The Sensational Combination of Duane Allman and Eric Clapton
Duane Allman’s name is synonymous with the blues. Not only was he one of the best blues guitarists of his time, but his band that carried his namesake will go down as one of the most legendary bands in the world. Duane Allman was known for his ripping guitar solos and his archetypal slide style that is still mimicked today.
Allman started out in music by playing in various bands with his brother Gregg, as well as others throughout the years. He quickly became a force to be reckoned with in the recording studio and producers and labels often fought over him. In fact, it was in the Muscle Shoals studio in Alabama where he and his brother met the members that would eventually form the Allman Brothers Band.
Duane led a very fast paced and dangerous lifestyle and looked and acted well beyond his young age. Unfortunately, Allman died in a tragic motorcycle accident just months after the release of the iconic album At Filmore East. It is hard to image that so much talent existed in someone who was only twenty-four years old. Image if he would have survived!
Duane Allman was best known for his work with the Allman Brothers Band, and I’m sure a lot of fans are familiar with his famous session work. But, there is another iconic blues guitarist that he teamed up with that is not widely known. In 1970, Duane Allman combined talents with Eric Clapton and his band Derek and The Dominos!
That is correct, Duane Allman was an additional member of Clapton’s blues rock band and contributed his guitar skills to the hailed album Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs. The combination of both virtuoso guitarists on one album was purely amazing. The interplay of riffs and solos created some of the most mind-blowing sounds in history and “rock music’s most breathtaking guitar interplay.”
There are a lot of musical pairings that spark conversation and go above the realm of normalcy. But as far as blues-rock in that time period goes, you can’t get any better than Clapton and Duane Allman. This musical linkup started because of the musical connection of iconic producer Tom Dowd. Upon hearing that Derek and The Dominos were going to be recording down in Miami, Duane called Dowd and wanted to know if it would be ok to listen to the sessions. Upon hearing this, Clapton was elated that the Allman Brothers were playing in the area and went to see them perform that night. According to Clapton, the band came back to the studio afterwards and hung out and from that point forward “Duane became the fifth member of Derek and the Dominos.” The two heavy hitting musicians instantly clicked and the “mutual admiration” was clear the moment they met.
According to producer Tom Dowd, “there were very few words exchanged, it was just complete musical dialogue between them. The magic just happened.” After their initial jam session, Clapton invited Duane to not only listen to the recording session, but to play guitar on a few tracks! The duo, quite obviously worked, just listen to the song Layla from the album. According to Clapton himself he and Duane were “coming from the same place but were traveling different paths that could meet.”
“There had to be some sort of telepathy going on because I’ve never seen spontaneous inspiration happen at that rate and level. One of them would play something, and the other reacted instantaneously. Never once did either of them have to say, ‘Could you play that again, please?’ It was like two hands in a glove. And they got tremendously off on playing with each other.” – Tom Dowd
The duet on the solo section on “Layla” is spectacular in every way. The hard riffing and bending styles of Clapton blend wonderfully with Duane’s masterful slide work to create a sound that hadn’t been created at this point, nor can it be perfectly executed again. Even the differences between their guitar tones, Clapton with the bright, Fender Strat and Duane with the “full-tilt screech” of the Gibson Les Paul, adds musical value to the track.
Duane not only played on this track, but was a featured artist on every song except for three. His solos and style bring an element that would surely be missing from the album. This album is universally hailed as a brilliant work of art all the way through and even mark it as “the master work Clapton’s illustrious career.” Also, critics and fans alike make the strong argument that Layla is “the greatest blues-rock album of all time” and it is listed as number 117 on Rolling Stone Magazine’s “500 Greatest Albums of All Time.”
From the exceptional guitar playing, phenomenal production of Tom Dowd, and the chance meeting of the two bluesmen, this was truly a great album and one of the greatest moments in blues-rock history.