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Cowboy: Please Be With Me – and please remember Duane Allman

Ian Tasker

Today is a day for remembrance, reflection and wondering what might have been, for exactly 50 years ago on October 29, 1971, the great Duane Allman was killed in a motorcycle accident in Macon, Georgia. He was 24 years old and only just beginning his journey.

I remember vividly the moment when I first heard his stunning guitar playing (exactly 50 years ago tomorrow) when the late-night Radio 1 DJ Mike Raven spun the Allman Brothers Band’s Stormy Monday by way of a tribute. It was a bittersweet moment for me: I discovered a wonderful new guitar player and then lost him, all in the eight and a half short minutes of that sublime track.

Today, barely a week goes by without listening to at least one track from the Allmans’ classic Live At Fillmore East album, indisputably one of the best live rock albums out there, to marvel once again at his absolute mastery of the electric slide guitar. Allman, of course, also illuminated Eric Clapton’s Derek And The Dominos’ Layla album and his reputation as one of the finest guitarists in the history of rock stands firm to this day.

But Allman’s legacy is also to be heard in his less heralded work as a session musician. For a brief period between 1969 and 1971 he was a regular at the Muscle Shoals Sound Studios in Alabama, featuring on records by such artists as Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, Clarence Carter, King Curtis and even our very own Lulu, who somehow found her way to Muscle Shoals to record a Southern-tinged album New Routes in 1969.

For me, though, one of the best examples of Duane Allman’s work can be heard on Cowboy’s Please Be With Me, from their second album 5’ll Getcha Ten, which was coincidentally released in the same month that Duane died.

Cowboy were a Southern rock band formed in 1969 in Jacksonville, Florida, by singer-songwriters Scott Boyer and Tommy Talton and also originally featured pianist Bill Pillmore, bassist George Clark, guitarist Pete Kowalke, and drummer Tom Wynn. They made four albums in the 1970s and Boyer and Talton, the driving force of the band, made periodic reunions together before Boyer died in February 2018. According to Talton: ‘No one could write a more beautiful ballad than Scott Boyer. I love him and I miss him more than anything that can be said.’

In an interview with in 2015 Boyer described how Please Be With Me came about: ‘I was sitting in this motel room all by myself and I grabbed a pad and pencil and started writing freeform. Whatever popped into my head. About 10 minutes later and I had like 10 verses and three choruses, but nothing rhymed and nothing made any sense.

‘It was just right out of my head and on to the paper. So I started connecting things. Put the third line from the third verse with the fourth line in the eighth verse. Not necessarily because they made sense but because they rhymed. And I put together like three verses and a chorus and I put the pad down and I rolled over and went to sleep.

‘Duane came into town the next day and said: I want to play on this record with ya’ll but I want to play something brand new. We started tossing things around. And I said: Well, I wrote this thing last night. There’s nothing much to it. And I played the song for Duane and [producer] Johnny Sandlin was also in the room and when I finished it they both went: Wow, you wrote that last night, man? That’s beautiful.’

The song has become Cowboy’s best-known and much-loved song. It is a beautifully sung, poignant and haunting love song, embellished by an unforgettable acoustic Dobro part by Allman.

‘I loved what Duane played on it,’ said Boyer. ‘That Dobro he played on it just comes to life when that thing comes on, man.’ It sure does.

Upon my word what does it mean?

Is it love or is it me

That makes me change so suddenly

From looking out to feeling free?

I sit here lying in my bed

Wondering what it was I said

That made me think I lost my head

When I knew I lost my heart instead

So won’t you please read my signs?

Be a gypsy

Tell me what I hope to find deep within me

And because you can find my mind

Please be with me

And of all the better things I’ve heard

Loving you has made the words

And all the rest seem so absurd

’Cause in the end it all comes out I’m sure

So won’t you please read my signs?

Be a gypsy

Tell me what I hope to find deep within me

And because you can find my mind

Please be with me

Duane’s performance is so exquisite it’s almost as if he is pulling on heart strings rather than the steel-strung ones of his Dobro. Quite simply it’s superb.

The song had a profound effect on Allman Brothers Band drummer Butch Trucks. In an interview with Alan Paul for his book One Way Out, Trucks said: ‘A few weeks after Duane died, when I still hadn’t really let loose or accepted it, I put on Please Be With Me and the dam burst and I started crying and crying, just racked with grief. I was sitting there listening to the song over and over and crying. To this day I can’t hear it without getting choked up.’

A few years later Eric Clapton covered Please Be With Me on his 1974 album 461 Ocean Boulevard. That he plays Duane’s part almost note for note says it all.

RIP Duane Allman: November 20, 1946-October 29, 1971


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