The immortal goodbye of Duane Allman
By Sergio Ariza
On October 29, 1971, Duane Allman died in an accident on his Harley Davidson. His band, The Allman Brothers, were in their finest hour, and that very October At Fillmore East, won them a gold record. Duane was in the middle of recording the new album and his death was much more than a shock to the rest, as most in the industry thought that they had no future without him. But as Butch Trucks pointed out, “We all had this thing in us and Duane put it there. He was the teacher and he gave something to us—his disciples—that we had to play out”.
So they returned to the studio to finish the record and in February of 1972 it saw light. The first part has them looking for the new sound. It starts with Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More, in which Gregg Allman faces the death of his brother, musically remembering their first studio records, with a big slide guitar played by Dickey Betts, where you can tell he learned from the best. Then there’s Les Brers in a Minor, a long jam that sometimes sounds more like Santana than themselves.
Melissa sounds more like the band they became in due course, led by Betts, and a more country-rock style. It’s a lovely tribute on Gregg’s part to his brother, because it was his favourite song, and was what he sang at his funeral. Betts once again does excellent work, showing that he’s ready to take the reins.
But the best songs are the ones with Duane in them, both live and in the studio. Among the first are two throw-aways from the mythic performances on Fillmore East, where he plays on his 1959 Gibson Les Paul Standard Cherry Burst. The first is Mountain Jam, written around a song by Donovan, although there are also references to Hendrix’s Third Stone from the Sun, the band launches full-furnace into a jam that goes to show that they were one of few groups that could play a song for over a half hour and not bore anybody. Duane delivers one of the best slide guitar solos in history, after minute 23, where he displays his magic. The moment he starts to improvise on Will the Circle Be Unbroken, he will make your hair stand on end. The second big cut ‘live’ is on Trouble No More by Muddy Waters, that before 4 minutes pass, it’s already full of intensity, and another wicked solo from Duane.
Yet maybe the best moments of Eat a Peach are during the last studio sessions. Little Martha, an acoustic beauty played only by Duane, on a Dobro from the 30s, and Betts, which will go down in history as the only song by the group written exclusively for the mythical guitarist. And then there’s Blue Sky, written by Betts about his girlfriend. Gregg was going to sing it, but Duane told him, “ man, this is your song, and it sounds like you, you gotta sing it.”. That wasn’t the best gift he gave his mate though, he also wrote my personal favourite solo of all times. In his dearest major scale, Duane shows that he has the same melodic ability on the guitar s as McCartney and plays unforgettable melodies. It’s a solo you can sing and it’s burned into memory forever. All those who think Duane was just a great slide guitarist must listen to this song. Let’s not forget the song’s author, after harmonising with Duane, he launches into full speed with another magnificent solo, melting at the end into a harmony with Duane that shows their understanding of each other is almost telepathic.
Eat A Peach is the final culmination of one of the 2 or 3 best guitarists in history, who never got to see his 25th birthday, but his contribution to electric guitar is as important as the longest of lives.