Florida and Georgia-based ’70s band The Allman Brothers sparked a southern music revolution. Though they spent time in Jacksonville, Florida, early on, their heyday coincided with their time spent living in Macon, Georgia. Not only did they help revitalize the small town’s music scene, but they became superstars with their historic rock-blues album Eat A Peach, and with hits like ‘Ramblin’ Man’ and enduring tracks like ‘Whipping Post.’
Hippies at heart, their range was wide, from blues-rock fusion all the way to heartwarming acoustic instrumentals. Founded by brothers Duane and Greg, Duane held down lead guitar work alongside Dickey Betts. The duo’s work in tandem created a unique sound, widening the scope of what a traditional band setup could be capable of.
Just as the band was reaching national fame, Duane tragically died from a motorcycle crash in 1971. Other deaths and exits from the band forced several changeups, but through it all, core members continued to produce music. Check out the stories behind the best Allman Brothers Band songs below.
10. Trouble No More
The blues genre was the Allman Brother’s biggest influence. While still in high school, brothers Greg and Duane became obsessed with some of blues’ biggest names, including Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters. ‘Trouble No More’ was a big song for Waters in the ’50s, and the Allman Brothers covered it in the early ’70s. Despite the song’s massive success in the early days of rock and roll, it actually dates all the way back to 1935, when musician Sleepy John Estes recorded it at the height of the Great Depression. His original version is called ‘Some Baby Blues,’ and Muddy’s variation is a solid take on Estes’ song. For the Allman Brothers, it became a core part of their set list in the ’70s, with music critics impressed by their ability to seamlessly combine both blues and rock stylings, and create a sound all their own. The repeated, rhythmic electric guitar riff really drives this tune well.
Recommended: Acquaint yourself with the best songs of Muddy Waters.
Written by guitarist and songwriter Warren Haynes in honor of the nickname his father gave him, ‘Soulshine’ was included on the Allman Brothers’ ’94 album Where It All Begins. Haynes has long been connected to the Allman Brothers. Early on in his career, he played alongside fellow guitarist Dickey Betts in one of his bands before joining up with Greg and the rest of the gang. In the late ’80s, he hopped on board the lineup for the band’s tour, and their chemistry was so strong he never stopped playing with them. ‘Soulshine’ was never released as a single, but the easygoing track was destined for popularity anyway due to its memorable chorus (“Soulshine. It’s better than sunshine. It’s better than moonshine. Damn sure better than rain.”), and classic blues-rock electric guitar work. Even though the tune was first released by Larry McCray, the Allman Brothers once again proved the song was theirs all along with their inspired rendition.
8. Whipping Post
A blistering, haunting track about love-gone-wrong and a heartbroken man who literally feels like he’s “tied to a whipping post,” band songwriter Greg Allman wrote this signature tune in the middle of the night. Fumbling around in the dark and unable to find a pencil, he appropriately used burnt matches in a pinch to scribble down the lyrics. The interesting, shuffling beat adds to the muddy, worn-down character of the track. But Greg had no idea he had written a song that was partly in 11/4 time (most popular tunes are written in 4/4 or 3/4 time). His brother Duane had to let him know about his penchant for writing in off-times. While Lynyrd Skynyrd’s ‘Freebird’ has become a thorn in every cover band’s side due to constant, half-joking barroom requests, many touring acts of the ’70s had to deal with ‘Whipping Post’ being called out by their fans as a request from the crowd. Frank Zappa, one of music’s biggest visionaries, even had to deal with this. He eventually recorded a cover of the track and incorporated the song into his own live shows. Like the saying goes, give the people what they want.
Recommended: For more heartbreak songs, see our list of songs about infidelity and betrayal.
7. Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More
“Time goes by like hurricanes, and faster things.” This inspiring tune opens up the Eat A Peach record. It was one of the last tunes to make it on the album. Greg penned it while coming to terms with his brother and fellow bandmate Duane’s death. I think ‘Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More’ is quintessential Allman Brothers. Greg’s bluesy voice commands most of the track, with a groovy piano riff keeping the motion of the song in focus. Betts’ guitar playing is as tight as ever. His improvised riffs while practicing actually inspired the lyrical melody. During the last bit of recording for Eat A Peach, Greg understandably grappled with Duane’s passing. Luckily his bandmates rallied around him, providing much-needed support. This dynamic colored about half of the album, which takes on a particularly magical, uplifting tone.
