Howard Duane Allman was born on November 20, 1946 in Nashville Tennessee. When he was three his family was living in Norfolk, Virginia when his father, a sergeant in the US Army, was murdered during a robbery attempt. His mother moved the family briefly back to Nashville before moving again, to Daytona Beach, Florida. In 1959 Duane saw B.B. King perform at a rock and roll concert while visiting family in Nashville and fell in love with the sound. Duane’s brother, Greg, took up the guitar after hearing a neighbor play old country songs on an acoustic guitar. Greg’s interest in the guitar rubbed off on Duane and soon Duane was playing better than Greg.
By 1961, Duane and Greg were playing publicly, forming and joining various bands. Duane quit high school to focus all of his efforts on learning to better play the guitar. The band they were playing with then, The Allman Joys, went on the road in 1965, after Greg graduated high school. The band played throughout the Southeast but spent a lot of time in Nashville and St. Louis.
Following personnel changes, The Allman Joys became the Hour Glass, and moved to Los Angeles in 1967. The band was signed by Liberty Records and recorded two albums. The albums didn’t sell well, and didn’t satisfy the band’s creative energies. Liberty was trying to push The Hour Glass as a pop act, and they wanted to have more of a bluesy rock sound. The band split up and the brothers moved back to Florida.
Once, while visiting his brother on his birthday, Greg brought a sick Duane a bottle of Coricidin and the first album by guitarist Taj Mahal as birthday present. Greg went home after his visit and received a phone call a few hours later. Duane asked his brother to come back, and when he arrived he found that Duane had emptied the pill bottle and was using it to play slide guitar. He had never played slide guitar before but was a natural. The sound would later go on to be key feature in The Allman Brothers Band. Greg would return later to Los Angeles to fulfill contractual obligations with The Hour Glass, but Duane stayed in Florida.
Duane’s work with The Hour Glass earned him as spot as a session guitarist in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. While recording as a session guitarist, Allman played the guitar track to Wilson Pickett’s 1968 release, “Hey Jude”. The exposure gained Duane the interest of several popular acts of the time. Eric Clapton notably heard the album and said to himself that he had to find out who played the astounding lead break at the end. While performing as a session musican, Allman recorded with a large list of R&B artists signed to the Atlantic label, including King Curtis, Percy Sledge, Clarence Carter, Aretha Franklin, Otis Rush, and Boz Scaggs.
Duane became frustrated with life as a session musician and moved back to Florida, bringing jazz drummer Jaimoe Johanson with him. When they arrived in Florida, the two moved in together, along with another drummer, Butch Trucks, with whom Greg and Duane had played years earlier. Before long, the two drummers and Duane were jamming along with bass player Berry Oakley, guitarist Dickey Betts and keyboard player Reese Wynans. During the jam sessions, the group showed amazing chemistry. Greg Allman returned from California to replace Reese Wynans on keyboards and take up lead vocals in the band that became known as The Allman Brothers Band.
The band’s eponymous debut album was recorded and released in 1969. An intense tour schedule was undertaken in support of the new album, but despite of the tough schedule the band was busy working on material for their second album whenever they got the chance. That album, “Idlewild South” was released in August of 1970 and got the Allman brothers on the Billboard charts for the first time.
Eric Clapton was recording “Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs” with Derek and Dominos. He had wanted to meet Duane every since hearing him play on the Wilson Pickett track, and attended an Allman Brothers Band concert. The two bands hung out after the show, and Clapton bonded with Allman during an all night jam session. Duane asked if he could come listen to the recording of Eric’s album but Clapton refused. He told Allman to bring his guitar because he was going to be playing.
The Allman Brothers Band recorded only one more album, “At Fillmore East”, before Duane was killed tragically in a motorcycle accident. He was riding his Harley when a construction truck which has pulled out in front of him suddenly stopped. Allman tried to swerve, but lost control and was thrown from the bike. The motorcycle landed on top of him. He was rushed to the hospital and operated on, but died just weeks before his 25th birthday. Ironically, the band’s bass player Berry Oakley died just over a year later in a motorcycle crash with a bus, only three blocks from Duane’s accident.