Although he only made it to the ripe old age of 24, that was still plenty enough time for Duane Allman to carve out the sort of rich, enduring musical legacy that most musicians three times his age could only dream of.
All of this is covered in great detail on Skydog: The Duane Allman Retrospective, an extensive, new career-spanning boxed set from Rounder Records. In telling his story over the course of its seven discs, Skydog: The Duane Allman Retrospective makes a convincing, nearly irrefutable case for Allman’s legend – and particularly for the stunning body of work he left behind.
Today, Duane Allman is of course best remembered as the founding guitarist (along with brother Gregg) of the Allman Brothers Band – the trailblazing, Georgia based blues/rock outfit who – with apologies to Lynyrd Skynyrd – more or less invented the southern rock genre. But what is slightly less known about Duane Allman, is the mind-boggling number of great records he played on outside of his much better known band.
As Jerry Wexler’s go-to session guitarist during the sixties and early seventies heyday of Atlantic Records, Duane Allman’s crisp, distinctive guitar work can be heard on classic sides by R&B greats Aretha Franklin (“The Weight”), Clarence Carter (“Light My Fire”), Wilson Pickett (“Hey Jude”), King Curtis (“Games People Play”) and dozens of others.
He also played second lead guitarist to no less than Eric Clapton, on the sessions for one of the greatest rock and roll records ever made – Derek And The Dominos’ Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs. Allman’s guitar work is a cornerstone of that album’s celebrated title track. And while the slow burn of his guitar solo on the otherwise horn-fueled blues and soul of Boz Scaggs’ “Loan Me A Dime” may not be as well-known or remembered these days as “Layla,” it is still no less of a milestone.
With nearly two thirds of this vast boxed set devoted to those historic session recordings – as well as others for such genre-crossing artists as Laura Nyro, Lulu, The Sweet Inspirations and the great jazz flute player Herbie Mann – Skydog: The Duane Allman Retrospective is as much an overall popular music history lesson, as it is an essential chronicle of the man himself.
Of course, Duane Allman’s more famous work with the Allman Brothers is also represented nicely here. The hits are all there – from “Whipping Post,” “Midnight Rider,” “Statesboro Blues” and “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed,” all the way through to the latter, posthumous recordings like “No Way Out” and “Blue Sky” (which is represented here in both live and studio versions).
There are also a decent number of more rarely heard live recordings, including a stunning 17 minute “Dreams” with the Allman Brothers Band, as well as versions of “Sugar Magnolia” with the Grateful Dead, and the “Poor Elijah/Tribute to Robert Johnson” medley with Delaney & Bonnie and Friends.
Rarer still are his earliest, pre-Allman Brothers recordings. The entire first disc of Skydog: The Duane Allman Retrospective is devoted exclusively to Duane Allman’s work with these bands – including The Escorts, The Allman Joys, Hour Glass, The Bleus and 31st Of February. Recordings made around the same time as his session work with Atlantic – produced by Jerry Wexler for an unreleased Duane Allman solo project on the label – are also heard for the first time here.
Skydog: The Duane Allman Retrospective comes housed in your standard issue box, modestly illustrated to somewhat resemble a guitar case. Nothing too fancy, but still effective. The discs themselves come in thin paper sleeves, which would be my lone complaint about the packaging (note to label: paper tends to cause discs to scratch).
Extras include a Skydog bumper sticker and a Duane Allman guitar pick (nice touch), as well as a generous booklet with notes on every track, and liner notes from Duane’s daughter Galadrielle (who also served as a co-producer for the project).
Skydog: The Duane Allman Retrospective is in stores this Tuesday, March 19.
Photo Credit: John Gellman