Not many instrumental songs manage to climb mainstream Billboard charts, but the band’s guitar-based ‘Jessica,’ written by member Dickey Betts, managed to do that after its release in ’72. Great guitarists like Betts understand their instrument can sing just as good as any vocalist, and that’s what his 6-string does, thanks to his innovative skill. The tune began as a tribute to gypsy jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt, who had to play guitar using only his index finger and middle finger after losing two in a fire at only 18 years old. While Betts was coming up with two-finger riffs, his young daughter crawled into the room, and he began playing for her. The song’s jovial quality, a change for the normally bluesy band, represented his 1-year-old’s happiness, and the song is named after her. One listen to this popular Allman Brothers classic, and the melody will be stuck in your head for the rest of the day. Of course, anyone familiar with the British TV show Top Gear will immediately recognize it.
5. Little Martha
It appears the band had a tendency to name songs after the ladies in their lives. Not only did they release ‘Jessica’ and ‘Melissa’ (To be fair, Greg came up with this title after meeting a little girl named Melissa during a grocery story trip), but they also included ‘Little Martha’ on their popular Eat A Peach album. This song is another all-instrumental track they added to their repertoire. While Betts held down guitar work for ‘Jessica,’ Duane was the sole writer for ‘Little Martha,’ which he wrote for a woman he was seeing at the time. It’s atmospheric, flowing feel was accomplished by acoustic guitar work. Duane felt acoustic was more fitting for the tune, which he once said came to him while he was dreaming about guitar legend Jimi Hendrix. Supposedly, Hendrix showed him how to play the song’s melody in the dream, and Duane woke up immediately able to play the song himself. This just goes to show you an artist is never truly off the clock 😉
Sometimes called “Sweet Melissa” due to the memorable, melodic hook at the end of the chorus, this song was the first one Greg Allman wrote that he felt the band could play themselves. In the ’60s, he’d become so tired of playing other people’s music, he decided to experiment with his own. ‘Melissa’ became his brother Duane’s favorite song. Before ever recording it, Greg would often play it for him while they were hanging out at a band house they all shared together. The smooth, rolling track feels wide open, just like its lyrics which represent the vagabond lifestyle the Allman Brothers often led due to constant touring. Though this wasn’t one of their major hits, fans were immediately drawn to the track and even today it remains one of the band’s trademark releases. When Duane tragically died not long after the band reached commercial success, Greg played this tune at his funeral.
3. Blue Sky
Though one of Greg’s official band roles was that of the main songwriter, guitarist Dickey Betts penned a few tracks as well. Not only did he write ‘Jessica’ for his daughter, but he also wrote ‘Blue Sky’ for his wife Sandy shortly after they married in the early ’70s. Though they would later divorce, at the time, his newfound role as “family man” proved to be quite inspirational for the musician. Appearing on their iconic album Eat A Peach, both he and Duane traded off solo parts for the track. Shortly before the album was released, Duane passed away due to injuries from a crash. Released posthumously, the album would become the last Allman Brothers project Duane would play on, and they dedicated it to him in honor of his legacy.
2. Ramblin’ Man
The Allman Brother’s album Brothers and Sisters marked a new chapter for the band. Guitarist Dickey Betts played a crucial part in the songwriting and production. With their founding member Duane Allman now gone, the band chose to continue making music. But without their leader the pressure was on. Drawing on the title of a Hank Williams track, ‘Ramblin’ Man,’ Betts wrote his own version, a fun story about a travelin’ man who loves to stay on the open road. One of his friends actually inspired the tune’s memorable line, “Just trying to make a living and doing the best I can,” when chatting with Betts one day. He held onto the lyric for a few years before completing the song. ‘Ramblin’ Man’ would go on to be their biggest hit yet after its release, and one that is synonymous with the Allman Brothers name.
Recommended: Check out our appreciation of southern rock (where you’ll find this song).
1. Midnight Rider
Our number 1 pick is an Allman Brothers song that is so popular it is embedded in the very fabric of American culture. ‘Midnight Rider’ wasn’t originally supposed to be a big hit, but fans had other plans. Greg first released the tune with the band, but never thought about it being a single. Grassroots support for the song spread quickly when listeners identified with its empowering message of continuing one’s journey in the face of mounting obstacles. Concertgoers requested it so much the band added it to their set lists, and eventually the song charted all the way into the Billboard top 20. From the gutsy acoustic opening guitar riff to the lofty vocal harmonies throughout the verses, even if you listen to this catchy rock hit indoors you can feel the wind in your hair and sun on your face as if you’re riding down a rural two-lane highway. Allman Brothers music has that unexplainable, magical way about it. Greg went on to release a new version when he went solo, and it climbed into the top 20 on the charts as well. The band created a mix of beloved, captivating songs while together, but none has as much staying power as ‘Midnight Rider.’
Recommended: Check out our list of famous rock songs (which includes this one, of course.)