For more than 20 years, from 1971 till 1992, Duane Allman’s famous 1959 Cherry Burst Les Paul was played, cared for, and cherished by one man: Joe Marshall. Duane befriended Marshall in late 1966, when the Allman Joys were based in St. Louis. Duane and Gregg often subsequently stayed with Marshall at his parents’ home whenever the band was in town. The friendship between Duane and Joe was singular and special, but it also exemplified the loyalty Duane demonstrated—and inspired—toward those closest to him. Marshall’s ex-wife Christine recalls that, in the years following Duane’s death, the Cherry Burst served as “a connect with Duane.”
“I remember one occasion where Joe left the guitar in the car overnight,” she says. “It was secluded, so there was no danger of it being stolen, but it got a little cold out. The next day, when Joe realized what he had done, he ran out brought the guitar inside. For 20 minutes he kept wiping the guitar, almost as if to warm it. As he rubbed polish on it he spoke to it, or to Duane, saying he was sorry about the mishap and would never let it happen again. That was the only time I observed him letting his feelings about the guitar be known. He never left it outside again.”
Today, Marshall suffers from a health condition that makes speaking difficult. Some of his responses to the questions below, therefore, were compiled from remembrances he shared with family and close friends. Other commentary was gathered from memories he either wrote down himself or expressed in a previously recorded interview. What emerges from Marshall’s fond recollections is not only the tremendous regard he had for Duane, but, by inference, a portrait of the degree of devotion Duane felt toward those he considered friends.
As regards the ’59 Cherry Burst, Marshall ultimately presented it to Duane’s daughter, Galadrielle, in accordance with an informal understanding and a love for Duane. Below are Marshall’s remarkable remembrances of the man who came to be known as Skydog.
How did you first meet Duane?
A friend and I first met the band—back when they were the Allman Joys-- at a place called Pepe’s A Go-Go, in St. Louis. This was in November of 1966. We were passing by and heard them playing The Beatles’ “Drive My Car.” We peeked through an opening in the drapes and saw this young guy playing guitar. His hair was nearly down to his shoulders, and he was rocking back and forth as he played. When they took a break we met the band outside, and they invited us up to their apartment above the nightclub.
What was their live set like?
Well, we were too young to go inside the club, but Duane took care of that. He said they weren’t 21, either, and told us to come on and follow them. We obediently marched in behind them and sat down. They took the stage and before the set began, Gregg dedicated the next group of tunes to their “new friends from St. Louis.” Then they started playing stuff by The Yardbirds, The Animals, The Byrds, the Stones and some blues tunes we’d never heard. It was as if we had been struck by lightning.
Was it a life-changing experience?
Definitely. I had seen a number of bands before them, including The Beatles. That was great, but the Allman Joys were more accessible. You couldn’t just go up to the Beatles or the Stones and say, “How are you guys doing? Why don’t you come over and have a sandwich?” We felt the Allman Joys were just as talented as the Stones or The Beatles. They were the greatest live band I had ever seen.
Not long afterwards you invited Gregg and Duane and the band over to your parents’ house. What was that like?
We asked them if they wanted to come over and get some food. They were happy to have some baloney sandwiches and some potato chips. I remember Gregg looked in the back of the utility room and spotted a case of beer. He yelled to Duane, “Hey, come look!” They were in heaven. They stayed there a couple of hours, until my parents came home from work. Gregg didn’t have much to say--he was a bit quiet and shy--but Duane immediately started talking to my Mom and Dad. I remember exactly what he said: “If there were more mothers and fathers like you, there would be fewer juvenile delinquents.” (laughs) My Mom and Dad asked if they wanted a beer. Duane goes, “Yeah. I think I know where they are.”
You were present when Duane met his girlfriend Donna, who eventually gave birth to his daughter. Can you tell that story?
Duane and I had gone to see The Jefferson Airplane, and we ran into two girls who were having trouble finding their car. They couldn’t remember where they parked, so we tried to help them. We ended up driving them around, but still we couldn’t find the car. Finally we gave up, and we all went to crash at the apartment of a friend of Duane’s. The next morning, when the sun came up, we drove them back. By that time, their Volkswagen was just sitting there by itself, with nothing around it. One of the girls was Donna, and she ended up following Duane back down south, where she became pregnant and they had their little daughter, Galadrielle.
How did you end up with his ’59 Cherry Burst?
That was after Duane was killed in the motorcycle accident. It was just devastating. I felt so bad. These guys were on the verge of becoming this unbelievably powerful and influential band, and he didn’t have time to enjoy it. After Duane had his accident, Donna grabbed two of his guitars and her clothing, and came up to St. Louis. She called me and asked if I would come over. She showed me the guitars and asked if I would be interested in keeping one of them, to play. She said Duane wouldn’t want the guitars to just sit in a vault. Of course I said, “Sure.” She asked me to take care of the guitar until their daughter reached a certain age, and then to pass it along to her. I opened the case and inside was a Coricidin bottle, without the cap. Duane used to go in stores and buy several bottles and dump the contents, for his slides. I played the Cherry Burst for more than 20 years.
Did he ever tell you how he acquired the guitar?
He got it in a trade with Rick Stein of the band, Stone Balloon, who were opening for the Allmans at a show in Daytona. Duane gave Rick his ’57 Goldtop, $200 and a Marshall Plexi head in exchange for the guitar. As part of the deal, Duane got to swap out the pickups from his ’57 Les Paul and put them in the Cherry Burst. I remember him saying, “Hey, Joey, check out this sweet little thing I bought in Florida." He really loved the sound that it produced.
Do you have a favorite personal story about Duane?
One time Gregg was in their apartment in St. Louis with a woman, and Duane needed the car keys so that he and I could go someplace. Duane kept pounding on the door, to no avail, telling Gregg to open the door so he could get the keys. I started laughing and suggested we try again later, but Duane wouldn’t hear of it. He just kept pounding harder and harder and wouldn't let up. Finally the door flies open and a pair of jeans—with the keys—came sailing out at Duane's head. Duane looked pleased and said something to the effect that love was a powerful thing and he knew Gregg would have to give in sooner or later.
I remember being with him at a music store on Manchester, in St. Louis. Duane was trying out different guitars, and it was the first time he had tried out a Marshall amp. The door was open, and people outside were stopping dead in their tracks, listening to him play. It was like something in a movie. Duane wasn’t even aware of the impact his playing had on the people outside. He was totally into the guitar and the sound it produced.
Is there anything about Duane that might surprise fans?
One of his favorite songs was a Burt Bacharach song, “Anyone Who Had a Heart.” Duane really, really liked that song in general, but especially the sax solo.
What was his best quality?
He was the first person I knew, musically, who always found something good to say about fellow musicians. Whenever he and I would hear another musician or group who maybe wasn’t so great, he would always find something positive to say, even if it was just, “Hell, Joey, at least they're trying." I tried to pattern my philosophy after Duane’s, in that respect. He always tried to find the good rather than tear someone down.
How would you sum up his essence?
He was different from any other musician I ever met. He believed in karma and had a spiritual sense about him, and he had a special outlook on life. He certainly wasn’t hung up on fame or money. Those things were fine, but he always played for the love of music. Music always came first.
(Special thanks to Dave Hinson for his invaluable assistance.)
More Duane here, here, here.
Check out the newly released Duane Allman 1959 Cherry Sunburst Les Paul.