Duane Allman, a slide guitarist and the leader of the Allman Brothers Band, is killed on this day in 1971 when he loses control of his motorcycle and drives into the side of a flatbed truck in Macon, Georgia. He was 24 years old. After Allman’s death, his band continued to tour and record and it is still together today. In 2004, Rolling Stone declared that the Allman Brothers were the 52nd-greatest rock band of all time.
Duane Allman was born in Nashville and grew up in Florida. Before he formed the Allman Brothers Band with his brother Gregg, a singer and keyboard player, Duane had made a name for himself as a session musician for Atlantic Records at Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, Georgia. There, he played with artists like Wilson Pickett, Clarence Carter, Aretha Franklin, King Curtis, John Hammond, Ronnie Hawkins, Boz Scaggs and Herbie Mann. In 1969, the Allmans put together their own band and moved to Macon. They released two promising studio albums and a live album, 1970’s “At Fillmore East,” that many people say is among the best concert recordings ever made. When Allman died, the band was working on a new studio record, “Eat a Peach,” which would eventually hit No. 4 on Billboard’s album sales chart.
On the afternoon of his accident, Duane Allman was speeding along Hillcrest Avenue on his Harley-Davidson Sportster when he slowed to let a flatbed truck carrying a huge crane boom make a left-hand turn in front of him. Allman pulled his bike toward the center of the road so he could swing around the outside of the truck, but in the middle of its turn the flatbed suddenly rumbled to a stop. Unable to maneuver around or under the giant obstacle, Allman ran right into it. The crane’s weight ball knocked him off his Harley, which bounced up in the air and off of Allman’s chest before skidding to a stop along the curb. The guitarist was not killed instantly—in fact, he had no visible injuries except some bumps and scrapes—but died in surgery later that evening.
Almost exactly one year later, the Allman Brothers Band’s bassist died in a very similar accident (he crashed his speeding Triumph into the side of a city bus) just a few blocks away.