Duane Allman slammed his foot down on the kick-start of his Harley Davidson Sportster motorcycle on an autumn evening 38 years ago today in Macon, Georgia. A few miles down the road, he clipped the rear end of a flatbed truck, sustaining fatal injuries. The lead guitarist of the Allman Brothers Band, who was gaining substantial recognition as an electric guitar revolutionary, was dead at age 24.
"It's clear that Duane Allman was one of the true innovators of the electric guitar to rise in the Sixties; arguably on par with Hendrix, he was just beginning to sort out the universe of sound in a high distinctive and moving way," wrote Lester Bangs in the February 1, 1973 issue of Rolling Stone. RS recently ranked Allman Number Two on our list of the Greatest Guitarists of All Time.
Outside of the Allman Brothers, Duane played a substantial role in other projects, like Wilson Pickett's 1968 album Hey Jude. He recorded with the likes of Aretha Franklin, King Curtis, B.B. King, and Clarence Carter, and in 1970, Eric Clapton snagged him to record on his album Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, which featured the famous licks of "Layla." "I just heard this wailing guitar coming through the air, louder than anything else," Clapton said of experiencing Allman for the first time. "You could just hear the band and then this really high in the air sound like a siren. It was just amazing."
Allman's unique style launched the Allman Brothers Band's 1971 album At Fillmore East head-first into becoming one of the greatest live albums ever recorded (with over three million albums sold) and influencing artists like Gary Rossington of Lynyrd Skynyrd. "For a slide, I've always used a glass Coricidin bottle, just like Duane Allman," Rossington has said. "Duane was one of my heroes and, in my opinion, he was the best slide player who ever lived."
Jerry Wexler's eulogy for Duane rang clear and crisp: "This young and beautiful man who we love so dearly but who is not lost to us, because we have his music, and the music is imperishable."
Here's a clip of "Stormy Monday" from At Fillmore East:
And a live video of "Whipping Post" in 1970: