Great Guitar Moments! Eric Clapton – Duane Allman.
That Saturday afternoon Eric and the Band fumbled around in the studio until about seven, and then drove over to the Allman Brothers concert. They snuck up front and they crawled on their hands and knees so that they wouldn’t obscure the stage.
Duane was in the middle of a solo; he opened his eyes and looked down, did a dead stare, and stopped playing.
Dickie (Betts) was chugging along, saw Duane had stopped playing and figured he’d better cover, that Duane had broken a string or something. Then Dickey looked down, saw Eric and turned his back. That was how they first saw each other.
If the concert was the start of a mutual love affair for each other’s music, the Layla album was certainly the consummation. As the out-takes from the sessions show, prior to Duane’s involvement with the album the band lacked the sparkle and bite that would later be evidenced on tracks like Key to the Highway.
Sam the Sham (Woolly Bully) was in the studio and they heard him doing it in an adjacent room. They thought it was a great tune, Eric or Duane picked up on it, Carl Radle jumped in, Bobby Whitlock – who knew all these tunes – jumped on it and before you knew it everybody was trailing along.
Producer Tom Dowd turned around and said “hit that goddamn machine!”
From the moment the track kicks off it burns with the intensity of a Mississippi religious revival meeting.
Had Eric not met up with Duane that fateful night, Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs (1971) would have undoubtedly been one of Clapton’s finest hours. As things turned out, it was Duane’s incisive slide playing that was to prove the mystery element, the catalyst that turned a potentially fine album into a great one, an album regarded as one of the finest in rocks tortured history.
I got the key
Key to the highway
Darlin’ about to go
Gonna leave here running
Walking’s much to slow.
The sound that filtered through the control room door of that air conditioned Miami Studio was the sound of a raw bleeding 12 bar blues imbued with an almost painful intensity.
The sweat marks under Eric’s arms bore witness to the energy the band were pushing out. Across the room next to Eric’s small Fender Champ amp balanced precariously on a canvass chair, stood a skinny ginger-haired kid with mutton chop whiskers, cradling a Les Paul.
Grinning, he slid a small glass slide up the neck as though his life depended on it. It brought the blues crackling into life and whoops of delight from Eric Clapton.
Tragedy has always stalked greatness throughout the post office and rock and roll’s history and Duane was soon to go to that great stage in the sky following a motorcycle accident
Just an unlucky 13 months later Key to the Highway would be played at his funeral inMaconto a shell shocked congregation. Duane Allman’s slide guitar skills and soulful phrasing made him one of the most venerated white bluesmen ever. He was a complete guitar player who could give you whatever you needed, rhythm, lead, blues, slide, bossa nova with a jazz feeling, beautiful light acoustic and on the slide he had the magic touch. To get clear intonation with the right overtones that’s the mark of a genius. He was one of the few who could hold his own with the best of the black blues players, and there are very few.
You can count them on the fingers of one hand if you’ve got three fingers missing.