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The Allman Brothers' Best Guitar Solos

The Allman Brothers' Best Guitar Solos

By Brad Tolinski

There are thousands of great guitar recordings, but only a handful have completely changed the way the instrument is played. The Allman Brothers’ classic live album, At Fillmore East, released 50 years ago in 1971, is one of those.

Featuring the groundbreaking slide guitar of Duane Allman, and the stinging, country-influenced fretwork of Dickey Betts, At Fillmore East demonstrated just how closely two guitar players could harmonize, then moments later, explode into some of the wildest and most divergent improvisations in rock history.

As their legendary producer Tom Dowd explained: “Fusion is a term that came later, but if you wanted to look at a fusion album, it would be At Fillmore East. Here was a rock and roll band playing blues in the jazz vernacular. And they tore the place up.”

To celebrate the album’s golden anniversary, we thought we’d pick ten of our favorite performances by Duane and Dickey during their tenure with the extraordinary band.

As always, this list is unranked. The way we see it, all of these songs contain contenders for the best guitar solos of all time.

The Allman Brothers' Best Guitar Solos

“Statesboro Blues”
At Fillmore East (1971)

“Statesboro Blues” was written by Piedmont blues guitarist/singer Blind Willie McTell, who first recorded the song in 1928, backing himself on acoustic guitar. Blues singer/guitarist Taj Mahal recorded a great version of the song on his 1968 eponymous debut, featuring guitarist Jesse Ed Davis, and this version is the one Duane heard, inspiring him to learn to play slide guitar.

The story goes that brother Gregg had given Duane the album for his birthday, simultaneously giving him a bottle of Coricidan, a cold medication, as Duane was sick at the time. Inspired by the recording, Duane emptied the pills from the bottle and, wearing it on the ring finger of his fretting hand, taught himself to play slide guitar. Today, millions of guitarists the world over use bottle-type slides on their ring fingers—such as Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks—in emulation of Duane Allman.

Few players, however, have ever been able to match the soaring beauty of Duane’s sound or technique on “Statesboro Blues,” the exciting opening track on At Fillmore East.

“One Way Out”
Eat a Peach (1972)

The version released on Eat a Peach was recorded during the band’s final performance at Fillmore East on the night of the venue’s closing, June 27, 1971. Dickey takes the first solo and it’s simply stunning, featuring one of the greatest Les Paul/Marshall guitar tones ever heard.

But it’s just a warm up to perhaps one of the most ferocious slide solos ever committed to tape. Like a wild animal unleashed from a cage, Duane’s slashing guitar runs amok wreaking havoc for an astonishing 12 bars before retreating back into the rhythm section from where it came. It’s a short solo, but it leaves the listener breathless even five decades later.

“Blue Sky”
Eat a Peach (1972)

If there’s a lovelier song on god’s green earth, we’ve yet to hear it. Composed by Betts, this pioneering country-rock opus features a lifetime’s worth of terrific harmony playing by Dickey and Duane. “Blue Sky” was released after Duane lost his life in a horrific motorcycle accident on October 29, 1971, leading many to believe that Betts was playing both harmony parts. While that is not true, it demonstrates just how in sync both guitarists were.

When they so desired, Duane and Dickey could blend so effortlessly that it was often difficult to hear where one player began and the other ended. For that reason we’ve attached two links: one that captures an early live performance of the song with both guitarists playing together, and another that isolates Duane’s contributions to the song.

“Dreams”
The Allman Brothers Band (1969)

This early composition became a perfect skeleton to hang the band’s interpretation of Miles Davis and John Coltrane’s modal jazz explorations. With a bass line directly pinched from Davis’ “All Blues” and Jaimoe playing drum fills from the same song, Duane Allman plays a deeply moving two-part solo over a simply swinging two-chord vamp. It is the only classic Allman Brothers song to feature one instead of two guitar soloists, with Duane playing a “straight” solo, then picking up his slide to kick the song into overdrive.

