Remembering Dad Remembering Duane

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In the unpacking I have done recently, I found the following essay that my dad had submitted to Rolling Stone Magazine on December 3, 1975, telling the story of how Remember Duane Allman came to be.

740511 rolling stone

I have added a few footnotes as well. Enjoy!

________

Remember Duane Allman

by G. David Reid

 

Six miles east of Vicksburg, Mississippi, beside the west-bound land of Interstate-20, is a monument to the spirit of Duane Allman, the guitarist.  It reads simple: REMEMBER DUANE ALLMAN. Hand-carved in a wall of earth, it stands ten feet above the ground level, the letters themselves averaging seven feet in height and the entire message over one hundred feet in length.

 

Some people have never heard of Duane Allman. But those who know his music can understand the motivation to commemorate his spirit. The four of us who carved our feelings upon that wall--Dennis Garner, Don Antoine(1), Len Raines and myself--were among the growing number of people becoming aware of Duane's virtuosity on electric, acoustic and slide guitars when his death shocked the world of rock 'n' roll. Praised by fellow guitarists of all walks as one of the best rock n roll guitarists ever, his career ended with his death on October 29, 1971 from injuries suffered in a motorcycle accident. He was twenty-four.

 

Certainly we weren't as severely affected as people closer to Duane, but we were moved almost a year and a half after his death to honor his genius in our own special way. The idea was to produce a memorial that could be seen by many and interpreted by all as an appreciation of great talent. It could also serve to acquaint people with Duane's name. Hopefully, this was to be done in a lasting way that would somehow dominate other memorials or monuments in the area.

 

Our idea wasn't original. We had seen, in a magazine, a photograph of a similar statement painted on a fence in Georgia. Since then,  we have heard of the same words painted on a water tower in Arkansas. Here in Vicksburg, there has been several attempts at carving the words on dirt banks, though none had survived the weather and were already crumbling.

 

Our feelings about carving the message were mixed. Len Raines had remarked that he was tired of hearing so much about Duane Allman. The other three of us were enthusiastic about the idea but hesitant to make a start. It was easier to imagine the appearance of a huge message than to prepare for it and begin. Added to this was a bit of apprehension regarding the possibilities of people interrupted by the highway patrol or state highway maintenance crews. We discovered later that the risk of being "interrupted" by authorities was the factor that assured Raines' appearance for the carving.

 

At the time, the four of us were enrolled at Hinds Junior College in Raymond, Mississippi(2), commuting by bus(3) from Vicksburg. It was during our morning and afternoon trips of about thirty-five miles, most of which was on I-20, that our plans were made. The original idea was one of letters three or four feet tall, carved as high as we could reach from the ground, and located somewhere along the interstate. Several considerations were involved before the site was selected. We wanted a wall of dirt that was clean and, if possible, at an angle easily seen by passing motorists. It had to be on the north side of the highway to allow the sun to cast shadows in the letters, as well as keep them clean and relatively dry. (The opposite wall remains overgrown and damp most of the year.) Also we wanted a wall with little or no vegetation on its upper edge to avoid erosion of the bank due to the loosening effects roots have on the soil. We felt that the site finally chosen would allow an enormous number of people a view of the message. After two weeks of small talk about carving it, Don Antoine announced that he was tired of talking about it; that we should do it!

 

With the actual carving in mind, we set aside all morning activities of an approaching Saturday and stopped at the site beforehand to affirm our choice of a bank. The dirt was fine and packed, and we were pleased with the smooth face of the wall and its lack of vegetation. This wall, like many others here, was left with an almost vertical face because of its composition. The soil is windblown or aeolian soil and resists erosion to large degrees. It is not common in this country, but is found in Warren County, Mississippi, parts of Asia and in China. For this reason, we assume the carving to be unique in America. Often in construction of roads and highways here, instead of going over hills or bluffs, parts of them are removed by heavy machinery. The smooth walls of this subsoil that remain will support dirt graffiti, usually the names of people passing or living nearby. Occasionally a message, sometimes obscene, is left on such a dirt wall. This is a common sight here. If construction of a new road or building involves the formation of smooth walls of the easily carved, light brown soil, not one week will pass before someone stops to be the first to decorate its face.

 

"REMEMBER DUANE ALLMAN" was carved on one of these banks on February 3, 1973, a Saturday morning. It was begun at 8:45, completed four and one half hours later and turned out to be more ambitions than any of us had first imagined. After removing a carload of picks, axes and a nine-foot ladder, expressing feelings of general paranoia of being accused of defacing state property, we spaced and marked the positions for the letters. Upon the realization that we had only used one-third of the available carving space, we doubled the dimensions of the entire message. Our original conception of three to four feet tall letters and a message sixty feet long was abandoned as we re-spaced its position on the wall. The letters became six feet tall and the message over one hundred feet long.

