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How Allman Brothers Band’s ‘Idlewild South’ Solidified Southern Rock

Released on 23 September 1970, The Allman Brothers Band’s Idlewild South is a quintessential slice of Southern Rock and remains an underrated gem.

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Allman Brothers Band Idlewild South

The Allman Brothers’ second album, Idlewild South begins with ‘Revival’, a typical song that features the twin lead guitars of Duane Allman and Dickey Betts, who also wrote it. ‘Revival’ sounds like it will be an instrumental and it’s only after a minute and a half that the vocal starts; it was originally conceived without the vocals that were only added as something of an afterthought. It’s the perfect opening for what is a much-underrated album by some.

This quintessential slice of Southern Rock was recorded, along with the rest of the album, between February and July 1970 and it came out later that same year on 23 September. Recorded at Capricorn Sound Studios in Macon, Criteria Studios, Atlantic South in Miami and Regent Sound Studios in New York City it is, along with their debut, the least well known of the band’s studio albums, but deserves to be heard more widely.

Idlewild South had its release just after Duane had largely finished recording at Criteria with Eric Clapton, Bobby Whitlock, Cark Radle and Jim Gordon on the album that would become Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs.

Named for a remote farmhouse/cabin the band rented for rehearsals, and where much of it was written and conceived, Idlewild South includes two of the band’s best-loved songs, ‘In Memory of Elizabeth Reed’ and ‘Midnight Rider’ both of which are among the Allman Brother’s most played live numbers; Elizabeth Reed being one of the highlights of the Allman Brother’s Fillmore album.

Such is the unique nature of what the Allman Brothers achieved on their recordings that few have been covered extensively – ‘Midnight Rider’ is the exception. Joe Cocker had a hit with it in 1972; Gregg Allman did another version of it in 1973 on his solo album and the single made the Billboard Top 20. In 1976 a reggae version charted in Britain sung by Paul Davidson and in 1980 the god father of Outlaw Rock, Willie Nelson made the top 10 of the Billboard Country Chart; other versions have been done by Patti Smith, Alison Krauss, Michael McDonald, Bob Seger and Hank Williams Jr.

This was the first AB album produced by the legendary Atlantic producer and engineer, Tom Dowd. During its recording the band were constantly touring and their sound was road-honed, so much so that instead of doing it as a conventional multi-track recording, the band and Dowd opted to cut most of Idlewild South live in the studio, with the band performing together. According to Dowd, “The idea is that part of the thing of the Allman Brothers is the spontaneity — the elasticity. The parts and tempos vary in a way that only they are sensitive to. Duane would often make the decision to leave a song alone for more work and testing out on the road. They would record maybe five songs. Then they might say, ‘I don’t think that song was good enough,’ or, ‘I don’t think that song was ready to record.’

Joel Dorn, best known as a jazz producer for Atlantic, cut one of the songs, ‘Please Call Home’ and although some more songs were recorded with Dorn, this was the only one to make the record. The Gregg Allman composition, ‘Don’t Keep Me Wonderin’, features Duane on slide and Thom Doucette on harmonica; the latter was an old friend of bass player Berry Oakley’s from Florida.

Dickey Betts wrote the majestic ‘In Memory of Elizabeth Reed’ about Boz Scaggs’s girlfriend, whom Dickey was also involved with. According to Betts, “She was Hispanic and somewhat dark and mysterious—and she really used it to her advantage and played it to the hilt.” Betts saw a headstone with the inscription upon it at the Rose Hill Cemetery, a place frequented by band members during their early days to relax and write songs. Betts’s guitar playing on this is sublime; it’s one of the Allman Brothers’ truly monumental songs. Their reworking of Muddy Waters’ ‘Hoochie Coochie Man’ is not so much a cover as a complete reimagining. It features Oakley’s only studio lead vocal and he and Betts had regularly performed the number in their previous band, The Second Coming.

Idlewild South came out less than a year after their debut and it sold only marginally more than its predecessor upon release, and their first album sold less than 40,000 copies. While Rolling Stone considered a big step forward from their first album and noted that it “augured well for the future” it eventually made No.38 on the Billboard charts, helped by the constant touring of the band.

Idlewild South is now available as a remastered deluxe version, which adds 12 tracks – a combination of outtakes, live and studio cuts. The additional tracks include session outtakes of ‘Statesboro Blues’ and ‘One More Ride’, an alternate take of ‘In Memory of Elizabeth Reed’, an alternative mix of ‘Midnight Rider’ and a mono single version of ‘Revival (Love Is Everywhere)’. There are also nine tracks from the 1970 Live at Ludlow Garage album, remastered for the first time since 1990, including the previously unreleased song ‘In Memory of Elizabeth Reed’ now making this concert recording complete for the first time.

Allman Brothers’ Idlewild South can be bought here.

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7 Comments

7 Comments

  1. Tim Hampton

    September 23, 2014 at 8:58 pm

    Great tribute article and a great pic. Gives me that home sick feeling. Nicely chosen out of all the good bands out there to chose and write about, the ABB, aka Greg Allman, has done a genus job re-tooling the Band year after year. Their talent and product was or will never be compromised. Some one remarked that Greg was looking very tired and old back stage this past weekend in Atlanta, UNTIL he went on stage and then he never looked better. “Sometimes we all feel like like we are tied…..”

    T. Hamtpon

  2. Bill Shoemaker

    September 23, 2014 at 11:26 pm

    Easily one of my favorite records, I had it on vinyl, eight-track, cassette and cd. I just wore it out riding around with my boys! This one and the first album was raw and spontaneous, it jumps out of the speaker at you. Revival really makes you want to clap and sing along. I believe the best vocal and harmony on Midnight Rider is on this recording. Elizabeth Reed just soars and carries you on a sonic journey. Never get tired of hearing this record! Love it!

  3. Jeff McLaughlin

    September 24, 2014 at 1:16 pm

    The beauty of this album is listening to the songs in their raw form and then listening to them live in concert. So many bands try and imitate what they captured in the studio and never just cut a song loose live. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a band take a song from the studio to the stage better than the ABB. And if you were lucky enough to go the next night, you could hear the same song presented completely different. One of a kind band and I’m fortunate that I will see this version of the band one more time at the Beacon next month!! Jeff

  4. Joe

    September 24, 2014 at 3:46 pm

    My favorite moment on this album is when Duane starts his solo on “Hoochie Coochie Man”. There’s nothing technically difficult about it, but it’s so greasy and dirty, and fits perfectly with Berry’s vocals on that song. A great album, probably just behind Eat a Peach as my favorite ABB studio album.

  5. liz

    September 25, 2014 at 1:48 am

    thank you for this!

  6. Paul

    September 25, 2014 at 11:32 am

    A magnificent disc. Have to agree with Joe that Duane’s solo in Hoochie Coochie Man is one of the most perfect ones fpund anywhere in rock music.

  7. Robert Williams

    September 25, 2014 at 4:57 pm

    I loved the Allman Brothers back in 69,Duane Allman blows me completely away! When I take a day off,bbq,have a few beers,listen to the brothers,my front yard would be full or birds,chrupping,enjoying their music,the music calms me and actually helps me think.I understood in 69 as now,that this band was/is so very special! Music was labled,country rock,well,not altogather correct,Southern rock/jazz,heavy on the blues,throw everything together,see what I mean,listen to Mountain jam! One of,if not the best, music moving along,switching up,changing beats without knowing,let a lot to name

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