When the Allman Brothers Band broke into the Billboard Hot 100 of August 12, 1972, they introduced us to an old friend. Her name was “Melissa,” a song that was already finding a huge audience as part of their Eat A Peach album of that year. Often referred to incorrectly as “Sweet Melissa,” it was a new version of an important composition from the pre-ABB days of Duane and Gregg Allman.
Gregg’s attractively melodic piece was first recorded in 1968 when the brothers were part of the Jackson, Florida band the 31st Of February. That rendition, which also featured future Allmans drummer Butch Trucks, wasn’t released until it appeared on the album Duane & Gregg Allman in 1972. It’s the first recording to feature Duane’s hugely evocative slide guitar playing.
When you compare that reading of “Melissa” to the one on Eat A Peach, produced by the great Tom Dowd, you can hear that the song underwent some subtle retooling, including a slight key change and the addition of acoustic guitar. But it was, of course, poignant for tragic reasons.
Following Duane’s death in 1971, Gregg played “Melissa” at his funeral. Then, after manager Phil Walden bought back the rights to a song that Gregg had sold after writing it, the ABB recorded it for the new album in Duane’s honor, with Dickey Betts taking the mellifluous lead.
“Melissa” was the third Allman Brothers Band single to enter the US chart, after “Revival (Love Is Everywhere)” and “Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More.” Like those releases, which peaked at Nos.92 and 77 respectively, it wasn’t a major chart item. After debuting at No.90, it spent only one more week on the survey, at No.86.
But it’s a song that’s loved by devotees of the Allmans for its elegance, its part in the evolution of the band’s sound and its personal significance to Duane and Gregg. The track’s latter-day inclusion in a cellphone commercial and in the 2005 movie Brokeback Mountain have helped to keep “Melissa“ in our minds.
Buy or stream “Melissa” on Eat A Peach.