek and the Dominoes to Miami to work with Dowd.
When Clapton arrived in Miami, he saw the Allman Brothers Band perform and was stunned by Duane’s playing. They jammed together all night and then he contributed to Layla.
Duane made dozens of recordings outside the Allman Brothers Band. He worked with Boz Scaggs, Wilson Pickett, Clarence Carter, King Curtis, John P. Hammond, Otis Rush and even Aretha Franklin. When you hear Pickett’s version of The Beatles’ “Hey Jude,” that’s Duane playing the lead guitar.
3. Gregg Wrote ‘Ain’t Waistin’ Time No More’ as a Tribute to Duane
The Allman Bothers Band’s Eat a Peach was the first album released after Duane’s death. The record is a mix of recordings made before and after he died. One of the centerpieces to the album recorded after his death was “Ain’t Waistin’ No Time,” Gregg’s tribute to his brother. It’s the opening song and was released as a single.
After Duane’s death, Rolling Stone published a profile of the band, looking at how they could continue without their guitarist. He truly admired his older brother, especially his rebellious streak.
“Duane was sure a bastard when he was a kid,” Gregg told Rolling Stone in 1973. “He quit school, I don’t know how many times. Got thrown out a few times too. But he had that motorcycle and drove it until it finally just fell apart. When it did, he quit school. While I was gone, he’d grab my axe and start picking. Pretty soon we had fights over the damn thing, so when it came around to our birthdays – mine was in December and his was in November – we both got one. I got mine a little earlier than my birthday, actually. Matter of fact, I put hands on my first electric guitar November 10th, 1960, at three o’clock that Saturday afternoon. Duane’s guitar got into the picture shortly after that.”
Incredibly, the band had to survive another tragedy almost a year to the date of Duane’s death when bassist Berry Oakley died in a motorcycle crash at almost the same spot where Duane died.
4. Lynyrd Skynyrd’s ‘Free Bird’ Was Dedicated to Duane, But Not Written for him
Although Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Free Bird” was written before Duane died, it became a tribute to Allman in performances after his death. During a 1976 show in England, Ronnie Van Zant even tells pianist Billy Powell to “Play it for Duane Allman.”
However, contrary to popular belief, the epic song was not written for Duane. Released on the 1973 album (Pronounced ‘Lĕh-‘nérd ‘Skin-‘nérd), the song was written by Van Zant with Allen Collins. It was inspired by Collins’ future wife Kathy, who asked him, “If I leave here tomorrow, would you still remember me?” That became the opening line of the song.
After Oakley died, Van Zant added that they are “both free birds” before the band performed it on The Old Grey Whistle Test in 1975.
In the years since Duane’s death, there have been countless other tributes to him. For example, in 1998, the Georgia State Legislature renamed a section of highway in Macon “Duane Allman Boulevard.”
5. Gregg Called the First Albums They Recorded a ‘Shit Sandwich’
Before the Allman Brothers Band that we all know came together, the Allman brothers were in several different outfits. Duane’s first group was balled The Escorts, then the brothers created the Allman Joys. They got a record deal in 1967 as a group called “Hour Glass.” They recorded two albums that sound drastically different from the Southern rock they pioneered later.
The two albums were released by Liberty Records, which convinced the brothers that they would make them the next Rolling Stones, Gregg told Rolling Stone in 1973. But it wasn’t their kind of music.
“Together those two records form what is commonly known as a shit sandwich,” Gragg told Rolling Stone. “Liberty was paying all our expenses for us until we earned enough to pay them back.”
They gave up on trying to make it in Los Angeles and headed back to their familiar territory. Duane later got stuck at Muscle Shoals, Alabama as a session guitarist, but his work impressed Atlantic Records producer Jerry Wexler. Allman eventually got tired of this and headed back to Jacksonville, Florida. By March 1969, the line-up of the Allman Brothers Band that would be successful was born.
The group only recorded two studio albums – The Allman Brothers Band (1969) and Idlewild South (1970) – and the live album At Fillmore East (1971) before Duane’s death.