In 1971, at age 24, Howard Duane Allman was one of rock’s hottest guitarists. The Nashville-born musician had played with such luminaries as Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, and Eric Clapton. And with the Allman Brothers Band, Duane’s intricate jamming spurred the group on to dizzying heights of virtuosity. Reviewing the ABB’s first gold album, 1971’s At Fillmore East, Rolling Stone called them ”the best damn rock and roll band this country has produced in the past five years.”
But Duane’s ride in fame’s fast lane crashed to an end on Oct. 29, 1971. Allman was riding his Harley after a party in Macon, Ga., when a truck turned in front of him; the motorcycle swerved out of control and landed on top of him (his helmet was knocked off). Three hours later, Allman was pronounced dead from internal injuries. (The driver and his employer later paid $22,500 in damages.)
”It was like hearing that Elvis died,” says Paul Hornsby, then a producer for the ABB’s label, Capricorn Records. ”To us, he was larger than life.” The band played at the funeral and soldiered on for seven years without a new guitarist.
Though the ABB’s greatest success came after Duane’s death — their first No. 1 album was 1973’s Brothers and Sisters — he’s been memorialized in songs from Travis Tritt, Ronnie Earl, and Bachman-Turner Overdrive. Meanwhile, legions of imitators still study his records, hoping to duplicate his dazzling licks.