Duane Allman's First Bands

JasO

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While working for Guitar Player magazine, I interviewed his brother Gregg and several others for my 1981 Duane Allman cover story. Gregg mentioned that while they were living in Daytona Beach, Jim Shepley was Duane's best friend and first and only guitar teacher. I couldn't find Jim in time for that cover story, but he contacted me a few months after it came out. We did a long interview, during which Jim provided a highly detailed account of Duane’s youth, personality, earliest guitar explorations, girlfriends, drug use, and more. Here's what he had to say about Duane's earliest bands:

What was Duane’s very first band?

The Escorts. This was 1964 or ’65. Briefly, the story on them was Gregg was actually a guitar player. And then Duane convinced him to move over and get a Vox organ and become an organ player and to become a singer. Gregg really wasn’t much of a singer in the early days. He’s a great singer now, but he wasn’t much of a singer back when he was 16. So he got on organ and sang, Duane played guitar, and they had this guy Van Harrison playing bass. And the drummer was Maynard Portwood. He did play with the Allman Joys, actually – he played when they became that – and he played with Duane for quite some time through the years. He later went to Atlanta and started his own situation. I don’t think him and Gregg are on very good terms, because you don’t hear Gregg mention him very much. But the early band, they were doing Beatles. They were getting into some Ray Charles. It was the English rock, mainly.

Was this like a high school band?

Yeah, it was. And they were dressing up – they all wore the same uniforms, and they were starting to grow their hair long. They were pretty popular. They played dances and stuff.

Duane had only been playing a few years by then.

Oh, yeah. A couple of years.

What guitar was he playing?

At one point he had a Gibson 335 – I think that’s what he was playing then. He later moved over to a Telecaster and then to a Les Paul.

What happened after the Escorts?

Then he went into the Untils, briefly. See, there are other people involved in this Daytona-Duane Allman connection. A think a guy who deserves some mention, to be honest with you, is Bob Greenlee, who was also a friend of Duane’s. He was not nearly the friend that Duane and I were, but he had a band and Duane did play in his band at the time. Because I’ve read some of the reviews where they mention the Houserockers – well, that was actually Greenlee’s band. See, he had started this integrated band back in the early ’60s and mid ’60s, and Duane and Gregg were both in it at one point. I’ve read write-ups that mention it was their band and this and that, but it really wasn’t. It was actually Greenlee’s band. They had played for Greenlee, and then they decided to quit.

Where do the Untils fit in?

That’s Greenlee. The Houserockers and the Untils was all Greenlee’s brainchild. The Untils was the Black singers, and the Houserockers was the white band that backed them up. See. there’s a Black influence that’s been left out of all these Allman brothers accounts, which I think is annoying because I saw it with my own eyes. I know what Gregg and Duane went through. When you talk about people that influenced them, there are some people down there that have never been given any credit that I personally think Gregg and Duane themselves would admit to – Floyd Miles and Charles Atkins – from when Duane played in the all-Black surf band there. We both played in that group together.

What band is this?

This was the Lindsey Morris Band. It was an all-Black group. For some reason, they couldn’t find any Black guitar players in town, so they either had me or Duane playing guitar. Even Duane, if he were alive, would tell you that. It was a Black band that played over in the white part of town. They played in a beachside club there – it was called the Surf Bar. And this is where all the musicians in the area, including Gregg and Duane and myself and Greenlee – all of us – this is where we went to play music, because this was the happening music. They were playing the kind of music we liked at the time – soul music. They were doing Ray Charles and this and that. This is where we all got schooled in music, in my opinion. We’re talking about 1963 to 1967. And we’d all go down there and sit in and learn from them. I played as the regular guitar player for about a year, and then at one point Duane was working there for about three months. The leader of the band was named Lynn Morris, but we called him “Daps,” like “Dapper Dan.” This is where Gregg heard Charles Atkins sing. It’s where he heard Floyd Miles play drums and sing. That’s one thing I think Gregg has really left out – the influence that he got from those two people was just incredible. He idolized them. He tried to sound like them. As a matter of fact, he tried to sing like them, he tried to act like them, he spent time with them. The Surf Bar in Daytona Beach, man – that’s where we all went. That’s where we all got started in terms of being in a band and digging soul music. That’s where it was.

No trouble getting in, even though you were underage?

That’s right. We were all underage, and there was not trouble getting in. Because if you were a musician and you were with the band, then you didn’t get hassled.

Did you play in the Houserockers?

Yes, I did. I started with them. I was in the original group. Duane didn’t get into it until about two-and-a-half years later. See, Greenlee started the Houserockers and the Untils, and then he got me. I was his best friend also, and he got me to play with him in the band. I really had a lot of respect for Greenlee, and I think Duane did too. You ever hear of Root Boy Slim & The Sex Change Band? Well, that was Greenlee. He’s not Root Boy Slim —Root Boy Slim is “Ken” McKenzie – but the whole Root Boy Slim concept is another one of Greenlee’s brainchilds. But as far as the Untils and Houserockers go, that was his band, and Duane and Gregg did play in it. It’s kind of funny – they played in it, but they really weren’t into it. The write-ups you read sound like it was this great thing they were loving, but they really quit because they wanted to go play rock and roll. They didn’t want to play R&B and they didn’t want to back up front singers. They wanted to do their own thing.... After that they started the Allman Joys.

A transcription of the entire interview is posted here: Young Duane Allman: The Jim Shepley Interview
 

bowman

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Very illuminating stuff. People think great musicians just popped into the world with their own thing already formed. And as we see in your interview, that’s not true at all. They had influences, they had idols, and they had to learn to be what they ultimately became.
 

deytookerjaabs

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Reading biographies, autobio's, interviews, etc of musicians from say 1900 up through the 60's it feels like they played music in an alien world that's long gone.

Keep the stories coming!
 

trandy9850

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Loved GP back in the day.

I really liked the columns….especial Tommy Tedesco’s “Studio Log” and Jeff Baxter’s…..I don’t remember the name it but he wrote one of the best columns I ever read….it was called: “It’s Too Damned Loud”…it dealt with the volume on stage when he was touring with The Doobie Brothers.
 

2HBStrat

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Very illuminating stuff. People think great musicians just popped into the world with their own thing already formed. And as we see in your interview, that’s not true at all. They had influences, they had idols, and they had to learn to be what they ultimately became.
When our band started playing in the town where I now live, we played an after hours bar. Bars had to close at midnight back then so this was a "private" club that went till 4 or 5 a.m. Anyway, they had publicity pics of the bands that had played there. One of them was the Allman Joys. The owner told me that they used to ride their motorcycles up and down the streets and raise hell.
Thanks !!!! I used to love Guitar Player and your stories and interviews !!!

Cheers ,, RM

Loved GP back in the day.........
Guitar Player magazine is still around, still good, and super cheap if you subscribe.
 

staxman

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Great post! I enjoy the story about a young Duane showing up at Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals. Rick Hall turned him down without even a listen because he said he didn’t need another guitar player. Duane asked if he minded if he camped in the parking lot. Rick allowed it. After a a couple of weeks of Duane camping outside, Rick Hall finally told Duane to come inside and show him his stuff. The rest was history as they say with Duane playing on numerous soul classics with Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin, Clarence Carter and numerous others.
 




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