I’m posting this on November 20, 2017, which should have been Duane Allman’s 71st birthday. It boggles the mind that he died at 24 and to ponder all the years unlived, all the music unmade, all the family moments missed with Galadrielle, Gregg and whomever else would have come in and out of his life. Sigh.
Harmonica player Thom Doucette was one of my favorite interviews for One Way Out: The Inside History of the Allman Brothers Band. He told me this great story and him and Duane sitting in with Bobby “Blue” Bland. It didn’t make it into the book because… I have no F’in reason! It should be int there. Anyhow, enjoy it and happy birthday Duane and best wishes to Galadrielle and everyone else who knew and loved the man.
THOM DOUCETTE: We were just off the road and Duane and I were living together in Atlanta and someone asked us if we wanted to go a Small Faces concert. I didn’t want to, but Duane was interested so we go. About 12 bars in, we look at each other and just say, “No” and split. Walking back to the car, we run into this bass player we know, a black cat who goes, “You going over to see Bland?” Duane goes, “Seriously?” And he goes, “Yeah, he’s over at the Birdcage.” That was a black club that was tied into a hotel. It was a genuine 1960s black club.
So we go, “Shit, let’s go.” Duane had a little Volvo 2-seater, which we pile into and we walk into the middle of the first set. Bland had an all-black band with a white guitarist, who I knew from Chicago. He recognized me, then he recognized Duane.
We were sitting up front, the only white people in the place. It was an uptown kind of place, with everyone dressed to the nines – which we were not, needless to say. Bland walks right up to the edge and goes, “Any vocalists in the house tonight?” And Duane goes, “Man, I don’t sing so well, but I play the shit out of the guitar.” And the guitar player walks up and goes, “And he really does. This is the guy on Aretha’s shit!”
At the end of the break, Bland comes up to Duane and goes, “Man, you got your guitar with you?” Because he didn’t know who he was, but he knew his work with Aretha. And Duane goes, “No, but can I get it real quick.”
Duane goes, “Ace, you wait here. I’m gonna go get my axe and your harp bag and I’ll be right back.” And he flies out over to our place and comes flying back in with our stuff. Long story short, it was the best musical night I’ve ever had in my life. Unbelievable. Simply unbelievable.
Duane’s playing the horn parts, the vocal parts, the solos and it is letter perfect. The guitar player just held his guitar and let Duane play and Bland was just singing his ass off and marveling at Duane.Bland was just swinging because he had something to live up to. And I was blowing hard, inspired by this whole scene and Duane’s incredible playing and Bland’s singing, which was unreal.
Afterwards, Bland was so excited and he kept saying to me, “I’m gonna tell Cotton about you” and when he calmed down, he said, “I’m an uptown singer. I have never played with a harmonica player until tonight.”