The Allman Brothers: Duane’s Epic Guitar Work at the Fillmore East

by Peter Wendel
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DuaneAllman6.26.71Fillmore

Duane at the Fillmore East in ’71

The Fillmore East brought out the best in The Allman Brothers Band – particularly the monster talent of guitarist and visionary, Duane Allman.

At the band’s legendary Fillmore East shows, Duane put on a guitar clinic – both with his signature (Coricidin) bottle slide and without it. Many fans (and even critics) consider those Fillmore concerts some of the finest work in the history of blues-rock performances.

When At Fillmore East was recorded in March of 1971, Duane had only been playing slide guitar for a little over two years. The sound he achieved with his slide would quickly become the band’s calling card.

According to Wikipedia this is how the story goes:

Duane learned to play slide guitar on his birthday in 1968. He was recovering from an injury to his left elbow, caused in a fall from a horse. Gregg brought him a birthday present, the debut album by Taj Mahal, and a bottle of Coricidin pills. He left them on the front porch and rang the bell, as Duane was angry with him about the injury. “About two hours after I left, my phone rang,” Gregg recalled. “‘Baby brother, baby brother, get over here now!’” Duane had poured the pills out of the bottle and washed off the label and was using it as a slide to play along with the album track “Statesboro Blues”…

DuaneAllmanGibsonsIt’s staggering how high Duane climbed in such a short period of time. He took electric slide guitar to a whole new level. In many ways, Duane made electric slide guitar what is today.

As far as guitars go, Duane took to the Gibson Les Paul (at left). He described the sound of it as “a full-tilt screech.”

The entirely unique tone Duane pulled out of his Les Paul – with two 50-watt bass Marshall amps – was ranked one of the very best ever by Guitar Player magazine. He captured the sound that dreams are made of.

Tragically, Duane Allman would die in a motorcycle accident on October 29, 1971, in Macon, GA. He was only 24.

Losing Duane was like losing Jimi (and they died fewer than 14 months apart). Two of our brightest lights snatched from us long before they reached the height of their unparalleled talent.

STATESBORO BLUES

“Statesboro Blues,” the opening track of the At Fillmore East (1971) live recording, puts Duane Allman’s legendary guitar play front and center.

The AAB’s cover of Blind Willie McTell’s blues classic contains (perhaps) the most widely recognized electric slide intro in all of rock music. The song also features Duane’s super high-pitched solo work.

Here’s Duane’s “Statesboro Blues” slide intro:

Here Duane goes “full-tilt screech” (to use his language) during his mid-song slide lead, soaring and bending into the peak at about 00:43. Part of Duane’s magic was that he made it all sound so effortless, no matter what the degree of difficulty.

This is vintage footage of Duane and the band performing “Statesboro Blues.” They aren’t at the Fillmore East, but it’s still a treat to see Duane kickin’ ass and bending notes to kingdom come. You can catch glimpses of Allman’s (Coricidin) bottle slide at 1:10 and 1:46.

IN MEMORY OF ELIZABETH REED

Dickey’s classic jazz-infused instrumental serves up a round-robin of soloing that showcases the depth of the band’s talents – particularly Duane’s master skills.

In the video below, Dickey kicks off the solos at 1:57 followed by Gregg’s rollicking keyboard work (3:52) and then Duane steps in at about 5:19 to take the jam all the way over the rainbow. This is hot stuff.

Compare the “Liz Reed” solos of Dickey and Duane. Here’s Dickey:

And here’s Duane:

DON’T KEEP ME WONDERIN’

Duane busts out the slide for this one. Written by Brother Gregg, “Don’t Keep Me Wonderin” boils and burns with the power of the blues.

Here’s Duane’s first solo. It’s short but oh so sweet:

Duane’s second solo ratchets up the intensity with his signature full-tilt screech. It may best be described as off the fucking chain.

Here’s a good look at Duane’s slide work during the band’s performance of “Don’t Keep Me Wonderin” at the Fillmore East on September 23, 1970. Tom Doucette is on the harp. You get a good look at Duane’s Coricidin bottle slide throughout the song (1:02, for example). Duane’s first solo starts at 1:16 and the second one (check 2:22) soars up and out into the stratosphere. (Editor’s Note: In the video, Gregg’s vocals are mixed so low, you can barely hear them. But it works for our purposes because we’re primarily focusing on the guitars.)

YOU DON’T LOVE ME

The band’s cover of Willie Cobbs’ “You Don’t Love Me” offers a jaw-dropping display of Duane’s epic work. (You won’t find Allman’s play any more isolated than it is on this track).

Duane’s mid-song solo – while the rest of band stops playing (although the drums start back up eventually) – is a tour de force, a clinic for guitar players everywhere. Recorded at the band’s final Fillmore East concert on June 27, 1971, it’s “The Duane Allman Show” as he lays down an array of licks and styles – from B.B. King-esque riffs to speed runs that sound a lot like Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page.

ONE WAY OUT

The Allmans’ cover of “One Way Out” – a blues track originally recorded by Sonny Boy Williamson II and Elmore James in the mid-’60s – contains crisp interplay between Dickey and Duane.

Here (audio below) are the two of them trading licks, which allows us to hear the differences in their respective sounds and styles. Betts starts at 0:07 and Allman joins in at 0:12. Dickey’s tone is fuller with a more polished feel while Allman’s notes are thinner, tinnier and brimming with in-your-face attitude.

The two players exchange licks with Duane finishing off the segment as the band goes into another vocal passage:

DREAMS

One of Duane’s most moving solos is from “Dreams,” a song younger brother Gregg wrote. Here’s the isolated solo:

Here the band performs “Dreams” at the Fillmore East. Duane plays part of the song with his slide and part without. At times, it’s hard to tell the difference because he could make it sound like he was using a slide when he wasn’t. Duane starts his first solo at 1:49 without his slide. At about 3:55 he puts on the slide and dives back in at 4:06. By 6:40, he’s taken the slide off. Check the video. (Editor’s Note: In the video, Gregg’s vocals are mixed so low, you can barely hear them. But it works for our purposes because we’re primarily focusing on the guitars.)

WHIPPING POST

It’s the closing track on At Fillmore East. “Whipping Post,” written by Gregg, is one of the band’s most celebrated songs – showcasing the dual-guitar interplay between Duane and Dickey. In the footage (below), Gregg’s vocals are much higher in the mix so you can actually hear him sing.

Duane’s first solo takes off at about 1:33 (sans slide). You get a good look at him burning it up.

At 2:57, Duane wades into a brooding, down-low lead that is in sharp contrast to some of his wild, high-pitched squeals. This one is more akin to his work on “Dreams” than say, the flaming-hot solos during “Don’t Keep Me Wonderin.” His drawn-out bending of notes is legendary. It releases into a mad fury at about 3:50.

At 5:10, Dickey sets off on a solo, showing his well-honed guitar prowess. You get a good look at his lightning speed on the fretboard (5:55).

Betts lived in the shadow of Duane but remember that he was a top-tier guitarist in his own right. In 2003, Rolling Stone ranked Dickey #58 on its list of the 100 greatest guitarists of all time (and Duane was #2). There aren’t many bands that can boast that kind of virtuoso talent.

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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