Fans of country music and Southern rock can create an entire playlist of country singers just covering the Allman Brothers Band’s “Midnight Rider.” The road anthem – written by Gregg Allman, who died Saturday at 69 – has been recorded or performed by everyone from Willie and Waylon to the Zac Brown Band, with Allman himself sitting in. But much of Allman’s catalog has been ripe for country interpretations, with a slew of Nashville stars putting their spin on the Southern rock pioneer’s songs at a 2014 tribute in Atlanta. Here’s 10 of the best country Gregg Allman covers.
If anyone in modern-day country music carries on the spirit of Gregg Allman’s soulful, hair-raising vocal delivery, it’s Chris Stapleton. And Stapleton’s voice may be even bigger and gutsier than the man who made the template for heart-on-sleeve Southern rockers. So when he performed “Whipping Post” — a 20-minute-plus live showcase for Allman’s singing at the Allman Brothers Band’s height — at Skyville Live‘s tribute to Allman in 2015, it was predictably spine-tingling. Stapleton didn’t try to country up Allman’s signature song, instead digging into its bluesy core — and Allman approved, giving him a standing ovation.
Waylon Jennings was no stranger to rock & roll covers. 1976’s Are You Ready for the Country, the follow-up to his and country’s first platinum album, Wanted! The Outlaws, was even named for the Neil Young cover that kicked it off. Two years before that, Jennings took on one of Gregg Allman’s most famous compositions, “Midnight Rider,” on The Ramblin’ Man, an album that hearkened back to another Allman Brothers Band great. “Midnight Rider” was classic Jennings, funkier and more swaggering than the original, his voice booming with a catch-me-if-you-can confidence that had “outlaw” written all over it.
Country music’s most versatile voice made “Multi-Colored Lady” another highlight of the 2014 All My Friends tribute. Off Allman’s 1973 solo LP Laid Back, the original is a whisper of piano-driven soft rock that showed the gentler side he often displayed as a solo artist, free from the Southern-rock jams of the Allmans. Gill combines them here: offering both pristine vocals and a scintillating guitar solo that brings “Lady” to a fever pitch.
Backed by a groovy horn section, Eric Church delivered a raucous version of “Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More” at All My Friends. Church’s signature nasal Southern drawl contributes country swagger to the tune, taken from the 1972 Allman Brothers Band’s classic Eat A Peach. One of the faces of modern country, Church can barely contain himself on stage, moving rambunctiously around his microphone. And if the big band behind Church wasn’t enough, one-time Allman Brothers guitar-slinger Jack Pearson gilds the performance with an outrageously deft touch on slide.
Over the years, Lucinda Williams’ voice has developed into a gravely, finely-tuned slur, and it’s not too hard to hear Allman’s influence in the Louisiana native’s strangled phrasing. Her take on “It’s Not My Cross to Bear,” an underappreciated rocker from the Allman Brothers Band’s self-titled debut LP, is the perfect showcase for Williams to channel her tortured Southern soul. With guitar work that evokes Led Zeppelin’s “Since I’ve Been Loving You,” Williams’ boozy and bluesy “It’s Not My Cross to Bear” has turned into an extended jam that’s long been a staple of her live shows.
Gregg Allman was responsible for much of the songwriting for the Allman Brothers, especially in the years before Dickey Betts took a more active role, but they relied on an array of blues covers as well. Like “Done Somebody Wrong,” Elmore James authored “One Way Out,” but the Allmans popularized it to wider audiences on Eat a Peach (though it was recorded during the same shows that formed At Fillmore East). Blackberry Smoke’s version is a straight tribute to the Allmans’ arrangement, with their three-guitar assault taking Betts and Duane Allman’s telepathic interplay to even gnarlier levels.
Bocephus gave Allman’s “Come and Go Blues” a slightly down-tempo reading for his 1979 Whiskey Bent and Hell Bound album. But the results were utterly transfixing. Williams liked Allman’s melancholy but rump-shaking composition of blues fusion – originally released on the Allman Brothers Band’s Brothers and Sisters in 1973 – but favored a bit of swampy acoustic funk in his version, over Allman’s piano intro. Williams methodically makes his way through the arrangement, letting a country yodel out periodically to heighten the tune’s more poignant moments. It’s a solemn approach that stands apart from the juke-joint original.
Hailing from nearby Macon, Georgia, the Allman Brothers Band are an inevitable cornerstone in the music of Zac Brown Band. The Atlanta natives were lucky enough to share the stage with Gregg Allman on several occasions, including a cover of “Whipping Post” with Vince Gill, but if any song were tailor-made for Brown it’s “Melissa.” Allman and ZBB teamed up to perform the ballad at the Nashville installment of Brown’s Southern Ground Music and Food Festival in 2012, where the understudies didn’t so much make it their own, as inhabit its gentle beauty in harmony with their hero. Even guest John Mayer’s guitar solo was tasteful and reverent.
When it came to the music of the Allman Brothers Band, it was enough to make even a good country boy go rock & roll. And many a country star still channels their inner Gregg and Duane onstage, more than four decades since some of the Brothers’ songs were written. Among the most covered: “Whipping Post,” which Ryan Bingham does here, bringing the appropriate amount of grit to a mostly faithful rendition. But while Bingham’s version builds into the guitar cataclysm that it was designed to be, he also adds a nice twangy touch with a fiddle solo that ups the intensity.
Country chanteuse Martina McBride and Train frontman Pat Monahan covering Gregg Allman may not make sense on paper, but the two blended their voices perfectly on “Can You Fool” at the 2014 all-star salute to Allman in Atlanta. Originally released with then-wife Cher in 1977 on the singers’ joint Two the Hard Way album – under the moniker “Allman and Woman” – the ballad and the album itself waxed poppier than much of Allman’s traditional work. Here, Monahan and McBride bring the song back to earth, presenting a soulful take that is more robust and dynamic than the original.