Lex On Duane Allman (The Allman Brothers)

Duane Allman’s slide guitar that opens “Statesboro Blues” is the sound of Curt dropping by the family compound after I missed my high school graduation.

It was June 17, 1987.

Yes, after learning to tie a necktie and gettin’ all gussied up for graduation day, my mom and I got into her car and hit the Los Angeles freeway (aka The Parking Lot).  Everything was coasting right along, until we hit the 405 Freeway going north towards the Valley, where my school was located.  Traffic came to a stand still.  We were stuck there for over an hour.  After broiling there on the freeway in the hot L.A. sun and smog, I said, “You know, it’s not important that I actually attend; I graduated.  Besides, I don’t want to see that place again.  Let’s just go home.”

She told me how proud of me she was – I was her oldest, and I had finished high school.  We shared the most wonderful “mother and son moment” we’d had since I turned into a psycho-teenage-monster.   I accepted the compliment, and we headed back home.  The best part of that day had yet to begin.  My friend Curt, who had graduated the previous year, promised to drop my house by after the ceremony was over.

The plan was to take all of the money I had received as graduation presents and blow the whole wad on records and food.

After Curt arrived, it was decided that we were going to take his car and cruise up to the Hollywood location of Tower Records.  There, I would replace my well-worn cassette copy of The Allman Brothers: At Fillmore East with my first vinyl copy of the album.  Earlier in the year, I had taped the live double album from a cool radio show on 95.5 KLOS-FM  called “The Seventh Day,” which used to broadcast 7 classic rock albums in their entirety every Sunday.   Curt, never one to give up control of his car’s stereo, even let me place my Allman Brothers cassette into the tape deck.  Then, off we went into the wild “Madonna and goth” heart of 80s Los Angeles.

I had studied every guitar lick that sprang from that particular Allman Brothers album.  In the twin-lead guitar work of Duane Allman and Dickey Betts, I found was some of the tastiest and most soulful playing ever committed to vinyl.  There was something in Duane’s slide work that not only got my blood boiling, but gave me a calming, musical satisfaction.  Up to the point of my first hearing At Fillmore East, Eric Clapton was my unchallenged guitar hero.  Duane changed my mind, and his poignant playing would challenge me to be a better guitarist for years to come.

Besides the monumental swagger of “Statesboro Blues,” there was the mournful and moody “Stormy Monday.”  This was the first song that made me take notice of slower blues,  which I usually found boring.  I remember struggling with my battered old acoustic guitar to wring the emotions out of Duane’s solo as successfully as he did; I never even came close.  There was also the jazzy instrumental work of “Hot ‘Lanta” and “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed,” which showed the entire band firing on all pistons during their March 12-13 1971 performances.  Seven months after their historic musical stand, the world would lose Duane in a tragic motorcycle accident at the age of 24.

The song that cemented the album in my brain was the band’s live version of the epic “Whippin’ Post.”  Trying to describe the live version of this song is like trying to “dance about architecture.”  I still remember hearing it for the first time in my darkened bedroom through my headphones, crying my eyes out.  This music may have been recorded 16 years earlier, but that performance was so heavy it was like a religious experience.  With my first listen, I felt “free.”

Curt and I eventually hit Tower Hollywood.  I found my treasured At Fillmore East double album, plus some Who vinyl.  We drove the crazy streets of Hollywood, stopped for a bite to eat at Kentucky Fried, and headed back to my place.  So I didn’t go through the “sturm und drang” of a high school graduation ceremony with my classmates, I got something better.  I got to hang with one of my “brothers in arms” for a post-graduation fandango that couldn’t be matched.  He understood my crazy ways more than a lot of other friends.

In the end, I don’t think that I could have gone through the process of sitting in my cap and gown listening to dry, rehearsed speeches and listening to the new piano teacher playing “That’s What Friends Are For.”  I was very different from my graduating class; all I needed was one of my “brothers,” the open road, and the sound of the Allmans at their musical peak to help me march through the threshold of my new “adult” life.

Thanks, Curt.

November 20 marks the birthday of Duane Allman.  Although he’s no longer with us, his music was the soundtrack of my  growing up, growing older, and heading off in my own direction.  His guitar is the sound of one of the best days I’ve ever spent on this sweet, swingin’ sphere with one of my best friends.  That slide guitar is the sound of me coming into focus as an adult.  Thank you, Duane.

(Lex Neon is actually Alex Oliver, the evil musical mastermind behind Las Vegas “sunshine power pop / rock” band Poppermost.  You can find his music and rock music prose at http://www.poppermost.com .)

Please note: The original release date of The Allman Brothers At Fillmore East was July 12, 1971.

Currently listening :
At Fillmore East
By The Allman Brothers Band
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~ by Poppermost on November 22, 2008.

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