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Skydog - Duane Allman Restrospective Limited Edition Encore Box Set | Album Review

Duane Allman – with Early Bands featuring Duane and Gregg, Various Artists, and The original Allman Brothers Band - Skydog: Duane Allman Retrospective [Limited Edition [Numbered] or Encore Edition] (Box Set).
7 CDs – 129 tracks; about 6 hours; Reference Quality.
Styles: Electric Blues, Acoustic Blues, Blues-Rock, Soul, Pop, Southern Rock, Rhythm and Blues, Jazz, 60s Rock and Roll.

“Duane Allman was the greatest guitar player that ever lived,” argues Allman Brothers author Scott Freeman at the end of a new two-hour DVD, “Song of the South.” Among his reasons for making such a controversial statement is this: Dying in a motorcycle accident at the age of 24, Duane had an effective studio career of 3 – 5 years. In that short time, he left a body of work with irreplaceable contributions to studio recordings by Eric Clapton, Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin, Boz Scaggs, Clarence Carter, King Curtis, Delaney & Bonnie, John Hammond, Jr., and many more, including, of course, The Allman Brothers Band.

In this 2013 seven CD “Retrospective,” we find the evidence to support that contention. Arranged in chronological order, the 129 songs highlight killer guitar passages by Duane in songs by early bands featuring Duane and his younger brother Gregg (The Escorts, Allman Joys and Hour Glass) and the original-six, Allman Brothers Band. Mainly, Duane’s “original, tasteful, sensitive” guitar playing is featured in songs by a multitude of other artists. Duane served as a catalyst on many of these legendary artists’ cuts, making them better with his incredible playing and arrangements.

This is not a greatest hits collection nor is it a “complete works” box set (there are 324 released tracks known). But, it has three of the two-brothers’ earliest recordings – previously unreleased. The box adds to, and hugely extends, the number of studio-recorded songs by various artists first found in the earlier released double CDs, “Duane Allman: An Anthology” and “Duane Allman: An Anthology Volume 2.” Some songs are repeated here from those two earlier sets.

One Critic has contended that for the “Duane-completest-collector,” this box set will not prevent redundancies. For example, one would need to purchase Otis Rush’s “Mourning in the Morning” CD to get all six tracks with Duane’s guitar, making the three tracks included here repeats. Also, this box set’s liner notes do not detail exactly, track-by-track, Duane’s contributions and their importance. For example, not included in the liner notes is this information: in the Otis Rush songs, “Me” and “Reap What You Sow,” Duane is playing lead guitar, but in “It Takes Time” Duane is playing only the lead boogie line in the right channel. For some songs, this means the beginner or casual listener must use effort to find Duane because, as a sideman, he’s deep in the mix or because he just adds the occasional brilliant lick.

Produced by Duane’s daughter Galadrielle Allman and reissue producer Bill Levenson, the “Retrospective” shows the full breadth and depth of Duane’s work. There are nine previously unreleased tunes in the set (on CDs #1,6,7) including a live jam session with the Grateful Dead. The set includes many classic Allman Brothers songs and a collector’s cache of rare singles and long out-of-print album tracks. Also included is a 72 page book with song liner notes and essays by Scott Schinder and Galadrielle Allman and many rare photographs. The numbered “Limited Edition” box (10,000 were issued) also contains a replica of Duane’s guitar pick and a “Skydog” sticker with the CDs in velum sleeves like those containing guitar strings.

“Duane Allman was utterly driven,” says daughter Galadrielle in her essay in the accompanying booklet. “No one tried harder than Duane and his band,” and “the longer Duane is gone, the clearer it becomes that there will never be another like him.” Born November 20, 1946, Duane Allman was one of the defining musicians of our era, mentioned equally in the same breath with Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton. A founding member, with his brother Gregg, of the Allman Brothers Band, Duane and the Brothers started and inspired an entire genre of music that came to be known as “Southern Rock” (e.g. he was the “Freebird” in Lynyrd Skynyrd’s song).

All songs appear in chronological order!

CD One (1965 – 1968): 23 tracks (5 previously unreleased) - The Escorts, The Allman Joys, Hour Glass, 31st of February, The Bleus.

The box set launches with three previously unreleased tracks by the 1965 teenage band, The Escorts. In 1965, Duane was 18 until his birthday November 20, and Gregg was 17 until December 8. Obviously caught in their formative years, their early interest in Blues and Rhythm and Blues is showcased here with covers of Bobby Bland’s “Turn on Your Love Light” and Ray Charles’s “What’d I Say.” Track 2 is an interesting “No Name Instrumental” written by Duane and Gregg with tremolo guitar by Duane. Of the six tracks by The Allman Joys (basically a covers band) in August 1966, two were previously unreleased: Manfred Mann’s “Mister, You’re a Better Man Than I” and The Yardbird’s “Lost Woman.” All the ill-fated Hour Glass band’s songs are covers except the Gregg penned “Been Gone too Long.” Duane’s early mastery of Blues guitar is first revealed in their timeless recording of the “B.B. King Medley” taped in Muscle Shoals AL, 1968. A real highlight (although previously released) is Duane’s first recorded slide guitar work heard on “Melissa,” a Gregg penned and sung tune performed with Butch Truck’s 1968 Folk-Rock band 31st of February. Just because Duane was great does not mean his additions could rescue bands that were not great, beginning with The Bleus, a 1960s blue-eyed soul band from Gadsden AL with regional success.

CD Two (1968 – 1969): 26 tracks - Clarence Carter, Wilson Pickett, Laura Lee, Spencer Wiggins, Arthur Conley, Willie Walker, The Lovelles, Aretha Franklin, Soul Survivors, King Curtis, The Sweet Inspirations.

Clarence Carter’s “The Road of Love” was the first commercially released recording to feature one of Duane’s trademark slide solos. Clarence can be heard saying/singing into his microphone midway through Duane’s solo, “I like what I’m listening to right now!” When Wilson Pickett’s single of “Hey Jude” was released in January 1969, Duane’s ground-breaking guitar playing caught the attention of Eric Clapton and the entire pop music world. That exposure at age 22 opened doors and had inestimable positive impact on Duane’s fateful career. For example, he so impressed that he was invited to record with Aretha Franklin; “The Weight” reveals what a deft move that was. Duane then trades wonderful slide licks with King Curtis’s saxophone on an instrumental version of “The Weight.” The Spencer Wiggins track has the right ingredients with impassioned rich, pleading vocals and Duane punctuating vocal lines with guitar licks akin to his approach with Wilson Pickett on “Hey Jude.”

CD Three (1969): 17 tracks – The Barry Goldberg Blues Band, Duane Allman, Otis Rush, The Duck & The Bear, Boz Scaggs, The Allman Brothers Band

Duane’s slide was particularly greasy, poignant, and prominent on the Barry Goldberg track, plus he is dubbed in beside Mike Bloomfield on guitar. Duane rarely sang, but here he does on three precious tracks from his uncompleted solo album. In May 1969, one of Duane’s most outstanding contributions was on Boz Scaggs’ American debut album. Duane delivers a searing guitar solo to the song “Loan Me a Dime,” which runs 13 minutes. On Scaggs haunting “Finding Her,” Duane adds his signature “bird calls” to the ending (a precursor to those on “Layla”). The disc ends with four songs from the ABB debut album.

CD Four (1969): 21 tracks - The Allman Brothers Band, Ronnie Hawkins, Lulu, Johnny Jenkins, John Hammond, Jr., Doris Duke

The disc opens (puzzlingly) with three more cuts from the ABB debut album. Canadian Ronnie Hawkins’ “Down in the Alley” is a strong work; it had previously been a hit for the Clovers. One cut by Scottish pop star Lulu would probably have been enough; my vote “Dirty Old Man” written by Delaney Bramlett and Mac Davis. Duane could play anything and everything. On the swampy Johnny Jenkins’ tracks, we get a taste of Duane on Dobro (resonator) guitar; check out Muddy Water’s “Rollin’ Stone.” As the story goes, Duane’s arrival for the John Hammond, Jr. sessions saved the project. “Shake for Me” where Duane’s electric slide takes complete flight stands the test of time. Deep Soul fans know Doris Duke’s “I’m a Loser” album; from it, disc four closes with “Ghost of Myself.”

