Tag Archive: Duane Allman


Honorable Mentions: 1970s

I’ve now covered the best albums of the ‘70s, but there are plenty of artists and bands that deserve some mention at least. Here are those that didn’t make the cut.

Allman Brothers Band

The Allman Brothers Band

The Allman Brothers Band (named after brothers Gregg and Duane), during the time that Duane was alive and shortly after, commanded the best and deepest understanding of what made the blues – and music in general – so great in the ‘70s. Cameron Crowe based a lot of the dynamic of the fictional band Stillwater from his bitter love letter to the music industry Almost Famous on ABB, and it’s easy to see the bickering brotherly relationship of Jeff and Russell in the actual brothers of Gregg and Duane.

Duane died in a motorcycle accident in 1971, but not before recording the seminal rock/blues album Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs with Eric Clapton and the rest of Derek & the Dominos. After he died, the rest of the ABB carried on and recorded Brothers and Sisters. While not being a tribute album in the strictest sense, I can feel Duane’s spirit as being present throughout the entire thing. Dickey Betts, one of the ABB’s two remaining guitarists after Duane, played twice as well when he was thrust into the spotlight, and took a much more prominent songwriting role as well. Betts penned what is probably the best-known ABB song, “Ramblin’ Man,” first single from Brothers and Sisters. And I would wager that it’s not because Duane finally got out of the way so Dickey could take the lead, but rather because Dickey said, “I gotta step up my game to honor Duane’s memory.”

It’s very much like Dave Matthews Band. After phoning in the dismal Stand Up and almost completely losing their mojo, saxophonist Leroi Moore suddenly and tragically died. The rest of them then released the fantastic Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King with a new-found energy and drive. Why? They were playing not just for the memory of a fallen bandmate, but also because that tragedy had made them realize the gloriousness of what they do for a living. Both DMB and ABB commuted their mourning into great music, which is precisely what music is meant to do.

Queen

Queen

Alright, confession time… I don’t really like Queen.

Woah, calm down people! Put the pitchforks away! I think at this point I’ve proved my classic rock cred, so let’s be fair here. I fully recognize that Queen is a major influence to lots of artists of the last 30 years, some of whom I greatly respect. And I also respect Queen, and happily defer the title of Mightiest Vocalist Who Ever Lived to the late great Freddie Mercury.

That being said, their over-the-top, operatic style makes me cringe. To even call it a “style” seems wrong to me – it’s a musical ethos, a philosophy, and one that I very much disagree with. Queen’s main aim was to make everything bigger, more epic and more of a show than it actually was. But to me, that effort only made what they did seem cheesy, cheap, and robbed of any sense of authenticity. Many other people might label (and have labeled) songs like “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “Another One Bites the Dust” and the groan-inducing “Princes of the Universe” as awesome, but they only make me shake my head.

Then there’s “We Are the Champions,” the worst offender of all. Every time I hear it, I simultaneously want to laugh derisively, cry hysterically, and hit an innocent bystander with a brick. But then I calm my humanity down, and remember something; here it is.

Jesus said “Whoever tries to save his life will lose it.” In “We Are the Champions,” I find a gigantic object lesson about this saying. You could almost change it to, “Whoever tries to be a champion will be a loser.” If you go around saying you’re the champion and you don’t have time for losers, not only will you eventually be the biggest loser of all, but you’re kinda being a douchebag on the way down. That’s what pisses me off the most about “We are the Champions”: the narrator is just such a jerk. If this guy says he doesn’t have time for losers, then I will happily be a loser. All the other losers he doesn’t have time for will get together and have a Loser Party, and Jesus will be hanging with us; I guarantee it.

Lynyrd Skynyrd

Lynyrd Skynyrd

I was raised in Massachusetts, and still live there, so it’s safe to say I don’t really understand people from the South. I see a Confederate Flag on the back of a pickup truck and I think, “Hmm, what’s it like to be a racist?” According to the Civil War mythology up here, the South are all a bunch of racists who were whining about us not letting them have slaves. Of course, down there, it’s not about slaves at all – it’s all about the North being on a power trip and trying to tell the South what to do. So of course, I look at bands with a heavy southern bent a little cockeyed. All of them piss me off a little with their attitude.

