Thursday, November 20, 2014

DB's Song of the Day (day 324): "WHIPPING POST" (1969) The Allman Brothers Band

Let us now praise Duane Allman. Born this date in 1946, Allman died in a motorcycle accident on October 29, 1971, less than a month shy of 25. And a great loss it was to blues-based rock. The band he founded continued—with his brother Gregg continuing to be its vocalist and primary songwriter, and Dickey Betts, the second guitarist becoming the main guitarist—but the legacy of Duane remains. On their first two albums—The Allman Brothers Band (1969), Idlewild South (1970)—and the impressive live set that put them on the map, At Fillmore East (1971), Duane showed how it was done. And he’s responsible for the memorable slide guitar work on Derek and the Dominoes’ Layla (1970). All of which indicates that Duane was riding a peak but would likely have continued to add some major work before guitar-hero rock went on the wane by the end of the decade. As it is, he was alive and playing while it was still on the rise, having to prove itself “relevant” to the themes of the time.

In general, the South was a bit suspect, if you know what I mean, in the Civil Rights era. Add to that the fact that, as with jazz, all that jamming and, in the blues, basic kvetching about “my baby done gone” seemed rather old hat as the Sixties ended and the Seventies began. It’s been said that “Red House,” one of Hendrix’s great blues songs, was left off his debut album in the U.S. because blues was perceived as retrograde—in 1967—when the appeal was all to the Mod legions. What’s more, in the Allman Band’s case, it could be said that all the truly great blues guitarists were black, so who needs a hairy, white, Suthrun band trying to come along and eclipse all that or attempt to claim common cause?

Today’s song—one of the AB Band’s best and signature songs—is a case in point. Who gets “tied to the whipping post” in real life? Why, slaves of course. And while it might be OK to take that and make it a metaphor—I’m enslaved by my love for you, pretty baby, and there ain’t nuthin’ I kin do—it still, as a white claim, might rankle a bit. At least it would now in our highly aware, overly reactionary era where a kind of vacuous liberal buzz seems to infiltrate everything—except of course the rabid Conservatives gargling venom. Anyway, not meaning to get too far off topic, but, still. You may have to put your political correctness on hold to get at this song, or to let it get at you.

And maybe it’s just enough to say that the singer ain’t saying he ever been tied to the whipping post, he’s jest saying that that’s what it feels like. Chances are, he’s seen somebody whipped at the post and I reckon he can extrapolate from that. And we can extrapolate, given that Duane’s guitar sounds like fiery lacerations of the flesh, that it’s a definite agony to be wanting what you ain’t gonna be getting.

The words, right enough, are kinda comical, as we hear how the heavens have conspired to make this guy miserable: that mean woman is making him out a fool, “she took all my money / Wrecked my new car / And now she’s with one of my goodtime buddies / And their drinking in some crosstown bar.” Evil tidings come in threes, y’know?  And it’s all because of that Devil Woman.

Now, we might think she’s probably really a sweetheart and this is all just some kind of aggravated male, testosterone-fueled rage that’s heaping all this abuse on her. He probably spent that money of his own free will and a gal can’t help it if she got in an accident—what did he give her the keys for anyway if he didn’t trust her?—and then that allegation about the guy in the bar, well, seems our speaker has been listening to tattle-tale gossip and surely that should be beneath him. So, in other words, if he feels like he’s being whipped at a post, it’s his own damn fault!

Well, anyway, I’m just having my fun with Gregg here (though his vocal, at all of 22, is classic and sounds remarkably seasoned). But for Duane I can’t say enough. And I know there are those who get all misty eyed when contemplating the twenty-two minute version of this song that graces an entire side of At Fillmore East, but . . . to me, that version, though the guitar jam is nicely extended and lyrical, completely loses the compressed fire of the five minute version on the original LP. When I hear this song, I never want it to get out of its loping 11/4 time, and want it to feel like the wrath of God is either coming down on this dude or boiling up from within. Either way, when it hits that final chorus and the guitars are chiming to make your hair stand on end and your heart pound, well, that’s what it’s all about.

Good Lord, I feel like I’m dyin’

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