Duane Allman may have only lived 24 years, but in that time he was able to build a legend that few could manage if given a hundred years. As a session player at FAME Recording Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, he contributed to Wilson Pickett’s cover of Hey Jude, Aretha Franklin’s cover of The Weight, and Derek and the Dominos’ 1970 classic album Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs — the latter on which he left an indelible mark with the slide interlude in its title song.
SiriusXM host and Rolling Stone critic David Fricke has pointed out that his session work alone would have been enough to make him one of the most respected guitar players of all time, but Duane didn’t stop there: he helped invent Southern rock while he was at it.
In the summer of 1960, Duane bought his first motorcycle, but when it fell apart, he quit school and would take his little brother’s guitar and play it while he was gone at school. Soon enough, the brothers were fighting over the instrument, so when it came time for their birthdays, they each got a guitar. Duane was a man obsessed, soaking in music from across the country, learning to combine Chicago Blues with Bluegrass and with that new sound coming over from England. He had several bands that gigged around the Southeast, but he and his brother found their place in history when they founded the Allman Brothers Band. Together, they helped originate the Southern rock sound, paving the way for everyone from Lynyrd Skynyrd to the Charlie Daniels Band, and letting down-home Southern boys know that drug-fueled jam sessions weren’t just for hippies.
When he died in a motorcycle crash on October 29, 1971, he was already the Southern guitar player. Every generation since has grown up trying to master the sound he created. “My brother was one of the most intense people I’ve ever met,” Gregg later said. “When he was playing, he just pulled it out of you. I don’t care if you were dog-tired or half asleep, something happened. It was like he demanded it from you.”
The legacy of Duane Allman continued for years afterwards as the Allman Brothers carried on in various permutations. Few would argue that their greatest post-Duane line-up would feature the amazing tandem guitar work of Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks, the latter who would also be taken on the road by Eric Clapton in the mid-2000’s, where he would recreate Duane’s signature slide guiatar sound on a variety of Derek and the Dominoes tracks.