Duane Allman's brilliance was lovingly chronicled on 'An Anthology'
By NICK TAVARES
STATIC and FEEDBACK Editor
In a recent listening revival of all things related to the Allman Brothers Band, I’ve been busy loading all their albums back onto the limited file space of my iPod, scouring for any articles I might’ve missed or old ones I might want to re-read and, all the while, devouring every note that flew out of Duane Allman’s guitar as I can.
So it was in that burst of information gathering that I learned about Skydog: The Duane Allman Retrospective, a seven-disc box set that follows the guitarist’s complete recording career from his early demos to his session work with some kingpins of soul to his days with the Allman Brothers Band. And, of course, I was surprised to see that it came out two months ago in a limited run and, by now, it’s mostly sold out. Alas.
Putting out the availability and money situation for such a comprehensive collection aside, it’s not like I was left out in the cold. Because what it did was jog my memory of An Anthology, a double-record set of the best of Allman’s work in and out of his band that’s been in my collection for years.
An Anthology came to my attention when I was 18 or so through Scott Freeman’s biography on the band, Midnight Riders. A sizable chunk of the book, in that segment of the timeline, is dedicated to the album, how it was compiled and how it was meant to stand as a tribute to Allman’s all-too-brief career and the incredible influence he wielded.
A few months later, I did track down an excellent copy in a used record shop (for eight or nine dollars, I think), and I discovered there hadn’t been an untrue word written. This was the tremendous catalog of soulful guitar that Freeman had promised, and then some.
The soul is key here, because for many, An Anthology wasn’t just another side of Allman’s progression as a guitarist, but a glimpse into the world of soul and R&B to which fans may not have been previously exposed. Once that happened, though, it would be hard to resist the pull of Aretha Franklin, for example, who effectively duets with Allman’s slide on a cover of the Band’s “The Weight.” The fury of Wilson Pickett’s spin on “Hey Jude” is palpable, so much so that Eric Clapton reportedly sought out Allman based on the lead break towards the end of the song.
His work with Clapton would become stuff of legend, which is documented on the Derek & the Dominos album Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs. The title track is preserved here for prosperity and for Allman’s biting lead passages and beautiful, gliding lines in the song’s drawn-out coda, as well as a blues sit-down with Clapton on “Mean Old World.”
The blues was always at the heart of Allman’s music, and the first music he made with his brother Gregg as The Hourglass is appropriately documented as a medley of B.B. King numbers. Gregg Allman’s voice is already gruff and world-weary, just as Duane’s guitar already has the soul of a much older man. And that guitar worked with everything; it works for 13 minutes on Boz Scagg’s “Loan Me a Dime,” it works with King Curtis’ sax on “Games People Play,” and it of course works brilliantly on the entire fourth side with his own band, the songs specially selected to display Allman’s voice and virtuosity.
And, really, that’s why all these songs are here. They were selected to give some scale to the wide breadth of Allman’s career in music, and to give fans of the Allman Brothers Band, a group still climbing into the public consciousness as 1972, more of the music that he made while he was here.
With the benefit of millions of record sales and years of touring, the Allman Brothers Band are no longer the same mystery they were. But Duane’s life away from the band, and the full range of his guitar abilities, are still something less than household knowledge. So, I imagine the box set works on the same principle and, just in the sheer amount of material and the thoughtful presentation that no doubt went into it, it’s just as effective and then some.
But in the meantime, with finances tight and availability questionable, you could do much worse than An Anthology in immersing yourself in Allman’s ability and voice on the guitar. All the songs are, at worst, excellent, and if you can score a copy of the original LP, with its full booklet and liner notes (rare for the era), that’s all the better. It’s not the full archive, but for more than 40 years, it's done its job.
E-mail Nick Tavares at firstname.lastname@example.org