Remembering Duane Allman: Praise for the Brother We Lost in October of 1971

by Peter Wendel
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DuaneAllmanSkydog1971EdBerman

Duane Allman 1971 [photo: Ed Berman]

Duane Allman was much more than a mind-blowing guitarist. His personality was larger than life – a musical genius blessed with relentless drive and supreme self-confidence. He was the heart and soul of The Allman Brothers Band. He was the godfather of the Brotherhood – the mentor and spiritual guide. Duane was the guy who everybody in the room looked up to, and loved.

Tragically, a motorcycle crash took Duane’s life in October of 1971 – a loss that devastated the Brotherhood and threatened to end what would become one of the greatest, most-influential rock bands of all time.

As we near the anniversary of Duane’s death, we’ve gathered an array of quotes from band members, friends, family and other musicians that sheds light on just how much Skydog meant to all who loved him and stood in awe of his enormous talents.

GreggAllmanbyDerekBridges

Gregg Allman [photo: Derek Bridges]

The quotations and brief passages below come from two New York Times bestsellers: (1) My Cross to Bear by none other than Gregg Allman himself; and (2) One Way Out: The Inside History of The Allman Brothers Band by Alan Paul. Both books are easily digestible and extremely informative, even if you’re a hardcore ABB fan. I highly recommend them both.

Before we go any further, let’s take a listen to the song Gregg wrote soon after Duane’s fatal crash – “Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More” – a powerful tribute to his fallen brother, and a promise to carry on in his honor.

AIN’T WASTIN’ TIME NO MORE
The Allman Brothers Band
Eat A Peach (1972)

Gregg said this in an interview for the book One Way Out by Alan Paul: “I wrote ‘Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More’ for my brother right away. It was the only thing I knew how to do at the time.” The song’s opening lines set the dark somber scene in the aftermath of Duane’s death:

Last Sunday morning, the sunshine felt like rain
The week before, they all seemed the same

THE CRASH

AllmanBrosFillmoreEastTestVol1 SongMango.comIt was October 29, 1971. Duane had just returned from New York to the band’s communal home – the “Big House” – in Macon, GA. Spirits were high as the live album, At Fillmore East, had just started to make it big. It was also Linda Oakley’s birthday, the wife of bassist Berry Oakley, so everybody was feeling pretty good.

At about 5:45 PM, Duane jumped on his motorcycle, a Harley-Davidson Sportster, and headed down the road. Candace Oakley (Berry’s sister) and Dixie Meadows (Duane’s girlfriend) followed behind him in a car. As Duane rode up over a hill at high speed, there was a flatbed truck blocking his way (reportedly, it was a peach truck). He tried to swerve to avoid the vehicle but couldn’t turn quickly enough. He dumped the bike, hitting the road hard and his Sportster landed on top of him.

EatAPeachbyJamesFlournoHolmesAlbumArtDuane passed away during emergency surgery at the Macon Medical Center three hours after the crash. The official cause of death was “severe injury of the abdomen and head.” Duane left the building for good on October 29, 1971 – just months after the release of the ABB’s live opus, At Fillmore East, and just weeks before his 25th birthday.

RememberingDuaneAllman

MyCrosstoBearGreggAllmanGregg Allman
from My Cross to Bear

Gregg describes getting to the Macon Medical Center after Duane’s crash.

They didn’t take us to the waiting room, they took us in the chapel – that’s when I really knew… Another guy, a surgeon came out, and he said, “We brought him back up for just a minute or two, but he’s gone.” He said Duane was just too busted up. I’m so glad that I didn’t see him like that, because I don’t have to live with that memory.

Butch Trucks
ABB drummer
from One Way Out

It was just unacceptable that he was gone. Unfathomable. I walked around stunned for weeks.

John Hammond Jr.
Guitarist/Singer and Duane’s close friend
from One Way Out

I got a call in the middle of the night saying Duane had died and it was just unbelievable…literally something that could not be believed or grasped.

Linda Oakley
Wife of ABB bassist Berry Oakley
from One Way Out

We were all in shock. It was like our guts had been torn out. When you grieve, you come together. There was so much love and support from so many people as we all grappled with and tried to overcome the loss of Duane. 

OneWayOutAllmansBookMama Louise Hudson
Cook & Owner of H&H Soul Food Restaurant
from One Way Out

Duane was so nice. Everyone came in here at twelve or one to eat and he’d come back at three or four almost every day just to talk about life. He was so serious, just very serious about life. You’d forget how young he was when you talked to that guy. It really hurted me when he passed. It left a big hole in me.

THE FUNERAL

One of the saddest days Macon, GA, has ever seen.

Gregg Allman
from My Cross to Bear

We buried Duane with a silver dollar in one pocket, a throwing knife in the other, and his favorite ring on his hand – a snake that coiled around his finger, with two eyes made of turquoise. 

Johnny Sandlin
ABB Producer
from One Way Out

It’s like everyone in the music business was there in this relatively small funeral home. The Brothers were set up and Duane’s guitar was there on a stand with an empty seat. They played some songs with very serious faces but…man, it was tough. I just had my head in my hands.

Dr.John

Dr. John
Musician
from One Way Out

When a guy like that is suddenly gone it’s impossible to comprehend. I played at Duane’s funeral and it was gut-wrenching.

CARRYING ON

The Brothers grieved deeply over the loss of Duane. It’s a real testament to the strength of the Brotherhood that the band was able to carry on. We are grateful they did.

Butch Trucks
ABB Drummer
from One Way Out 

Just before the Eat A Peach sessions, one of the last songs Duane recorded was a cover of Cowboy’s “Please Be with Me” with Scott Boyer and Tommy Talton. The song took on special meaning for Butch.

A few weeks after [Duane] died, when I still hadn’t really let loose or accepted it, I put on “Please Be with Me” and the dam burst and I started crying and crying, just racked with grief. I was sitting there listening to the song over and over and crying. To this day I can’t hear it without getting choked up.

Here’s the recording Butch is referring to, “Please Be with Me.” Duane’s slide work is unmistakable.

Gregg Allman
from My Cross to Bear

After my brother died, I knew I was going to do exactly what he would have done had it been the other way around, and that was to say, “Let’s go fucking play.” I told the other guys that, in those exact words – “Let’s go fucking play.” And sure enough, we dove in that much harder.

Dickey Betts [photo: Simone Berna]

Dickey Betts [photo: Simone Berna]

Dickey Betts
ABB Guitarist/Vocalist
from One Way Out

We thought about breaking up and all forming our own bands. But the thought of just ending it and being alone was too depressing.

Linda Oakley
Wife of Berry Oakley
from One Way Out

Duane was gone, but his spirit was so very much there. We all loved him so much.

Peter Wendel is a journalist and PR consultant. He's attended hundreds of concerts and festivals, including the Peach, Mountain Jam, the All Good and Lockn'. He's ridden legendary Grateful Dead runs from Ventura County Fairgrounds to Irvine Meadows (CA) from the Nassau Coliseum (NY) to the Boston Garden (MA). Peter is a former U.S. Marine who – after running into trouble with every last one of his commanding officers – received an honorable discharge and a direct order never to return. Born in California and raised in New Jersey, Peter lived in Boston and Joshua Tree (CA) before settling in the nation's capital. Find him on tour at PWendel@SongMango.com.

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