Joe Bonamassa has called The Allman Brothers Band the jam band to end all jam bands. He’s listed At Fillmore East as one of the great live blues albums. And he has devoted an entire episode of The Pickup Radio to the greatness of founding member and slide guitarist extraordinaire Duane Allman. I couldn’t agree with Joe more.
Simply put, Duane Allman is one of my guitar heroes, and The Allman Brothers Band is one of the greatest bands I’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing live. The soulfulness of Gregg’s voice. The excitement in the band’s twin guitar attack. And their breathtaking catalog of sweet southern-dipped songs.
In honor of the late, great Duane Allman, who passed away on October 29, 1971, and in celebration of the wonderful music he and his brothers, one in blood but all in spirit, have bequeathed to us, I decided to run down my perspective on the ten greatest Allman Brothers Band songs.
In choosing these songs, I tried to balance the popularity of the tunes with the fans and casual listeners alike along with the pure musical greatness of the songs. Some of these are big hits, other are musical gems beloved by music lovers who had the pleasure of discovering them on albums like At Fillmore East; all of them fantastic.
10. One Way Out – If there’s one thing these boys know besides how to rock it southern style, it’s the blues. And “One Way Out” proves it. The tune was originally done by Elmore James and Sonny Boy Williamson II. It tells the unfortunate tale of a backdoor man stuck in his lover’s room when the front door man suddenly turns up at the front door. Not a good scene, but a fantastic song. Driven by Gregg Allman’s silky smooth vocal turn and the delicate twin guitar harmonies upon which it is built, this song never fails to deliver live.
9. Blue Sky – This Dickey Betts tune aspires to be like it’s title – musically, it evokes blue skies on a sunshine drenched day, as well as lyrically. Betts wrote this one about his girlfriend, Sandy “Bluesky” Wabegijig (they later got married). Duane Allman’s slide is kept light and breezy. Although Betts had it in mind that Gregg would sing the song on the record Eat a Peach, Gregg insisted that Betts sing it. After all, his that radiant glow that Betts’ compositions tend to have, plus the slight country-tinge.
8. Melissa – When I think about the fact that Gregg Allman sang this song at Duane Allman’s funeral, I get chills down my spine. What a gorgeous, moving tribute that must have been. The song had become one of Duane’s all-time favorites penned by Gregg. Thought it had originally been considered “too soft” to fit with the band’s harder rockin’ material, the song found its way onto Each a Peach. Go on, get through it without shedding a tear. I dare ya.
7. Ramblin’ Man – Bubble gum pop song or southern rock legend? We vote the latter. No, the original studio recording won’t be inducted into the Weird-Avant-Garde-Music-Hall-of-Fame, but whoever said you couldn’t be catchy as heck and still be great? There’s a reason that this song has enjoyed such enduring popularity – it’s pure Dickey Betts-penned greatness, and I make no apologies for loving it. The melody rocks, the solos rock, this song just rocks.
6. Midnight Rider – The second single from Idlewild South, it actually boggles the mind that the original studio recording of “Midnight Rider” failed to chart. I had the pleasure of hearing the Allman Brothers Band play this one at Jones Beach one summer. Driven by its hypnotic acoustic guitar-riff, this folky ode to being on the run and pursued became more popular as the years went on, and is now regarded as a true Allman Brothers Band classic.
5. Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More – The music for this emotionally charged rocker from the band’s third album Eat a Peach was composed before the death of Duane Allman, but the lyrics are what Gregg Allman wrote immediately following the tragic passing of his brother. An upbeat but still heavy reflection on mortality and living one’s life to the fullest, “Ain’t Wasting Time No More” is shot straight from the heart and hits you right in the guy.
4. In Memory of Elizabeth Reed – This subtle, trippy and melancholic groove is lifted by its understated build and its keen jazz influences. Initially appearing on the band’s second studio album Idlewild South, the tune is perhaps better known for its extended At Fillmore East counterpart, which clocks in at a hefty 13:06. The origins of the songs came from a marked gravestone – dedicated to Elizabeth Reed, of course – in a graveyard the band members used to frequent to relax and write songs. They wouldn’t be the first who jammed in graveyard – rumor has it blues pioneer Robert Johnson used to do the same thing.
3. Statesboro Blues – “Statesboro Blues” started its life as a subtle, haunting acoustic blues piece by Blind Willie McTell. In the hands of the Allman Brothers band, it was transformed into a swingin’ blues-rock juggernaut. It opened the show the first time I saw the Allman Brothers Band play, and I don’t think I’ve picked my jaw back up from off the floor yet. The first few slide notes are just heavenly. In fact, so’s the whole song.
2. Jessica – Ah, my first Allman Brothers love, and it still never gets old. In my opinion its Dickey Bett’s greatest contribution to the band from a composition perspective, and the playing is simply masterful. An interesting tidbit: the song was inspired by jazz guitar legend Django Reinhardt in style: it is meant to be played on guitar with only two left-hand fingers doing the fretwork. The title is named after Betts’ daughter, and spawned a generation of future babies named Jessica in the south. Since “Statesboro Blues” isn’t really a great name for a baby, we highly approve.
1. Whipping Post – Duane Allman and Dickey Betts are like knights of the roundtable sparring over furiously over a prized lover, over the unstoppable rhythmic attack of Berry Oakley’s twisting and turning bass lines and the double drum onslaught of Jai Johanson and Butch Trucks. Gregg Allman, the song’s composer, adds to the off-the-charts voltage with his impassioned vocal lines. Was Rolling Stone Magazine correct when it emphasized that the performance from At Fillmore East. was “the finest live rock performance ever committed to vinyl?” It’s tough to say no. And that’s just another reason why this is the #1 greatest song from the Allman Brothers Band.
Ok, so how’d I do? Did I nail down the right tunes, or do you disagree with my picks! Let me know in the comments below!