In honour of Gregg Allman, who died yesterday aged 69, let’s go back to some early southern country rock from the band his brother Duane originally formed with him on lead vocals. The second single from their second album Idlewild South in 1970, if captures the band in their fresh beginnings, before the death of Duane in a motorcycle crash in 1971. While many of the band’s songs were written by guitarist Dickey Betts, this one was actually penned by Gregg. The song was never a hit, unlike, for example their better known songs such as Ramblin’ Man, the commercial End of the Line, or indeed the instrumental Jessica, which became the theme tune for BBC’s Top Gear car TV programme, but this one is classic blues rock, with Duane’s acoustic guitar driving the chord changes, Gregg’s strong vocals, and Betts’s lead guitar, plus a conga-led rhythm section and organ. However, it did reach some commercial success when re-recorded for a solo project in 1974.
The mark of a great song is sometimes also how easily it can be taken up by others and translate into other styles. It has been covered by many other artists, including Joe Cocker, Willie Nelson, Drive-By Truckers, was a reggae-version UK hit for Paul Davidson in 1976, and has also been sung Birmingham's white reggae band UB40, by Crosby, Stills and Nash (see connection with yesterday's SOTD and The Hollies' Graham Nash), Alison Krauss, Patti Smith, The Drifters, Bon Jovi's guitarist Richie Sambora, and there's even a ska version by the British band Bad Manners.
It was all written very quickly, under the influence of marijuana, at Idlewild South, a cabin near Macon, Georgia, where the band hung out for considerable periods of time. A stoned Allman conceived the essential elements and wanted to record it immediately, so enlisted the help of their roadie, Kim Payne to break into Capricorn Sound Studios, and forced the non-musician to instantly practise and play a bass line. It’s really a signature tune for Allman, a man who was married seven times, including to Cher, with whom he had a son, Elijah, and capturing that sense of always wanting to be on the road, and have freedom, but living on the edge, like a man on the run.
Well, I've got to run to keep from hiding
And I'm bound to keep on riding
And I've got one more silver dollar
But I'm not gonna let them catch me, no
Not gonna let 'em catch the midnight rider
And I don't own the clothes I'm wearing
And the road goes on forever …
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