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Playing Dominos: Tony Tyler salutes two of his guitar heroes at Gasparilla Fest

Bill DeYoung



Macon-bred Tony Tyler arrived in the bay area 11 years ago. Photo: Mandi Nulph.

When guitarists Eric Clapton and Duane Allman played together, the effect was like pouring Louisiana snake-oil hot sauce on a big, crunchy plate of habanero peppers and taking a forkful. It was incendiary.

Sadly, the two giants spent only a few months in one another’s company. When Allman was killed in a motorcycle accident in 1971, he left behind a matchless body of work – as an electric slide player with the Allman Brothers Band, of course, and on the handful of recordings he’d made with Clapton the year before he died.

Eric (left) and Duane, Miami, summer 1970.

Clapton’s band was called Derek and the Dominos. They were already well into making their first and only album, Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, at Criteria Studios in Miami when the English blues/rock legend invited Allman – a Southern boy, Florida-raised – down to jam a little.

He stayed until the smoke cleared. He stayed until every last track on the Layla album was complete.

“I think that particular pairing of guitarists was just a dynamite, once-in-a-lifetime thing,” says Tony Tyler, who’ll be playing a Derek and the Dominos tribute set Saturday at the Gasparilla Music Festival in Tampa’s Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park.

“Duane put the firepower into something that, from all accounts I’ve heard, didn’t necessarily have that much of a direction. Duane came on in and sent it where it needed to go.”

Fifty years on, Layla is considered one of the most, if not the most, intense rock ‘n’ roll albums ever created. A major factor is that fiery guitar interplay. Says Tyler, “They asked Duane in a radio interview, ‘What did you do on this Derek and the Dominos record?’ And Duane said, ‘Just enough.’

“Just enough to make it right.”

Born and raised in Macon, Georgia, where the Allman Brothers Band was headquartered, Tyler wasn’t even born when Duane Allman breathed his last. But the late, lanky red-headed stringbender has a hand in just about every lick Tony Tyler pulls out of his guitar.

“Duane’s playing, that was kind of the water I drank when I was a kid, you know?” Tyler says. “That’s just kind of the music I grew up breathing.”

Tyler moved to the Bradenton/Sarasota area in 2009, to play with former Allman Brothers (and Great Southern) guitarist “Dangerous” Dan Toler. “I couldn’t believe it when he said he wanted to put a band together, with me in it,” Tyler recalls. “It was like going to college. I just shut up and learned.”

They toured for several years, until the band was cut short by Toler’s health issues (he died of Lou Gehrig’s Disease in 2013).

Tyler put together a bay area band, Come Back Alice, that’s currently on hiatus. His regular band these days is a power trio called the Tony Tyler Trance.

The Trance has been expanded for Saturday’s Dominos tribute. The second guitarist is Michael Nivins (“he’s the Clapton to my Duane”) from the St. Petersburg band Ajeva. “We’re not even going to attempt to ‘re-create’ anything,” Tyler explains. “We’re just going to approach it with the same attitude they did, and really just create the music out of passion for the music, and love.”

Tyler, whose new single “Bad Love” was recorded at Macon’s Capricorn Studios (second only to Criteria in terms of southern-rock legend) thinks the show might be a mini-rock ‘n’ roll history lesson. “What I’m excited about is the folks that might not be aware that those were actually the guitar players on that tune, ‘Layla,’ and on that album,” he explains. “There’s a whole new crop of musicians that are really getting into the whole mystique of that era of southern music.”

Onstage in Tampa – Dec. 1, 1970.

To add another layer of gravitas to the event, on Dec. 1, 1970, Allman performed for the first time (of two) onstage with Derek and the Dominos – at the long-gone Curtis Hixon Convention Center, site of the Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park.

Allman just happened to be in the area when the Dominos concert took place. Afterwards, he got on the bus with Clapton and company, played the next show in Syracuse, New York and flew home. Eleven months later, he was dead.

The music, as Tony Tyler is keenly aware, hangs in the air forever. “There’s something about that slide that’s primal,” he says. “There’s no rhyme or reason to it – you really have the ability to forget about the fretboard. Duane was damn near animalistic with it, wasn’t he?

“At the end of ‘Layla,’ he’s off the fretboard, it’s not even fair. You’re taught that you’re not supposed to be able to do that. But he took it there, because he wasn’t afraid of somebody saying it ain’t right. He just did it. He knew it was right.”

Gasparilla Music Festival tickets and info here.








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