All except Lynyrd Skynyrd (and the aforementioned Allman Brothers Band). It doesn’t really make sense that I like them – they have heavy southern accents, don’t truck with the “less is more” ethos, and are pretty loud about their Confederate loyalty despite that the Civil War has been over for about 150 years.

But on a much more important level, it makes perfect sense. They make great music – that’s it, really. And as someone with fangirl tendencies when it comes to the electric guitar, I freely admit that when I listen to “Free Bird,” I feel a little like putting a Confederate flag bumper sticker on my Hyundai.

Eric Clapton

Eric Clapton

So what do you do when you’ve been in five – count ‘em, FIVE – very successful bands (John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, The Yardbirds, Cream, Blind Faith, and Derek & the Dominos)? I dunno… go on to an even more successful solo career, maybe?

Even though it started a little before his final “band” experience, Eric Clapton is a more powerful force when he’s the star. Arguably, he was always the star. The only musician he played with outside of Cream that could keep up with him was Duane Allman from D&D. He’s very simply a guitar god; that fan who spray-painted CLAPTON IS GOD on a metal fence wasn’t wrong. And in addition to keeping the blues alive with his incredible albums From the Cradle and Me & Mr. Johnson, we also have him to thank for the much-covered pop classics “Wonderful Tonight” and “Tears In Heaven.” And even though he hasn’t made an album on this list in his solo career, Eric is one of the musicians I most esteem and respect.

Rush

Rush

I’ve had a long love-hate relationship with Rush. My first experience with them is hearing “Tom Sawyer” when I was about 7. It was an electrifying experience, but every other Rush song has failed to live up. Besides that, there’s the unintentional silliness of their music. That statement probably greatly offends Rush worshippers (and there are a lot of them), but I can’t help it. Some of their music is just plain embarrassing – for the songs themselves, but even more so that this is some of the best-thought-of music rock and roll has to offer. “ATTENTION ALL PLANETS OF THE SOLAR FEDERATION. WE HAVE ASSUMED CONTROL.” Seriously?

Balancing that is the album Moving Pictures. While I don’t see anything that’s world-endingly awesome (other than “Tom Sawyer”), I can’t really find a single flaw either.

There’s also an incident in their discography that caused me a lot of frustration when I heard about it. They recorded a two-part song called “Cygnus X-1.” Now, I’m all about multi-section compositions, and for that, Rush gets a thumbs-up. But they destroyed the good standing that earned them by putting the two sections on different albums, separated by almost 14 months. “Book I” is the last track on A Farewell to Kings in 1977, and “Book II” is the first track on Hemispheres in 1978. That’s kind of like an author writing “He stood up and saw that the murderer was-“ and ending the book there, then waiting 14 months before releasing another book, and starting it with the end of that sentence. Sure, it’s something Charles Dickens did all the time – that doesn’t mean I have to like it.

The Clash

The Clash

In The Clash, we have punk music turned to a purpose other than just pooping all over everything. In The Clash, punk is a force for social and political change rather than merely an expression of the rage a disenfranchised generation felt. While The Sex Pistols and The Ramones were spitting on their audiences and crushing beer cans on their foreheads, The Clash were trying to improve the world.

That being said… meh. I’ve tried to drum up some excitement about their music, but in the end, I just shrug. It actually scares me a little, because I know that some people treat the members of the Clash almost as religious figures, and believe in their music the way suicide bombers believe Americans are infidels.

Fleetwood Mac

Fleetwood Mac

Fleetwood Mac’s epic tale of love, sex, betrayal and sticking it out for the love of music is one of the things that drew me in to study music as more than just something to listen to. I remember watching VH1’s Behind the Music series when it first went on the air. Fleetwood Mac was one of the first ones. No band’s story in the whole of rock and roll has more human drama and literary conflict than that of Fleetwood Mac.

Talking Heads

Talking Heads

Talking Heads appeals to me because I have a slight appreciation for things that come out of left field. True, the fact that it’s weird isn’t enough for me – it also needs to be good. But Talking Heads, on the whole, satisfy both of those requirements. They lose their touch with their last few albums, but the pinnacle came in 1980 with Remain In Light. A daring uprooting of the band to Jamaica and an innovative musical approach are gambles that paid off and then some with this album. All the songs are based around a single chord and a 2- or 4-measure riff. On all eight songs, they don’t deviate from that chord. The idea sounds weird, and it is, but you can’t argue with success.