 

The bank on which we carved is immediately west of a truck scale or weigh station one mile west of Bovina, Mississippi, and trucks came roaring past us constantly that day. The weather was beautiful, the sky clear and the sun hot, often the description of a Mississippi winter day. Some of the truckers honked horns, smiled and waved while others passed stone-faced. Three of us stood on the ground working on the lower parts of individual letters while one finished the upper portions on the ladder. About halfway through the carving, we began to realize just how large it was going to be. The response to our work increased as we neared completion of the letters. Four hours into the carving, as ALLMAN was being finished, it seemed that horns blew at us from three out of five cars and trucks that passed. We had seen only one highway patrolman, but he had passed before we could experience much apprehension. (He was hurrying; five miles to Vicksburg and it was dinner time(4).)

 

We were filthy, covered with sweat and about to collapse, but at the mention of leaving, Dennis announced that he'd be damned if after four and a half hours of carving that message he wasn't going to sign his name. We tossed a coin to determine the order of our signatures; thus in smaller letters, DENNIS, DAVID, DON and LEN. This took another hour of exhausting work. By that time, the sun had dried the moisture from the face of the bank and drained the enthusiasm from our bodies. Every chip into the dirt sent dust into the air. The signatures suffered because they were smaller and needed more attention for precision. We gave them little. A few minutes after two o'clock, we reloaded the car with all the tools and looked at our finished product with pride. Yes, it looked good; however, it became apparent to me that we had hurt the effectiveness of its appearance because we had unknowingly carved our names too close to the N in ALLMAN. It read like a run-on sentence--"REMEMBER DUANE ALLMAN DENNIS DAVID DON LEN." I hated what I knew we had to do. The three of us remaining (Len had left us earlier) were shaking with hunger and exhaustion but the suggestion came out of my mouth--we needed to extend the upward arm of the last "N" to distract from the crowded effect our names had caused. We drug the ladder back to the wall and spent fifteen minutes carving the arm higher. It made the shape of the letter ridiculous and didn't remove the crowded effect.

 

Inspiration entered the scene at that moment, and I mounted the ladder again and transformed our message into what a local art instructor cited as a piece of expressionistic art. I changed the blunt end of the arm of the "N" into a pointed arrow. Pointed skyward, it reminded me of the nicknames associated with Duane--"Skyman" and "Skydog." Not wanting to consider what else might be done to improve the carving, we drove away elated with an extreme sense of accomplishment, and an eagerness to hear of reactions to our work.

 

We are proud of the results of that morning and of the reactions we have received. Many of our friends suggested that we send photographs and a story of the carving to various magazines. Not feeling the need for such a thing at the time, I wanted to know how far word of it would travel without our interference. We found interesting the number of times we encountered people who claimed to have carved the message, or heard stories of people we had never met who supposedly had done it. A photograph and brief mention of the carving appeared in "Random Notes" of Rolling Stone a year and two months later. Friends have reported that local radio stations and newspapers have mentioned it and that one of the local television stations sent a camera and crew to the site and posed the question, "Who was Duane Allman, and why should he be remembered?"

 

All of these responses to our carving--whether they are claims of credit for the work, stories on local radio and television stations, photographs in magazines or simply word of mouth descriptions of something seen on the interstate--each and every one--justify the half-day's effort we gave to carve this message. Each time it is mentioned, our goal is accomplished. Hopefully, a good percentage of those who have seen it have since experienced the music of Duane Allman, either for the first time or again with the same enthusiasm and respect that motivated the four of us to honor him three years ago. Even in writing these words about it, knowing that responses to them will be varied, I feel satisfaction and a renewal of pride in having had a part in something as simple, yet effective, as carving words in dirt.

 

(1) Don is my uncle, married to my mom's sister, but Mom and Dad were not dating yet.

(2) Christopher and I also attending Hinds Community College

(3) My mom also rode the bus to Hinds, which is how they met.

(4) In the South, "dinner" in actually "lunch."

_______________

For reference:

Remember Duane Allman

From Fuzzy's Blog:
Remember Duane Allman from Slides
Sometimes the Internet Answers and the Florida Cracker post about the carving.
Remember When David Reid Remembered Duane Allman?
Remember Duane Allman, Follow-Ups

Dad and Gregg, from when they got to meet. 

Gregg Allman and David Reid

The gang mid-carve in 1973.

Mid-REMEMBER

The gang in October of 2007.

group with gregg allman

3 Comments

I enjoyed reading that Erica. Your Dad was a very special person and Bob and I miss him a lot. It was a pleasure to get to know him and your Mom being the BEST next door neighbors anyone could ever asked for. Thanks for sharing the story...it comes up ever so often and it's nice to have an actual account of how it all took place. Your Dad was a very good writer. Again, thanks for sharing a great story of good memories in your Dad's younger life. :)

SO cool to get to read the whole story. I hope we all get to do something as fun, memorable, and far-reaching as David's carving in our lives!

Thank you Erica. I had always wondered about the story of the carving. As a 16 y/o in 1971, I, like your dad was blown away by Duane's guitar playing and were heart broken when he died. We even dedicated our yearbook to him. I would have gladly helped your dad and friends with the carving. Take care.

Erica Reid

Erica Reid headshot by Elizabeth McQuern

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