This was far, far from the Fillmore. Instead, Allman appeared at “bars, night clubs, lounges, and before that high school dances, little Y teen dances, and before that for anybody who would listen – just learning things,” he told the New Orleans Free Press in 1971. “Man, it’s kind of like studying to be a doctor. You start out with a frog and then you work up and dissect a dog and go on up to human beings, and you work your way up to saving folks’ lives and stuff.”
Next, Allman began building his studio legend. He was just 20 when he participated in his first major recording session at Nashville’s RCA Studio B, playing on the Vogues’ debut album. Two years later in 1968, he found himself performing on several Hour Glass albums at FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Ala.
Allman caught the attention of owner Rick Hall, who connected him with R&B singer Wilson Pickett. Allman’s work on Pickett’s 1968 album, Hey Jude, earned him a full-time position as a session guitarist at Muscle Shoals, the ear of Eric Clapton and a plethora of future opportunities. In the brief years that followed, his blues-infused style of playing, incomparable talent on slide guitar and ability to expertly weave his sound between fellow guitar players and vocalists led Allman to become one of rock’s most respected musicians.
“You gotta strive to play a pure form of music; a kind of music that’s honest to yourself,” Allman said in an interview with Creem published a few months after he was killed in a motorcycle crash on Oct. 29, 1971. “If you got that attitude and feeling about what you play, you’ll be a lot better off.”
Along they way, there were seemingly countless standout moments from his non-Allman Brothers Band catalog. Here’s a look back at the Top 10 Duane Allman collaborations:
10. “Mean Old World”
With: Eric Clapton (Duane Allman: Anthology, 1972)
The appreciation between Allman and Clapton was certainly mutual. “I’ve been an admirer of Eric Clapton for a long, long time,” Allman told the New Haven Rock Press in 1970. “I’ve always dug his playing.” Clapton first heard Allman on Wilson Pickett’s Hey Jude (found later on this list of Top 10 Duane Allman Collaborations). Their paths crossed again at Criteria Studios in Miami, where Derek and the Dominoes were in the midst of recording Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs. Allman’s playing permeated the album, with Clapton later writing in his autobiography that Allman was like the “musical brother I’d never had but wished I did.” “Mean Old World” was recorded during the Layla sessions, but went unreleased until after Allman’s death.
9. “Beads of Sweat”
With: Laura Nyro (Christmas and the Beads of Sweat, 1970)
The presence of multiple Muscle Shoals instrumentalists gave side one of Laura Nyro’s fourth album a looser rock sound, standing in direct contrast to the singer-songwriter and pianist’s ethereal style. Allman memorably appeared on “Beads of Sweat,” adding some subtle lines. “I didn’t play much on that, just a couple of licks,” he told the New Haven Rock Press. “It was real enjoyable, man. She’s a real outasight chick and a fantastic artist and composer.” Guitarist Eddie Hinton, drummer Roger Hawkins and bassist David Hood also contributed to the record.
8. “Hey Jude”
With: Wilson Pickett (Hey Jude, 1968)
Allman was still a relatively new session musician when he entered the studio with Wilson Pickett, but it was he who suggested they try out the Beatles‘ “Hey Jude,” which was still moving up the charts. The remarkable results of the session, which also included a cover of Steppenwolf‘s “Born to Be Wild,” immediately impressed Clapton. “I remember hearing ‘Hey Jude’ by Wilson Pickett and calling either [Atlantic Records founder] Ahmet Ertegun or [engineer/producer] Tom Dowd and saying, ‘Who’s that guitar player?'” Clapton recalled later. “I just filed it away. To this day, I’ve never heard better rock guitar playing on an R&B record. It’s the best.”
7. “Loan Me a Dime”
With: Boz Scaggs (Boz Scaggs, 1969)
Boz Scaggs went solo again after appearing on two Steve Miller Band albums. His next album featured Allman and various musicians from Muscle Shoals, though the guitarist had largely parted ways with the studio by then. “We fortunately persuaded him to come back to Muscle Shoals and work with the section,” Scaggs told UCR in 2015. “His coming back was a great reunion for those players, and he gave a special spirit to the record as well as, of course, his wonderful solo on ‘Loan Me a Dime.’ That has been one of the most requested songs that I do.”
6. “Don’t Want Me Around”
With: Delaney & Bonnie (Livin’ on the Open Road: Live at the A&R Recording Studios, 1971)
The fiery husband-and-wife rock duo Delaney & Bonnie ran in the same circles as Clapton and the Allman Brothers, notably serving as opening act for Blind Faith‘s 1969 tour at George Harrison‘s suggestion. Afterward, Delaney & Bonnie expanded their touring and recording lineups. Duane Allman appeared on several of their albums; he and his brother Gregg also performed behind the band for this July 1971 live show broadcast by New York’s WABC-FM.
5. “Please Be With Me”
With: Cowboy (5’ll Getcha Ten, 1971)
Released the same month as Allman’s death, 5’ll Getcha Ten was the second album from Cowboy, a five-piece Southern rock/country group that formed in Jacksonville, Fla., like the Allman Brothers Band. “Please Be With Me” was written by co-founder Scott Boyer on a 10-minute creative whim one night in a motel room. “Duane came into town the next day and said, ‘I want to play on this record with ya’ll, but I want to play something brand new,'” Boyer later told the Huntsville Times. “And I said, ‘Well I wrote this thing last night. There’s nothing much to it.” And I played the song for Duane and [producer] Johnny Sandlin was also in the room, and when I finished it they both went, ‘Wow, you wrote that last night, man? That’s beautiful.'”
4. “The Weight”
With: King Curtis (Instant Groove, 1969)
Allman joined forces with King Curtis on four Instant Groove tracks, including a funky and soulful instrumental version of the Band‘s “The Weight” that finds the pair alternating slide guitar licks and sax riffs lines in an almost conversational manner. When the saxophonist was murdered in New York City a few years later, Allman referenced Curtis’ “Soul Serenade” during Allman Brothers Band renditions of “You Don’t Love Me” at a couple of live shows.
3. “What’d I Say”
With: Herbie Mann (Push Push, 1971)
Brimming with energy, Allman’s collaboration with Herbie Mann feels effortless. Allman credited that impression with the jazz flutist’s willingness to be musically flexible. “Herbie Mann’s a real talented guy,” Allman told Creem. “I felt real good when he asked me to play with him. These sessions are going good because everybody’s free. Any session is as creative as you make it. You’ve got to feel free to introduce your own ideas.”
2. “The Weight”
With: Aretha Franklin (This Girl’s in Love With You, 1970)
Allman didn’t participate in just one brilliant rendition of “The Weight.” A second version arrived when he stepped into the studio with Aretha Franklin for her 16th studio album. In between Franklin’s vocals, Allman pipes in licks and keeps the groove moving. Allman also plays on the preceding track, “It Ain’t Fair,” on which King Curtis appears on saxophone.
1. “Rollin’ Stone”
With: Johnny Jenkins (Ton-Ton Macoute!, 1970)
Johnny Jenkins’ debut followed a stint fronting the Pinetoppers and appearances on two Otis Redding albums. But Ton-Ton Macoute! actually started out as a Duane Allman solo project, before the formation of the Allman Brothers Band. (Three of Allman’s future bandmates appear on the LP: bassist Berry Oakley, and drummers Jaimoe and Butch Trucks.) These soulful Jenkins vocals worked so well over Allman’s guitar work, however, that the singer was given top billing.
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