CD Five (1969 – 1970): 17 tracks – Eric Quincy Tate, The Allman Brothers Band, Delaney & Bonnie & Friends, Laura Nyro, Ella Brown, Bobby Lance, Derek & the Dominos, Eric Clapton & Duane Allman

Eric Quincy Tate (EQT) was a Southern Rock band that recorded demos in Capricorn studios with Duane on slide in the left channel. Next are ABB tracks: one from their second album and three live tracks (Fillmore East February 1970 and Ludlow Garage April 1970). In April 1970, Duane joined Delaney and Bonnie Bramlett at Miami’s Criteria Studios. Delaney had asked Jerry Wexler about getting Ry Cooder to play slide guitar, but Wexler suggested Duane Allman instead; two songs from that collaboration are presented. In New York, Duane played lead guitar on American songwriter, singer, and pianist Laura Nyro’s “Beads of Sweat.” At Capricorn studios, Duane backed soul singer Ella Brown on singles, “Touch Me” and “A Woman Left Lonely.” Bobby Lance was a songwriter interested in Soul scoring serious Soul cred by penning Aretha’s hit “The House That Jack Built.” Questionably, it was Duane who overdubbed slide guitar onto one Lance song, “More Than Enough Rain.” The disc ends with five cuts from the legendary “Layla” album by Eric Clapton’s Derek & the Dominos with Duane joining in the Miami studio.

CD Six: (1970 – 1971) 15 tracks (2 previously unreleased) – Sam Samudio, Ronnie Hawkins, Delaney & Bonnie & Friends, The Allman Brothers Band, Grateful Dead, Herbie Mann

Here are the 6th and 7th (of 9) previously unreleased tracks: “Gift of Love” by Delaney & Bonnie & Friends and the Grateful Dead’s “Sugar Magnolia” recorded live April 26, 1971 in New York. Duane helped Sam Samudio (Sam the Sham) in Miami for his album “Sam, Hard and Heavy;” three tracks are included here with an acoustic cover of “Me and Bobby McGhee” closer to Kris Kristoferson’s original than Janis Joplin’s. In July 1970, Duane worked again with Ronnie Hawkins, energetically playing Dobro, lead and rhythm guitar for his next album “The Hawk.” If one is completely new to Duane Allman, the starting point has to be the classic “Statesboro Blues” from the live double ABB album “At Fillmore East.” Showing Duane’s complete versatility and new found interest in Jazz, three tracks end the disc from American Jazz flautist, Herbie Mann.

CD Seven (1971): 10 tracks (2 previously unreleased) - Delaney & Bonnie & Friends, The Allman Brothers Band, Cowboy

The final unreleased tracks are two from Delaney & Bonnie & Friends recorded live July 22, 1971 at A&R Studios, New York, for a live WPLJ-FM broadcast: “Going Down the Road Feeling Bad” and “Poor Elijah / Tribute to Johnson Medley.” Long available as a bootleg, it is great to have improved quality here. Perhaps the entire show with Duane on Dobro can be commercially released in the future. Duane’s last sessions (apart from ABB) were for Scott Boyer’s band Cowboy in August 1971. He recorded a beautiful Dobro accompaniment to “Please Be with Me.” Scott Boyer was Duane’s old friend from The 31st of February days. The disc ends with songs recorded for the ABB “Eat a Peach” album in September and October 1971 plus two live tracks from the September 19, 1971 show at the State university of New York at Stony Brook. The final track, “Little Martha,” is one of the two songs Duane ever wrote.

So, after you hear the evidence, was, as Scott Freeman argues, “Duane Allman the greatest guitar player that ever lived”? A cohort and long-studied fan has this contention: “Looking at Duane’s entire discography by the time he died in October 1971, he is, without a doubt in the top-five. Considering that he was still shy of his 25th birthday by the time he accomplished that discography, you can put him in the top-three. Looking over the praise he received from industry heavyweights like Jerry Wexler, Wilson Pickett, Tom Dowd, Eric Clapton and plenty more,” he is unquestionably number one. “Is there another guitarist who accomplished what Duane did in that same time frame? Who accompanied the stature of the artists Duane did as a session player, and added considerably to those sessions?”

Scott Freeman further points out that Phil Walden (Capricorn Records) bought Duane’s contract and basically built a label around him. At the time Walden came into the picture, “Duane didn’t sing, he didn’t have a band, he wasn’t a songwriter… he was just a guitar player.” It is simply mind boggling what arose in his wake. “Duane really did usher in a whole new style and approach to music.”

Thank you to Duane Allman guru, Craig Ruskey for help with this review.

Source information came from the Liner Notes included in the box set booklet. Further information came from the website: Duane Allman – the Studio Recordings 

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