Sure, most classic-rock fans know Duane Allman’s seminal guitar playing from his time leading the band that bears his name. He and his bandmates produced an incredible body of work in less than three years, ending with his fatal 1971 motorcycle accident at the age of 24. Just think of the classic-rock canon without tunes like “Statesboro Blues,” “Whipping Post,” “One Way Out,” “Midnight Rider” and “Dreams.”
Duane was a busy boy — a very busy boy who also recorded with other groups, played as a guest collaborator and took any session work he could find as an axeman for hire.
2013 saw the release of Skydog: The Duane Allman Retrospective. The massive (seven CDs, 129 tracks) set offers his best-known tracks and deep cuts with his most familiar collaborators. But it also showed Allman's guitar work with earlier groups like The Escorts, the Allman Joys, Hour Glass; various soul/R&B artists; and a bevy of more obscure acts such as The Bleus, Ronnie Hawkins, Lulu and even jazz flautist Herbie Mann. "Skydog" was the nickname given to Allman by soul man Wilson Pickett during a session as a reflection of his laid-back, hippie-high personality.
Skydog is being re-released in a 1,000-numbered limited-edition box set of 14 vinyl LPs. Three different price-point packages come with different ephemera goodies, and all editions will have some new photos.
Galadrielle Allman, Duane’s daughter, was just two years old when he died. She co-curated the tracks for the box set, and in 2014 published Please Be With Me, a compelling memoir/biography about her father and how she has grappled with his absence and his legacy.
“I started out thinking it would be a straight biography, but then realized I couldn’t quite ignore my own emotions and wanted to include them for the reader,” she offers. “So it was personal to me and I felt I could craft the story. And it helped in my desire to know him. It’s been really gratifying to hear from people who have read it.”
Part of Allman’s journey included reminiscing (not really interviewing) with her now-deceased grandmother, mother and uncle Gregg. But the most surprising thing she found out had more to do with her father’s work ethic than family ties.
“I’m 47, and that’s almost twice as old as he was when he passed. I realized that his time span was so short, but the amount that he accomplished was amazing. He had to be tireless pursuing music to get as much done as he did,” she says.
“There were times when [The Allman Brothers Band] would be done recording or touring and everybody else would just go home. But my father would go in the studio or on the road with other performers. I had no idea about that kind of passion and hunger that motivated him. He didn’t seem to stop ever for a day — and that kind of stunned me!”
There are plenty of tracks in the box set representing Duane’s stints with familiar classic-rock names besides the Brothers: Derek and the Dominoes, Delaney and Bonnie, Boz Scaggs. But the most revelatory performances come when Allman was simply a sideman (albeit one with his fingerprints all over the songs) for soul/R&B artists like Clarence Carter, Wilson Pickett — in fact, it was Duane’s suggestion that the Wicked Pickett cover the Beatles’ “Hey Jude” — King Curtis, Otis Rush, Aretha Franklin and the little-known Johnny Jenkins.
“Oh, that stuff is so funky and so much fun to listen to!” Allman laughs. “It shows his taste level. He had a lot of restraint and didn’t showboat, and knew how to make the artist shine. He didn’t overpower the room, one of these people that come out blasting all the time. He didn’t have to prove every single trick he had in his pocket all the time. It was about building a song and finding a moment.”
Allman says that she listened to a lot of tracks here for the first time, and mentioned that the first song on the set is from the Allmans' teenage band the Escorts; their cover of Bobby “Blue” Bland’s “Turn On Your Love Light,” she offers, shows where her father and uncle’s influences were from the start.
Asked about the health of her uncle Gregg, who only recently returned to the live stage after canceling a number of shows because of serious health issues, Galadrielle affirms he’s “doing great.”
“He’s got an incredibly strong and resilient constitution, which we’re all grateful for," she says. "And nothing makes him happier than performing. It’s who he is.”
When the original Skydog box set came out, it quickly sold out of a limited edition and numbered run, and has since gone into general circulation. Re-releasing it in vinyl provided serious audiophiles a way to get a more classic listening experience, as well as gave fans something “bigger” to hold onto.
“There is a warmth and purity to hearing things on vinyl, and not just for nostalgia. Younger listeners are really investing in vinyl and record players today,” says Galadrielle. “It doesn’t have that limited digital feeling. It’s a more personal experience hearing something on vinyl and holding the album cover in your hand.”
Personal experience. Which brings us back to her book, Please Be With Me.
In it, she recounts an episode when as a young teen she went into an antique store, and found an old issue of Rolling Stone with her father on the cover. The furious store owner snatched the copy out of her hands, telling her she “couldn’t possibly know” about Duane Allman and what a great musician he was. As if she weren’t fit to even hold an old magazine about him.
Stunned, she said nothing about her identity and walked out. But given the hindsight of her life now, would she have reacted any differently?
“If I had been a little bit older and more empowered by it, I would have talked to him. But I remember how self-conscious I was at the time, and all I could do is get out of there,” she says.
“It’s always interesting to meet someone who says they are an ‘expert’ on my dad, because a lot of them want to try and challenge me. Like they say, ‘I’ve been to more Allman Brothers concerts than you!’ And it used to intimidate me, but now it’s kind of funny. And it’s a testament to the passion that people feel about him. They feel very invested and connected to his music.”
For more information on Skydog or to order, visit pledgemusic.com/projects/duaneallman.
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