Continuing on with our lists of the greatest guitar solos from the legends who have shaped the very landscape of rock and roll comes a man who embodied the corporeality of a multi-dimensional musician; we are, of course, turning our attention towards Duane Allman. You all may know him as the younger brother of Greg Allman, but you most definitely know of him as being one of the central pieces of a pretty important rock group, the Allman Brothers Band. He was too ahead of his time, and he punctuated that attitude with a lifestyle that just couldn’t keep up with him; he would die tragically in a motorcycle accident at the age of twenty-four. But that untimely demise didn’t stop Skydog from leaving behind a volume of work that would still be remembered more than forty years.
And you all were probably anticipating this truism, but it has to be noted quite emphatically and without warning: Duane Allman is one of the greatest and most monumentally amazing guitarists to ever grace our universe; no, he seriously is. This is not just fanatical praise……this is a resolute fact. In fact, one could make the contentious argument that he’s also the greatest bottleneck slide guitar player of all time, too.
The way he made the guitar sound almost identical to the human voice when he moved that bottle up and down the fret was like witnessing another personification of Jimi Hendrix; the way in which the guitar was like an anatomical extension to his heart and soul. Going even further than that, Duane Allman’s influence, skill, diversity, and lasting magnitude even rivals that of Hendrix; quite an opinion, I know, but one that holds great merit. Anyway, let’s jump straight into our list dedicated to one of the coolest cats of the classic rock persuasion. Here’s to the man, the myth, and the legend: the one they proclaimed “Skydog.”
10.) It’s Not My Cross to Bear
In 1969, Duane and Greg took the blues and R&B roots that they acquired through their previous band, Allman Joy (Later renamed Hour Glass), and they decided to recruit guitarist Dickey Betts, bassist Berry Oakley, and drummers Butch Trucks (Derek Trucks’ uncle) and Jai Johanny Johanson; they would become the Allman Brothers Band.
In 1969, they released their self-titled debut and the world of classic rock would never be the same. The album definitely established them as a forceful band of improvisational proportions. But it’s Duane Allman’s guitar-playing that truly makes it worthwhile; of course you can’t leave out Dickey Betts, who was the yin to his yang as far as chemistry was concerned. On It’s Not My Cross to Bear, Duane’s slow and soul-driven guitar solo, which begins immediately after the segue from the opening track on the record, really channels a B.B. King-esque flavor; it’s a perfect reminder that this man could play the blues.
9.) Keep on Growing
If you’ve been following our guitar solo lists, you’ll probably recall our Eric Clapton list in which we singled out the Derek and the Dominoes record, Layla & Other Assorted Love Songs; this was the album Duane Allman contributed to. On this particular record, Duane took time off from his usual amalgamation of blues, jazz, country, and rhythm & blues, and instead graced the foundation with not only his bottleneck blues, but also his richly detailed soloing.
On Keep on Growing, he literally battles it out with Eric Clapton. The intricate layering of each of their solos towards the last minute of the song, which sounds like four separate solos coming out of each speaker, is sonic insanity; you don’t know who to listen for, but you just don’t care because the mere polymerization of Eric and Duane is just too earth-shattering to eve. But you can definitely tell which guitar solos are Duane’s; those lightning-fast triplets you hear is one of his signature licks.
8.) Don’t Keep Me Wonderin
First appearing on the 1970 record, Idlewild South, this banging number was performed live during the greatest show of their career: their Fillmore East gig. Duane’s slide work here is at its meanest. He doesn’t do a great deal of technicality; instead he mercilessly beats these two guitar solos on stage with impunity.
This list just wouldn’t feel right without including Layla. It’s the kind of song that really sums up a musician’s career; in this case, it’s Eric Clapton. But Not a lot of people realize that Duane Allman bestowed quite an amount of artistic input during the creation of the song. First off, that iconic riff was Duane’s idea; he borrowed a vocal line from an Albert King song, As the Years Go Passing By, and translated it to the guitar……but he played it twice as fast. Then there’s the slide guitar solo that closes out the first half before the piano coda. It’s one of Duane’s greatest efforts that tends to get overlooked by every other aspect of this epic.
It’s quite a vocal guitar solo, in that Duane moves the bottle slide swimmingly beyond the 23rd fret of the guitar, creating these notes one would have a hard time finding without the help of a slide; the way he treats the guitar solo as if it’s an actual person belting along to the song’s main riff is what made Duane the treasure that he was.
