…Little Martha

As my sources are admittedly im-peach-able, I’ll only report what I solemnly surmise.  It’s an undisputed fact that the legendary Southern Rock/Blues Allman Brothers Band was the final act at Fillmore East (as in New York’s East Village) before that one-time Second Avenue Yiddish Theater, with the incredible acoustics, closed for good in June 1971.

It’s also a fact that the band’s breakthrough album “At Fillmore East” (recorded that spring) was released just a few weeks later and would become certified gold within months, when the Allman Brothers were well-along in producing their definitive follow-up album.

And it’s an incredibly sorrowful fact that slide-guitar-extraordinaire (and big brother to Gregg) Duane Allman was on his way to becoming one of the greatest guitarists of all time when he was thrown from his motorcycle on a sloping road near his Macon, Georgia home.

By all accounts Allman was prone to breaking the speed limits and when he crested the hill he was confronted with a flatbed lumber truck (it’s an urban legend that it was a peach truck) stopping to make a turn directly in front of him. But as he swerved to go around, his motorcycle hit a sharp dip in the road causing him to lose control and…after the bike landed on him he never regained consciousness.  He was 24.

Although the band had decided to carry on and finish the album, no one was happy with the proposed title, “The Kind We Grow in Dixie”.  Then someone noticed the peach on the already-completed artwork for the album cover and remembered something Duane had said in an interview shortly before his death.  “There ain’t no revolution. It’s evolution, but every time I’m in Georgia I eat a peach for peace.”

Released in early 1972, one writer (Greil Marcus) described, “Eat a Peach” as an “after the-the-rain celebration…ageless, seamless…front-porch music stolen from the utopia of shared southern memory.”  Partially recorded live/partially studio-recorded, the album was big on innovation and featured a number of acoustic melodies, including today’s selection, which was recorded by Allman a few weeks before the accident and is considered by acoustic virtuoso (and one of our favorites) Leo Kottke, to be “the most perfect guitar song ever written.”

Evidently influenced by Jimi Hendrix, whom he had met in New York, and the only track on the album that he had solely written, Duane Allman claimed to have intended it as an ode to his girlfriend, Dixie Meadows.  However, the namesake for “Little Martha” was twelve year old, Martha Ellis (1824-1836), whose distinctive memorial he encountered during his regular visits to Macon’s Rose Hill Cemetery.

Before the song’s 1972 release Allman himself would be buried at Rose Hill, as would bandmate Berry Oakley, who also perished on a motorcycle at the age of 24, later that year.


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