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Allman Brothers Band: In memory of Duane and Whipping Post

Updated: Jan 6, 2021

Ian Tasker

Exactly 49 years ago today, on 29 October 1971, a long-haired motorcyclist was making his way through the Georgia town of Macon when he was forced to swerve to avoid a truck that had unexpectedly started to make a turn in front of him. Clipping the back of the vehicle, he lost control and was thrown from his machine. A few hours later he died of his injuries in hospital.

Duane Allman’s life was cut cruelly short at just 24. His Allman Brothers Band were on the verge of hitting the big time after having just released At The Fillmore East, widely regarded now as one of the greatest live rock albums ever made.

Regularly voted in the top 10 of the world’s finest guitarists, Allman is a ghostly presence in the firmament of rock music. Until the advent of YouTube in 2005 there was no commercially available footage of him and to many he was as elusive and mysterious as some of the old blues legends of the 1930s.

I had been a fan of the band since the day after Duane died – I heard Stormy Monday played as a late-night tribute on Mike Raven’s Radio 1 show – but for over 30 years I had never actually seen him. Then one day I found a clip on YouTube and the thrill of finally being able to watch him and the band play was indescribable.

The video featured a show at the Fillmore East and started off with Don’t Keep Me Wondering. I was totally mesmerised, waiting for Duane’s solo and the chance to examine his unique slide technique, which to my ears sounds heavily influenced by the vamping sound of a blues harmonica.

Sadly the director didn’t share my enthusiasm, for as soon as Duane launched into his pyrotechnics the camera zoomed in on fellow guitarist Dickey Betts playing rhythm. This visual frustration has continued with the few videos that have subsequently emerged of Duane Allman in action – rarely is there any extended close-up.

There are, thankfully, plenty of audio recordings to enjoy but none can match the brilliance of At The Fillmore East, which should feature in every rock fan’s collection.

Now a new album has been released, taken from a recently rediscovered cassette recording of Duane Allman’s final live performance less than two weeks before his untimely death. The Final Note (Live at Painters Mill Music Fair – 10-17-71) was recorded by a young journalist, Sam Idas, who brought along his hand-held cassette player, ostensibly to record a post-gig interview with the band.

‘My only intention was to record the interview,’ he said. ‘This was a brand new cassette recorder with an internal microphone, and I had one 60-minute cassette tape. I was sitting there with the recorder in my lap, and I remember thinking: Why don’t I try this out? I can record the concert! It was a totally spontaneous decision.’

The result – very much of bootleg quality – nevertheless captures the band in top form, echoing their performances at the Fillmore. It ends with a rip-roaring 13-minute version of Whipping Post and it is poignant to reflect, as the final note fades away, that Duane Allman would never play again.

Whipping Post was a live favourite throughout the Allman Brothers’ career (they finally disbanded in 2014) as a vehicle for lengthy, jazzy improvisation. A love song but hardly romantic, its theme is more one of conflict and abuse. It kicks off with a hypnotic Berry Oakley bass riff in an unusual 11/4 time signature before Gregg Allman’s vocals enter the fray…

I’ve been run down and I’ve been lied to

And I don’t know why, I let that mean woman make me out a fool

She took all my money, wrecked my new car

Now she’s with one of my good-time buddies

Drinking in some cross-town bar

Sometimes I feel, sometimes I feel

Like I been tied to the whippin’ post

Tied to the whippin’ post, tied to the whippin’ post

Good Lord, I feel like I’m dyin’

My friends tell me, that I’ve been such a fool

But I had to stand by and take it baby, all for lovin’ you

Drown myself in sorrow as I look at what you’ve done

But nothing seemed to change, the bad times stayed the same

And I can’t run

Sometimes I feel, sometimes I feel

Like I been tied to the whippin’ post

Tied to the whippin’ post, tied to the whippin’ post

Good Lord, I feel like I’m dyin’

Gregg Allman, who died in 2017, described – in his fascinating 2012 autobiography My Cross To Bear – how he wrote the song while staying in a friend’s house near Jacksonville in Florida: ‘I was staying up in the very top of the house, in this sitting room with a real nice couch in it. So that first night, I laid me down to go to sleep on my attic couch, and I dozed off for a while. All of a sudden I woke up, because a song had me by the ass.

‘The intro had three sets of three, and two little steps that allowed you to jump back up on the next triad. I thought it was different, and I love different things. It hit me like a ton of bricks.

‘I started feeling around for a light switch, but I couldn’t find one anywhere. I found my way into the kitchen and it was pitch dark. I had my hands out and I touched an ironing board. I was feeling all around the counters for a piece of paper. I couldn’t find any paper or a pencil anywhere, but I did find a box of kitchen matches.

‘A car happened to go by, and its lights flashed long enough to allow me to see that red, white, and blue box. I knew I could use the matches to write with, because I had diddled around enough with art to know that charcoal would work. I figured the ironing board cover would work as a pad, so I’d strike a match, blow it out, use the charcoal tip to write with, and then strike another one. I charted out the three triads and the two little steps, and then I went to work on the lyrics.'

Not everyone was happy though. The next morning Gregg’s host was furious at the state of her ironing board.


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