Otis Redding’s people contacted us, so I went up to Georgia. Duane Allman was playing slide on a mandolin. His scuffed boots were kicked up on the dashboard of his new Winnebago, parked outside a saloon on a desolate country road outside of Valdosta. He was using his tiny coricidin bottle; high, pure pitched with no string noise- divine sounds. Somewhere outside of time, there will always be a moment where Duane is playing slide on a mandolin under the starry Southern Georgia night, making the most inspirational sounds I have ever heard.
“So what’s goin’ on, man?”
“What do you think of your new record company? Are they treating you right?” I asked, desperate for some solid business advice. The Bethlehem Asylum was still not signed but had been approached by a new label in Georgia. Otis Redding’s people.
“Well, they got me this Winnebago. And we’re working. It’s OK. You know what I mean?”
He could have been reciting the alphabet and I would have believed him and considered it gospel truth. His playing could bring tears to a stone. If Duane Allman said Phil Walden and Capricorn were OK. That would have to do. We signed some contract that smelled of Dixie Mafia, but what the hell. We commuted between Macon, Georgia and Coconut Grove. A tough fit for our jazzy, political, folk, psychedelic street theater. The Georgia based Paragon booking management agency that handled the growing roster of Southern Rock bands was not really a good fit for us. Our road manager/liason with the label had been Otis Redding’s road manager. He reminded me of Ike Turner; tough, ex-con. Dangerous. Technically he was white but with the patina of the soul music world.
One of the first things he did was push me out of a second story window, gashing my right shoulder requiring eighteen stitches in the Jackson Memorial emergency room in South Miami, just across the street from the deconsecrated church we had accidentally desecrated a few months earlier. Marilyn, one of our guardian angels, got me a good surgeon in the middle of the night. The upside was that we got to play with the Allman Brothers- the original band with Duane and Berry. Night after night we traveled all over the South. And they never had a bad night.
“Duane is now playing ‘Love Supreme’ by John Coltrane.” Charlie, our sax player, explained to me in the middle of Duane’s slide solo. There was so much great music.
Johnny Winter, Duane Allman and Dickie Betts were jamming with the band in the middle of the swamp in the middle of the night in the middle of Florida that today is Disneyworld. The Winter’s End pop festival had been roadblocked by state troopers. The only bands that got through were Bethlehem Asylum, Allman Brothers, and Johnny Winter. We played for the mud soaked kids for three days. This was a moment of epiphany for me. The improvising between Duane and Johnny and Dickie went to new heights. They were creating new licks, never repeating themselves. Not falling back on cliches. It was fresh, spontaneous, original, flowing effortlessly. They were creating the new vocabulary of rock blues licks that every pimple faced kid has been practicing in their bedroom ever since. This was where it was created. Stuff I had never heard before. In the middle of the swamp with a dead horse not fifty yards behind the stage. I wanted to play like that forever. I wanted that effortless flow forever. I sensed that their source of creativity was different than anyone else’s. They had found a note, a place, a state of mind, a state of grace, where the music was spontaneously created, eternally swinging, fresh and new and totally funky and soulful.
My mother saw us on the news, horrified. Animal, our roadie was sitting on the roof of the school bus she had helped purchase, with women wearing no shirts. Family Easter dinner was painfully strained.
I was sleeping soundly, listening to the rigging on the sailboats, humming and clinking in the trade winds a few blocks away. A clap of thunder woke me. “Something heavy just happened.” I said. Duane had just died.
Capricorn Exit Ampex records got two albums out of Bethlehem Asylum. “Commit Yourself” and “Tales of the Citadel”. Our earnings went up Phil’s nose and into the election campaign of a certain Georgia Governor that became president. The Macon, Georgia music mob threw a lot of weight, for a little while. Hy Shore said we should sue. He felt very confident about the case. I just remembered all the great music I heard Duane play and figured we were even.