On November 20, 2021, Duane Allman would have been 75 years old, a date too important for us at Guitars Exchange not to want to pay tribute to one of our favourite guitarists of all time, by choosing our 10 top songs from the Allman Brothers Band, which was created and led by the eldest Allman.
Blue Sky (1972)
Dickey Betts had written this song, which again showed his taste for country, for his Indian girlfriend Sandy "Bluesky" Wabegijig, and took it to the studio to be sung by Gregg, the band's singer; but Duane heard the song and thought it was too personal and special and should be sung by Betts himself. Giving him his first chance as a solo singer was not the best gift from the band's leader, he also give him one of his best performances in guitar. Duane's solo, the first of the song, is the most beautiful of all time for this critic. The songwriter is no slouch either, who, after harmonising with Duane, launches into another magnificent solo, but Duane's first solo is something else, perfection made music. The great tragedy is that it was the last studio recording by the elder Allman before his fatal motorbike accident. That's why there are few live versions of it, with Duane still in the band, but one of them is the one from SUNY Stonybrook New York, recorded on September 19, 1971, which lasts 11 minutes - but you could listen to it for 24 hours straight and not get bored.
Whipping Post (1971)
Whipping Post first appeared on the band's debut album, The Allman Brothers Band, released on November 4, 1969, but the legendary version is the one that appears on At Fillmore East. This version takes the Gregg-composed song past 23 minutes, and proves that the Allmans always gave their best on stage. On this track the band play together and feed off each other like few other bands have ever done. Duane and Dickey Betts once again make it clear that they are among the most ‘in tune guitar couples’ in history. First comes Duane's first solo, after two minutes - pure strength and speed, playing on several occasions with the intensity, raising and lowering the tempo at will - then it's Betts who takes the spotlight - with an anthological solo; one of the most beautiful ever made - before Gregg returns by singing the slowed down chorus. Finally Duane proves that he is the most inventive guitarist of his generation with a brilliant coda to the song.
Midnight Rider (1970)
This is the song Gregg Allman says he is most proud to have written. Midnight Rider was written during the sessions at Idlewild South for the Allman Brothers' second album of the same name. In the studio version it is Duane's acoustic guitar that carries the song, although it is Dickey Betts who plays lead guitar, giving it that pedal steel country flavour that he would employ so much in the future, after Duane's death. Gregg was so proud of it that he ‘rescued it’ for his 1973 solo debut, and made it the most successful single of his entire career.
Ramblin' Man (1973)
Despite being one of the most successful albums of their career, Brothers And Sisters was one of the most difficult. Not only was it the first album without Duane, it was also the last to feature Berry Oakley's indispensable bass, which is only heard on two songs, Wasted Words and this Ramblin' Man. With this song Dickey Betts established himself as the new leader of the band, taking them into more country territory than ever before, and replacing Gregg as principal songwriter and lead singer. Borrowing the title from a Hank Williams song, Betts delivers the band's best-remembered chorus, which gave them their only Top Ten hit in the US singles charts.
Don't Keep Me Wonderin' (1970)
Don't Keep Me Wonderin' is another of the great songs from Idlewild South, probably the band's best studio album. Written by Gregg, who also shines as a singer, the song is taken to another level thanks to Duane's slide work; who is arguably the best slide guitarist in history.
In Memory Of Elizabet Reed (1971)
An instrumental song, composed by Betts, which appeared on the incredible first side of Idlewild South but which found its definitive version on At Fillmore East. Here you can appreciate how Betts and Duane have been soaking up Miles Davis' Kind Of Blue well, with Betts recalling the trumpeter and Duane sounding influenced by Coltrane. Their interplay is magical, complementing and harmonising as if they can read each other's minds. Duane's final solo is so incendiary that it's hard to believe his '59 Gibson Les Paul survived it.
Mountain Jam (1972)
I'll never understand how this wonder was left off the At Fillmore East and had to wait to appear on the outstanding Eat A Peach. This is the best example of what the Allman Brothers were as a band - taking a song, loosely inspired by Donovan's There Is A Mountain, beyond the half-hour mark without sounding self-indulgent or heavy-handed. The Allman Borthers were one of the few groups that managed to work magic with their improvisations. That's what happens here after 22 minutes when Duane reaches one of the heights of expressiveness on the electric guitar, the furious start taking full advantage of the slide is incredible, then he calms the tempo - as if the storm has passed - and begins to play one of the most exciting solos in history. The intensity rises again and the band begins to let itself be carried away by Duane's strength, as if he was transporting them all, then he puts the brakes back on and starts playing the melody of Will The Circle Be Unbroken. At this point Betts doing some arpeggios, and here we are entering Paradise, with an absolutely heavenly tone, giving some of the most beautiful notes of his career, as if he was a preacher reaching ecstasy.
The Allman Brothers were recording their first album at Atlantic Studios in New York; out of their element and with a producer who didn't quite understand them. Specifically, they were having trouble finding a good take on Dreams, one of Gregg's most jazzy compositions. Duane couldn't find a solo he was happy with, so the guitarist asked for all the studio lights to be turned off and sat down in a corner with his '57 Les Paul and amp, grabbed the bottle of Coricidin (something he hadn't done before on previous takes) and started jamming. By the time he finished and the lights came up the rest of the band was in tears, as Butch Trucks later explained, "it was just magic".
Another of Betts' great instrumentals, in this case written for the hit Brothers And Sisters; although guitarist Les Dudek plays acoustic guitar, Betts this time harmonises his notes with the talented keyboardist Chuck Leavell who had just joined the band. The track is a marvel in which Betts pays homage to Django Reinhardt - the melody is played using only two fingers on the left hand - and to his daughter Jessica, after whom the song is named.
Idlewild South began with the guitars of Duane Allman, and Dickey Betts perfectly harmonised on Revival, a song that for over a minute and a half sounds like one of their typical jazzy instrumentals, until it turns into a kind of hippie gospel with some voices singing "people can you feel it, love is everywhere". It's a perfect introduction to the band itself, with its modal jazz approach and then a much more southern and catchy part.