Duane Allman: Anthology

This post is in the theme “My Aquatic Childhood and my Father the Pirate”. Read the first.

June 8, New York: I love the way this album begins. Duane Allman’s guitar sings like a vocalist and you dive right into the blues as sang by B.B. King. Much of the album consists of covers, often far surpassing the originals (“The Weight” as sung by Aretha Franklin!) and Allman does deft work on the guitar. Wilson Pickett’s “Hey Jude” is a masterpiece— my absolute favorite version of this song. As if Pickett’s had always been meant to sing it, the song was just waiting for him to come around to it.

This album sat in my Dad’s record collection, scrawled with his initials in Sharpie: “DJF”. It’s a fun things about my Dad’s collection that no matter how many amazing albums are contained within, they’re protected from my ever selling them by those three black letters like a sigil or a magickal ward. Anthology is a great one to listen to on vinyl and the physical product itself is rewarding— nothing like a two-disc LP to make you feel like you’re really settling into some powerful listening.

Dad had always wanted to learn how to play blues guitar like Duane Allman. Look at Duane with his long hair in the swamp on the album cover— that totally could have been Dan Fitzgerald! One time in college his roommate Skip taught him to play one song on the guitar: “Your Cheatin’ Heart”. He couldn’t sing for shit and my Mom said the guitar-playing made Skip despondent. But every now and again Dad would put on an album like this one and listen to the blues wash right over him. It was a path unexplored, an ambition unfulfilled. When I was 14 my Dad bought me an acoustic guitar for Christmas. It came with the classic Dad Offer: learn to play the acoustic well enough and you’ll get an electric (I imagine roughly half of all Dads made that offer to their teenagers at some point). It turned out guitar was not my thing either. At that age I was not good at being really bad at anything, I found it too frustrating. My fingers had to learn not just the chords but dexterity itself and my pick hand had to learn not just strumming but the patience to do it ten thousand times, not just for five minutes until boredom overtook me and my mind wandered back to books.

When my Dad passed I remembered very fondly the Christmas he’d given me the acoustic guitar. That morning or shortly thereafter I remember him telling me about his unfulfilled ambition to learn to play a mean blues guitar. I remembered this later because it was the first time in my life I realized ambition had to be finite, that that was a part of mortality. You could not be all things, do all things. You had to make choices. And the time could still run out on you before you could cross everything off your list.

The year he died, my Dad and I had been talking about circumnavigating the globe. We had long since moved back onto land, and while we sailed for weekends or week-long vacations, my Dad longed to capital-l-Leave again like he’d done from Louisiana. Sail off into the sunset, quite literally. We would muse on the back porch about courses we would chart, the length of the trip and the right time to take it with my school. The vague plan was to do it between high school and college. We picked the points along the trip Mom would most like to join us, but the rest of the trip would just be father and son. This was a perfectly reasonable grand ambition. Perhaps my Dad never could have played guitar like Duane Allman, but he could have damn sure sailed around the planet with his teenage son. Could have but for the clock running out. I guess that’s why they call it a ticker.

After my Dad passed I tried a handful of other sentimental times to learn the guitar but never had the patience for it. I eventually realized I had to choose the things I would do with my life. But every time I listen to Duane Allman play guitar I think about my Dad and paths not taken. The courses not charted.

With this album, there is actually a chance you’ve not heard it before. I highly recommend you download these MP3s and put your headphones on for a little while.

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