“Midnight Rider”
Idlewild South (1970)

One of the Allman Brothers Band’s most beloved songs, “Midnight Rider” demonstrates that Dickey and Duane could also write wonderfully concise solos when called on to do so. More country pedal steel than blues rock, their mid-song guitar break is just as “hooky” as singer Gregg Allman’s wonderfully memorable chorus. One of the shortest and tastiest Allman Brothers Band guitar solos.

“Jessica”
Brothers and Sisters (1973)

After Duane died in 1971, it was up to Betts to pick up the pieces and carry on. LIke “Blue Sky,” this iconic Betts composition leans heavily on sunny country and folk harmonies, but injects them with a certain jazzy sense of adventure that makes “Jessica” totally unique.

Many had doubts that the Allman Brothers Band could survive the death of Duane, but with “Jessica” Betts and his band of brothers showed that there was so much more to the group than one player. Certainly one the best and most imaginative Allman Brothers guitar solos.

“Little Martha”
Eat a Peach (1972)

Duane Allman’s sole songwriting credit closes Eat a Peach on a wistful note, as it did every Allman Brothers concert of the last 20 years, piped through the P.A. Said to come to Duane in a dream and pieced together over the years, the lilting dobro duet with Betts is played in open Eb. Like so much about Duane, it leaves you wondering “what if.”

“Ramblin' Man”
Brothers and Sisters (1973)

Written by Dickey Betts in 1972, “Ramblin’ Man” was the Allman Brothers Band’s only Top Ten hit single and the last song recorded by bassist Berry Oakley, shortly before his untimely passing in November of that year. Inspired by a 1951 Hank Williams composition of the same name, the song features Betts singing lead vocal.

“Ramblin’ Man” was written and performed in the key of G, but the original recording was sped up in the mastering process, which, in addition to increasing the tempo by a few beats per minute, raised its pitch a little more than a half step, resulting in the finished track sounding slightly sharp of the key of Ab. So if you want to play along, prepare to adjust accordingly.

“Stormy Monday”
At Fillmore East (1971)

The Allman Brothers Band were essential in bringing classic blues music to a worldwide audience in the late Sixties/early Seventies, and their masterful rendition of the T-Bone Walker classic “(Call It) Stormy Monday,” from At Fillmore East, introduced the song to a new generation of listeners.

“My biggest blues guitar influences would be T-Bone, B.B. King and Albert King,” said Betts. “A big part of Albert’s signature style was his use of extremely wide bends. He would bend notes all over the place while staying on one string at one fret; he could get four or five different notes out of one single position! Albert sounds sort of like a trumpet player on licks like these. On the Fillmore versions of both ‘Stormy Monday’ and ‘Whipping Post,’ you can hear examples of Albert’s influence on my playing in terms of using wide bends such as these.”

If you're interested in a musical history lesson, check out the original versions by Walker and King. They'll show where the Allman Brothers Band got their inspirations...and just how far they took them.

"Whipping Post"
At Fillmore East (1971)

Speaking of “Whipping Post,” no list of great Allman Brothers guitar solos would be complete without it. Notable for its use of an 11/8 time signature in the introduction, it’s jazzy three chord shuffle was the ultimate launching pad for lengthy Allman-Betts guitar improvisations. Over the last 50 years “Whipping Post” has evolved into the ultimate jamming song. This is essential listening and learning.

Final Thoughts: The Allman Brothers' Best Guitar Solos

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Brad Tolinski is perhaps best known for his work as the editor-in-chief of Guitar World magazine for 25 years. He is also the author of Light and Shade: Conversations with Jimmy Page (Crown); and Play It Loud: An Epic History of the Style, Sound and Revolution of the Electric Guitar (Doubleday), which was the basis for a 2019 guitar-focused exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Most recently he edited the 50th Anniversary Commemorative Issue of CREEM magazine, and his latest book Eruption: Conversations with Eddie Van Halen (Hachette) will be coming out in October 2021.

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