DUANE ALLMAN and Berry Oakley are respectively, the guitarist and bassist for the Allman Brothers Band. Between shows at University of New Haven, I got to rap a bit with them, and the following is a transcript of that conversation.
When did the Allman Brothers first get together as a band rather than a backing group?
Duane Allman: I don’t know, that just gradually changed over, it has no specific date. Since the second album’s done well we just stopped taking backing gigs and stuff…not stopped taking them, you know, but we’ve tried to cool it a bit.
When did you first meet the rest of the band?
Duane: Down in Florida two years ago in the wintertime. Me and Jaimo got together in Alabama and we went south and got all the other cats together. Went back to make it where our offices are; we’re close to the business, keep from getting screwed, you knew, keep an eye on things.
What artists have you enjoyed most playing behind?
Duane: Laura Nyro, John Hammond, King Curtis, and Eric Clapton.
What’s the most recent backing work you’ve done?
Duane: Laura Nyro – one cut off her new album called Beads of Sweat and I didn’t play much on that, just a couple of licks. It was real enjoyable man, she’s a real outasight chick and a fantastic artist and composer.
Where was the Clapton album recorded?
Duane: In Miami at Criterion Studios – that’s the best.
What was the story behind your involvement in the group?
Duane: Well, I went down there to watch them make that record because I was interested in it, I thought “Well now, the cat’s got him a band”, because I’ve been an admirer of Eric Clapton for a long, long time; I’ve always dug his playing, he inspired me a lot and I always just personally dug his playing. Figured I’d get a chance to meet him and watch this thing go down, y’know, so I went down. So when I saw him he acted like he knew me, like I was an old friend, “Heh man, how are you” y’know. And he said “As long as you’re here we want you to get on this record and make it with us, we need more guitar players anyway”, so I did, I was real flattered and glad to be able to do it.
What’s your favorite place to play?
Berry: Stonybrook College in New York…
Duane: Or the Warehouse in New York, man, I always get off there. Yeah, and the Fillmore has good sound.
Berry: In Detroit, the East Town Theatre has fantastic sound.
Why do you have Guild pickups on your Fender bass?
Berry: I used to have a guild bass, and I like the way it sounded but I didn’t like the bass, so I put ’em on there to see what’d happen. I just prefer the Fender, I like the long neck.
How did you come to use 2 drummers?
Duane: We’ve had them from the first ’cause we knew we was going to be playing loud, and both cats can play everything they need to play if there’s two of them instead of one cat having to flog his ass of the whole night.
How was Adrian Barber as a producer (on the 1st album)
Duane: He was good to us, he was outasite. Man, we were satisfied with him, he’s a fine cat… pretty much turned the knobs for us.
Are you happy with your second album?
Duane: Yeah, we are. Tom Dowd – a master, an artist. We’re really gonna be happy with the next one.
Where’s that going to be recorded?
Duane: Partly live at the Warehouse, part in the studio in Miami. We’ve got an eight-track that’s nice, and we’re going to the mountains for two weeks to write, bringin’ an eight-track with us up there and do some of it there, yeah, we might get something out of that. We’ve got some tapes already from the Atlanta Pop Festival and Love valley which was all recorded and if that’s any good we’ll use that.
When you write a song, do you wait for the inspiration, or do you just sit down and say, “I’m gonna write me a song”?
Duane: I don’t write, I don’t know how, and if you ever find out please tell me.
Berry: Gregg originally wrote all our stuff and then Dickie wrote some on the new album. Yeah, he sat down and tried to write, but if he didn’t feel it he didn’t write it.
Duane: Yeah, if you got something you wanna say and have people hear it, a song is a good way. People can really dig songs; everybody loves music but not everyone loves messages.
Why didn’t you use the Muscle Shoals studios as you’re so familiar with it?
Duane: I don’t know, man, we just started recording and before we got down there we got done, y’know so we didn’t go. I hope we do sometimes. The Stones did a hell of a thing there, I know.
Did you learn guitar by ear?
Duane: Yeah, I can’t read.
Who are your influences?
Duane: Man, everything I ever heard – WLAC radio.
Do you listen to the radio?
Duane: Now? No, not at all. Some records: Miles Davis (early Miles) and John Coltrane and Robert Johnson, Junior Wells, Muddy Waters; see, you get a goal in mind, a note that you want to hit with your band and then you gotta go out on the road and your spiritual battery runs down. You get home and you listen to that stuff and say “Ah, there it is, I have it before me, I know what to do” and you go out and do it.
Did you have a lot of trouble getting gigs before you were a name band?
Duane: Yeah, nobody knew our name. People are like monkeys, you have to tell them “Man, this is outasight” and they say “Ah – it is, isn’t it?” – well, nobody told ’em.
When was your first big break?
Duane: Getting with Atlantic Records. Atlantic, man, they dig our music. And Ahmet (Ertegun), the president, he loves to listen to good sides, man. You go right to him and bang on his door “Ahmet, Ahmet, something’s screwed” and he says “What?” you say “This” and he says “We’ll change it” and it’s done, you don’t have to fool around. There aint none of that crap, he solid and it’s a good label.
Do you listen to a lot of jazz stuff?
Duane: Man, I have a pitifully small knowledge of jazz – Roland Kirk is clean outa-sight. Kind of Blue album by Miles is the one that just kills me. There’s an album called Jazz Tracks by Miles that’s really good…Miles’ Greatest Hits just came out on Columbia is fantastic. Best of ‘Trane on Impulse and Best of ‘Trane on Atlantic both are unbelievable…hear a man’s life work in half an hour, an hour.
You’ve played with Johnny Winter, haven’t you?
Duane: Yeah, I seen him this morning, came to our room. Good bottleneck, good player all around. I prefer his music to his show…I prefer music to any show.
You’re playing colleges now, aren’t you?
Duane: All different things: colleges, concerts, ballrooms.
Do you get a chance to live home at all?
Duane: Gypsies ain’t got no home, I’m at home when I’m with my people; I’m always at home, I’m home now.
I take it you like it.
Duane: I LOVE it.
…and with that closing comment they left to do the second show.
© Jon Tiven, New Haven Rock Press, Winter 1970