Skydog’s Prolific Career
Written By Patrick Ortiz
What makes one guitarist stick out over all others? This question is subjective, but there are some musicians who just have that special something that makes us stop in our tracks and marvel about how they are playing the way they are. A guitarist who remains as a focal point in blues, jam, rock, and other genres is the great Duane Allman.
Duane Allman is of course known as the expert guitar marksman in the world-renowned Allman Brothers Band alongside his brother Gregg Allman, Dickie Betts, and many others through the years. Although Duane was only around for three years of the band, his playing not only defined their overarching sound but also became the archetype for the future of the genre.
Allman tragically passed away in 1971, when he was merely twenty-four years old and only scratching the surface of his potential. His virtuosic guitar playing continues to be a model for aspiring musicians and seasoned professionals alike. Although he is primarily known for his work with the Allman Brothers, and despite his short life, Duane Allman contributed to a considerable amount of studio albums and worked with countless individuals while he was a session guitarist. The story goes that while he was in another blues type band with his brother called Hour Glass, they traveled to Muscle Shoals, Alabama to record in the much talked about FAME Studios. Once owner Rick Hall – who had significant impact on music and passed away earlier this year – heard Duane, he offered him a job and shortly after, was a full-time session guitarist at Muscle Shoals. From there, several notable artists caught wind of this young hot shot in Alabama and sought out his services.
Duane’s catalog of recordings is truly astounding and encompasses a wide range of genres. Today we are going to look at some of the albums that stick out during his tenure as a session artist, and hopefully will give you some new music to add to your list!
Wilson Pickett Hey Jude
Once Rick Hall heard Allman’s chops, he offered him a job on Wilson Pickett’s album Hey Jude, recorded at FAME Studios. Pickett is a well-know Alabama-born soul and R&B souls singer known for his tunes “Mustang Sally” and “In The Midnight Hour.” By 1969, Pickett was well-established and on to his ninth studio album which he named after the hit Beatles tune. Allman along with the backing of the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section were firing on all cylinders, so much so that following the album’s release, Atlantic Records bought out Allman’s contract, so he could record on their future albums. Pickett even gave Duane his famous nickname ‘Skydog’ for the confident kid who Pickett said was always “up there.”
Boz Scaggs Boz Scaggs
Another one of the early sessions Duane was a part of at Muscle Shoals Sound Studios was the sophomore album of critically acclaimed blues-eyed soul legend Boz Scaggs. Following a brief stint with fellow rocker Steve Miller, Scaggs embarked on what would become a widely successful solo career, beginning in an Americana/blues-eyed soul vein heard on this album. Duane is featured on four tracks, adding his signature flare on slide guitar and his blues-drenched spicy “B.B. King inspired” licks on the track “Loan Me a Dime.” Allman demonstrates his diversity even on these four tracks swaying between country and blues a stylistically hitting every mark.
King Curtis Instant Groove
The late 60’s and early 70’s saw a surge of funk, R&B, and soul music, and as a session musician, Duane Allman was all over this genre. He played with artists like Clarence Carter and a soulful sax master named King Curtis. Curtis was known for groovy tenor sax licks, toeing the line between blues and soul. An example of how tight this collaboration is the cover of Hey Joe where Curtis goes into the stratosphere on the sax and Allman sprinkles in tasty blues licks.
Otis Rush Mourning in the Morning
Sadly, we recently lost Mr. Otis Rush a few weeks ago who was one of the last remaining blues legends. Rush was underrated by fans and critics but idolized in the blues community by everyone from Eric Clapton to Stevie Ray Vaughan and Joe Bonamassa. Rush’s 1969 album Mourning in the Morning saw the bluesman pair up with the Muscle Shoals backing band as well as producers Nick Gravenites and Mike Bloomfield (yes THAT Mike Bloomfield).
Let’s pause here really quick. I am only outlining key albums Duane Allman appeared on, there were actually a lot more and only within about a three-year period! He was one hard working dude! One major musician he worked with on two albums was the late goddess of soul, Aretha Franklin. He was a featured guitarist on her sixteenth and seventeenth albums, adding his blues and southern-inspired flare to her gorgeous tracks. A song that stands out on the album This Girl’s in Love With You is the highly covered “The Weight” originally written by the Band. Allman would actually play this song countless times in his career.
Derek and The Dominoes Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs
Ok, last one. Among all the artists that Duane collaborated with, the most notable would probably have to be his work with Eric Clapton on his landmark album with his band Derek and the Dominoes. Once Clapton heard Duane Allman play on a few records, then live with the Allman Brothers, he knew he had to work with him; what transpired on that recording was nothing short of mind-blowing. 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. According to producer Tom Dowd, “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.”