I'm on a mission from God!
I did a guest stint on Mark Saleski's Friday Morning Listen column and dedicated it to some of my favorite Les Paul-playing guitarists in honor of the passing of the great innovator. In the course of making that list, I surprised myself and included Allman Brothers Band guitarist Dickey Betts. If you asked me to list my top five guitarists of all time, regardless of their choice of gear, Betts would never make that list but for some reason it just felt right to include him. My justification? “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed.”
Not only did Betts write the tune that has become one of the band's signature songs, he owned that song night after night after night when the band played it. I have six versions of “Elizabeth Reed” on my iPod and I'm listening to every single one of them in succession.
We begin with the rarely heard studio version from the band's second album, Idlewild South. While Betts' lead remains the dominant sound of the song, Gregg Allman's organ and the percussion of Jaimoe and Butch Trucks are also crucial elements. Duane Allman's slide work is largely relegated to the background.
Next up is the version from Live At The Fillmore East, still perhaps the greatest live album ever released (in any of its 13 different released packages). On this one, we get a beautiful, evocative slide intro from Duane that gives the song an otherworldly ambiance. He and Betts play in unison and harmony establishing and expanding the song's basic melodic structure, and then it's all Betts.
From there, I have the two versions from the Atlanta Pop Festival. The band played two sets in Atlanta and played “Elizabeth Reed” both times. Duane's intro doesn't have the same beauty as at Fillmore and they get down to business a little quicker. Betts doesn't disappoint. Some will prefer the more searing, intense Fillmore take to the flashier night one in Atlanta, but all are strong. There is a strong similarity between the two Atlanta takes (the second night being played a little more slowly) but the fun is in the subtle differences between the live and studio versions and between the different live versions. They give the songs variance without it sounding like an effort. Music and ideas flow freely.
The longest version I have comes from the band's show at SUNY in New York, clocking in at nearly 20 minutes. The sound on this official bootleg isn't as crisp as on Fillmore or Atlanta Pop,but it merits a listen. The execution isn't as flawless on this night, but this is from the last few weeks in the life of the original lineup of the band. The playing is still great and provides further historical evidence of what a powerhouse that lineup was.
For many fans, the Allman Brothers Band died with Duane Allman and purists have never given much credit to the versions of the band that soldiered on. While Duane was irreplaceable, it's a mistake to ignore all of what came next. It wasn't as consistently great, but the band moved forward with some incredible new players. In 1995, they released An Evening With The Allman Brothers Band, Second Set, performing “Elizabeth Reed” unplugged. It's by no means the definitive version of the song but the acoustic rendition gives this old warhorse of a song brand new vitality and is quite fantastic.
One song six times, and I'm ready to start it all over again.