Next: I found my thrill on Solsbury Hill…

Eric & Duane

August 26th, 1970. Producer Tom Dowd was in Criteria Studios in Miami, doing a record for Eric Clapton’s new band, something Eric formed out of the ashes of Delaney & Bonnie and Friends. He had gotten together with D&B keyboardist Bobby Whitlock for some easy jamming over brews and joints, and they had been quickly joined by Carl Radle and Jim Gordon, D&B’s rhythm section. Dubbed Derek & the Dominos, Tom was recruited to man the boards for them after his success recording Idlewild South for the Allman Brothers Band.

That prodigious August afternoon, Tom received a call from Duane Allman, the Skydog himself, letting him know that the Allman Brothers Band would be in Miami playing a benefit concert that night. When Eric found out, he wanted to go.

“You mean that guy who plays on the back of ‘Hey Jude’?” (Wilson Pickett’s, not the Beatles’) “…I want to see him play… let’s go.”

The bunch of them went to the Allmans show that night, and managed to score seats in front of the front row barricade. When the Dominos came in, Skydog was playing a solo, eyes closed and lost in the glory of the blues. When Duane opened his eyes, the first thing he saw was Eric “Slowhand” Clapton, a famous name and godlike presence in the guitar world. And he was staring right at him. Duane froze. Luckily, the Allmans’ other lead guitarist Dickey Betts was right there to pick it up, but when Dickey followed Duane’s gaze to see what he was gaping at, he had to turn away to keep from freezing himself.

Clapton and Allman were two guitar Supermen, transcendent beings Nietzsche would have been proud of. If they had been different people with bigger egos, I think all of Miami would have sunk into the sea with the weight of their posturing, not to mention their talent. But that wasn’t how it went down. Instead, they each had an admiration and giddy excitement at seeing the other one play. Instead of arching their backs and showing their fangs, they both said “oh man, it’s Eric Clapton!” or “I can’t believe this… it’s Duane Allman!”

Slowhand and Skydog met after the show, talked some shop, and Duane said he’d love to come by the studio to check out what they were doing. Eric excitedly said, “Bring your guitar! You gotta play!” And like that, a musical brotherhood was born. Duane became an official member of Derek & the Dominos, and the two were inseparable for the entire recording of Layla. They talked shop, swapped guitars, and showed each other techniques. But the best thing was that they traded licks, calling and answering with their guitars in a fantastic partnership; and it’s all caught on tape for the generations to enjoy and learn from. Pay attention, you blooming guitarists; this is how it’s done.

“Key to the Highway,” the last track on the first half of this double album, contains the glory, beauty and excellent freedom of blues music in its Platonic form. Blues is all about having a basic progression that’s repeated, and improvising over it to creating a unique sound and musical experience not just with each song, but with each repeat of the form of a song. “Key to the Highway” is only 8 measures played over and over again. Yet no set of eight measures is the same because of the splendid element of the guitarists having no idea where they’re going, what comes next, or where it will end. They only know that when the 8 measures are up, the song will start over again, and so can they.

The recording of it came by happy accident. 60s camp artist Sam the Sham was recording “Key to the Highway” in the studio room next door for his album Hard and Heavy. The band recognized it (it’s an old blues standard first recorded by Charles Seger in 1940), and they just started playing it improv-style. After they got going, Tom Dowd started recording. The jam apparently goes on for about 15 minutes before what’s on the album actually starts.

I can imagine “Key to the Highway” going on forever; no beginning, no end. The musicians never tire, never sweat, never get bored or let their minds wander. It’s a picture of heaven for me. I’ve heard lots of things from lots of people about heaven, but my  mom’s description is the one that sticks with me. She says heaven will be all God’s children singing endless praise to him, ceaselessly giving him the glory due his name in a progression that never stops. To complete that picture, I use “Key to the Highway.” When we get to heaven, we will never get tired of playing those 8 measures.

