Duane Allman played what he wanted to hear. There have been bottleneck-guitar players forever, from the Twenties through the Sixties, but Duane began doing things no one had ever done before. He had a tone and a style that were uniquely his. He was just a stunning and singular musician who was gone way too soon.
Then there was his kid brother, Gregg. His singing and keyboard playing had a dark richness, a soulfulness that added one more color to the Allmans' rainbow. The Allman Brothers had respect for the roots of this music. They learned from the blues, and they continued to interpret the form in their own manner. They took something old and made something new.
I was lucky enough to see the Allmans up close in the beginning. I first became aware of them when they were breaking out of Macon, Georgia. They had played Austin and made a tremendous noise down there. Word spread very quickly in those days. The next thing we knew we were on the road with these guys, opening up for them and Quicksilver Messenger Service, and witnessing music history.
We would linger by the stage after our set and listen to Duane and Dickey Betts play guitar together. It was like they were weaving a beautiful piece of cloth. Dickey was remarkable in his own right. Yet in the beginning, no one in that band -- Duane, Dickey, Jaimoe Johanson or Butch Trucks -- outshined the others.
There are a couple of moments on At Fillmore East that defy description -- where the Allmans take the music to places it had never been. That extended version of "Whipping Post" is the all-time end-all for me. It still gets to me all these years later. The Allmans were the great Southern-rock band, but they were more than that. They defined the best of every music from the American South in that time. They were the best of all of us.
[From Issue 946 — April 15, 2004]