The Allman Brothers Band: The Road Goes on Forever
At Fillmore East’s sales numbers were strong from the start, and the band kept on the road. Duane’s constant faith seemed to be paying off. But things were far from calm.
BUTCH TRUCKS Duane was strong, confident and honest. He wanted to experience everything, good or bad, and when he realized that what he was doing was negative, he would stop. I saw him experiment with every drug there was, but once he realized it was affecting his music, he stopped and never did it again. And that included heroin. He never stuck a needle in his arm, but he would snort it. One night in the summer of ’71, in San Francisco, he came to my hotel room and jumped in my face. He said, “When Dickey gets up to play, the rhythm section is pumping away, and when I get up there you’re laying back and not pushing at all.” I looked him dead in the eye and said, “Duane, you’re so fucked up, you’re not giving us anything.” He looked me in the eye, walked out the door and never touched the stuff again. I think he knew I was telling the truth, and that’s what he wanted to hear. He needed someone to tell him what he already knew, and it was one of the few times I had the balls to get in his face.
DR. JOHN Duane was so special, man, a real sweetheart. He was out there, past left field, but he was as sweet as they come. In some way, Duane knew he lived on the edge. I don’t think he had a death wish, but he knew that he was pushing it, that his lifestyle wasn’t necessarily compatible with life. I remember being in Miami with him, and he got an Opel because that was supposed to be the car you couldn’t turn over, and he just wanted to prove that he could flip it.
We were there doing a session with Ronnie Hawkins, and the three of us was havin’ a drink with a hurricane comin’ up, and he said something like, “If I’m not here, could you look after my brother?” It wouldn’t have been his style to be that direct, ’cause he wasn’t that clear about anything. But he knew he might not be around for real long, and we both understood that’s what he was saying. It was eerie, man.
At Fillmore East was certified Gold on October 14, 1971. Twenty days later Duane Allman was killed in a motorcycle crash in Macon, while on a break from recording the band’s followup album, Eat a Peach, in Miami. He was one month shy of his 25th birthday and had been playing slide guitar for less than four years.
ALLMAN We didn’t enjoy our [breakthrough with] Fillmore for long. A lot of the initial impact of the joy was absent because of the heavy tragedy that happened to my brother. We worked so hard, so long, to get there, then, bam, he was gone.
BETTS We thought about breaking up and all forming our own bands. But the thought of just ending it and being alone was too depressing.
SCOTT BOYER Gregg was extremely tore up, which is only natural. Actually, every musician in Macon was pretty down. We couldn’t believe Duane was gone. It was inconceivable how someone that alive could be dead. He was a central figure for all of us, and, of course, he was the central figure for Gregg. They were extremely close.
BUTCH TRUCKS It was just unacceptable that he was gone. Unfathomable. We thought about quitting because how could we go on without Duane? But then we thought, How could we stop? We decided to take six months off, but we had to get back together after a few weeks because it was too lonely and depressing. A musician gets his emotions out by playing music. We were all just devastated, and the only way to deal with it was to play.
The band had already recorded several tracks for Eat a Peach. These included “Little Martha,” a gorgeous acoustic duet between Betts and Allman, which was the only music Duane ever officially wrote, and “Blue Sky,” Betts’ country rock song, which features a stunning dual-guitar break. Just weeks after Duane’s death, the band recorded four more outstanding tracks, including “Melissa,” Betts’ instrumental “Les Brers in A Minor” and “Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More,” Gregg’s defiant response to his brother’s passing. The double-album release was rounded out by more great tracks from the Fillmore shows, including the 34-minute “Mountain Jam,” “One Way Out” and “Trouble No More.” Eat a Peach was an instant classic, but as the band returned to the road, they felt the absence of their guiding light profoundly.
BUTCH TRUCKS We played gigs as a five-piece, but there was a big hole there. How could you not miss such a personality? But we were up there playing the music that he started. We were playing for him, and that was the way to be closest to him. Duane had put this thing inside all of us and we couldn’t walk away.
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