Love Story

From the first time a caveman scratched a burnt stick on a wall, art has been made about a few basic subjects. The struggle for survival (man vs. nature) is a popular theme, as is the creation of the universe. It may have taken a little time to develop, but a motif that’s even stronger and more prevalent, I think, is the classic quest of a lover to win their love. That’s a story that’s been told literally millions of times, and that’s for two reasons. The first is that it’s applicable to nearly everyone. No one doesn’t know the pain, yearning and joy of striving for something of highest value. The second is that it can be told an infinite number of ways. The star-crossed lovers (Romeo and Juliet), the love triangle (Nikolai, Sonya and Marya in War and Peace), the unrequited obsession (Eponine in Les Miserables), the rescue (Superman), the stalker (Erik in Phantom of the Opera), or the woman worth going to war over (The Iliad).

Stories are always more compelling if they really happened. Movies bandy about the term “based on true events” even if the movie shares only the most extremely tangential relation to the facts. It’s because there’s something that automatically ups the drama if there’s a hint of it being reality.

George Harrison & Pattie Boyd, 1969

Cut to 1970 Britain. George Harrison is in wedded bliss with his beautiful bride of 3 years, Pattie Boyd. The “bliss,” however, is a fiction; as George’s interest in Eastern religion is growing, so is the rift between him and his wife. George is quickly becoming distant and strange, morphing into someone Pattie never would have married. But she remains committed to him, and despite the rift, there is still much love between the two. There some rather beautiful moments, not the least of which is the recording of “For You Blue,” a no-brainer blues number that George wrote quickly that illustrates nothing more complicated or less marvelous than a man’s adoring love for his wife.

Parallel to that is the story of Eric Clapton. During the mid to late 60s, he had scaled the heights of stardom almost as high as George and the other Beatles, first gaining notoriety with the Yardbirds, and really showing the world what he could do as one third of Cream. Being already on the mountaintop, George naturally befriended Eric when he reached that high. Eric played lead guitar on the Beatles track “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” in 1968, they worked together to pen the Cream track “Badge” in 1969, and Eric and George became the best of friends.

Eric Clapton, 1970

What makes this story 50x more compelling than that is Pattie. To use a somewhat antiquated phrase, Pattie was a knockout. Her profession, other than Beatlewife, was as a model. Eric met George and became attached to him, but not nearly as much as to Pattie. For certain people, forbidden fruit is much more appetizing, increased by the severity of the forbidding. Call it cliché, but there’s little more forbidden than another man’s wife. The cliché holds true for Eric and Pattie. He was crazy about her.

Eric was feeling the tension between desire that drives you bonkers and loyalty that doesn’t budge. His reaction to the war inside his head and heart was one of the worst things you can do in this situation, or any. Heroin fixes things temporarily, but only makes them worse when the high wears off. Eric tried to distract himself from one woman who had control of his life by giving control to another. Which is worse? The pain of addiction, or the ache of a heart that breaks every day? Drugs or unrequited love?

It all sounds like something out of a drug store romance paperback, doesn’t it?

Eric was serving third mistress, as well; music. Unlike the other two, this one cradles you when you hurt, whispers in your ear when you’re trapped in silence, and always stands beside you when all your other mistresses are gone. Just as Eric used heroin to dull his pain, he channeled it into music. And the blues is a singularly awesome thing to channel that particular type of pain in to. Thus, in 1970, he delivered to the world Layla & Other Assorted Love Songs.

Duane Allman

After the bitter disintegration of Cream, Eric tried to capture lightning in a bottle with the supergroup Blind Faith. That band toppled over with the weight of its own stardom after one album, but Eric wasn’t ready to give up. He tried again by recruiting two old buddies who played for Delany & Bonnie and taking advantage of a chance crossing with Duane Allman, a rising star who played American yin to Clapton’s British yang. Duane had equal chops to Eric, and their different approaches to the six-string combined in a cosmic brilliance to create something that was so much more than the sum of its parts.

The final piece of the puzzle was the name of the group. They were originally called Eric and the Dynamos, but the announcer at their first public gig screwed it up by saying “Derek and the Dominos.” It turned out to be a happy accident, since Clapton had some misgivings about pasting his famous name to his new band. People might think it was another supergroup, and the problem with Blind Faith was that it withered under the hot sun of media focus. What better solution that the red herring of Derek? Done.

Their one contribution was Layla, and Clapton poured every ounce of pain, yearning, and hopeless angst into that one album. And let me tell you… it’s really something to behold.