6.) You Don’t Love Me
You’ll be seeing a lot of songs from the Fillmore East show. This one, which goes on for about fifteen minutes, houses quite a bit of Duane’s best moments. First are his slide guitar solos. The one that comes in at two minute is some of the most violent euphony he’s ever created. The second one lashes out at about 6:45 minutes.
At seven minutes, everybody pulls the plug. Everything’s silent. Then Duane begins bellowing out these delicious blues scales drenched in the power and animosity of Hendrix, but the proficiency of Eric Clapton. This gigantic solo goes on for roughly eight minutes, and man is it incredible.
5.) Statesboro Blues
This was the song that opened up their Live at Fillmore East record, and man, is it spectacular; it’s everything you’d come to expect from the caliber of a band like the Allman Brothers Band. What’s intriguing about Statesboro Blues, is that it’s a rendition of Taj Mahal’s version, which in itself was a rendition of Blind Willie McTell’s original. Here’s a quick story:
Greg had given Duane the Taj Mahal record containing his version for his birthday; he also received a bottle of Coricidin pills because he was sick with a cold. So Duane put on the record, removed the pills from the bottle, used it as a slide, started playing along to it, and the rest was history.
That’s how Duane created the bottleneck blues style he became renowned for; of course his impeccable guitar tone added to it. Those three solos, the beginning one, the second one that starts before the two minute mark, and the final one towards the end, have made the biggest impact on blues rock.
4.) Why Does Love Got to be So Sad?
Here’s another fantastic Derek and the Dominoes recording that beams the spotlight down on Duane; that’s not taking away from the fact that Eric Clapton is also great here, but it’s just that this list is about Duane. Anyway, he shares three guitar solos on this track; a brief one during the intro, a second during the middle break, and a final one to close the song out. All three are quintessential Duane, with his melodic minor runs terrorizing the lovelorn landscape of the tune’s overall message, but it’s that final guitar solo that really brings everything to a perfect denouement; especially that bonny lick during the last thirty seconds.
3.) Blue Sky
1972’s Eat a Peach was the last recorded album that Duane was on before his death; it’s what makes it a piece of classic rock history that’s all the more special. Blue Sky is certainly a beauty in it’s own right; it being a song that was written AND sung by guitarist Dickey Betts. He wrote this wonderful ballad about the love of his life who was nicknamed “Bluesky,” and it displayed both him and Duane at their most vulnerable and soul-defining; they’re both at their peak here. But it’s Duane’s solo at the one minute mark that must be honored; it’s a valued piece of instrumental brilliance.
The only thing that could make this guitar solo even more sad is the fact that this was the very last guitar he ever put to wax.
2.) Mountain Song
Here’s an excellent example of the Allman Brothers Bands’ influential jam credentials. This Eat a Peach cut, which was recorded during their historic Fillmore East show, goes on for a good forty minutes; that’s right: they jammed on a single song for forty minutes. Everybody’s in full swing here; each member pours out every ounce of their musical extempore with absolute care and precision. But for now, we’ll just single out Duane who’s the true star.
First, he unleashes a solo at the 2:42 mark; this one’s a real tasty treat for the ears. With his “light, but not too light” tone, he takes you through an odyssey of welcoming melodies, Phrygian dominant phrases, and a boisterous tirade of blues accents that literally sounds like one of those 50’s-60’s R&B singers.
Finally, he comes back twenty-three minutes in with the best bottleneck slide playing of his life. Every voicing, vibrato, change in direction on the fret board, and understanding of rhythm and timing, showed that Duane could turn something as primitive as blues slide into a Picasso painting.
1.) Whipping Post
Now here’s a performance everyone was anticipating; it simply has to be recognized for not only being one of the greatest songs of classic rock, but also the paragon of Duane’s legacy. The album version from their debut record is amazing, but it’s their Fillmore East jam that deserves every accolade. He doesn’t play slide guitar here; he instead fires away with the heaviest blues rock to ever grace the stage; seriously, the people in that audience were completely unaware that they would be witnessing the top five greatest live album of all time.
Duane’s first guitar solo, coming in before the two minute mark, lasts a good three minutes; with every key constituent that made him an intellectual to the instrument. His speed, consistency, cognizance, and unpredictability made each of his live performances such a thrill to dive in. Then there’s the guitar solo that follows along at 15:30 minutes after Dickey Betts is done demolishing the stage. Duane does a great job building tension before Greg comes back in with the chorus. Finally, Duane wraps up the entire song with a more mellow solo that helps listeners catch their breath after twenty minutes of pure, rock n’ roll euphoria.
It’s guitar spontaneity of this immensity that makes Skydog one of the giants of his craft.