"Statesboro Blues" was written and originally recorded by Blind Willie McTell, a popular blues musician who played in Georgia until his death in 1959. McTell released it as a single in 1928; in the '60s, the song found new life when several acts covered it, and in 1971 The Allman Brothers included it as the opening track on their seminal live album At Fillmore East, bringing the song to a new audience.
The Allman Brothers version is mostly a showcase for Duane Allman's slide guitar and omits many lyrics from the original. The song is about a guy in Statesboro, Georgia, who wakes up restless - he's got the "Statesboro blues." He's ready to go on the move, leaving his mean woman behind in the process.
Duane Allman learned to play bottleneck slide guitar by practicing this song over and over, driving his bandmates crazy. Before forming The Allman Brothers, he and his brother Gregg were in a band called Hour Glass, which included "Statesboro Blues" in their sets.
Duane Allman started playing this after hearing the version by an influential blues musician named Taj Mahal, who recorded it in 1968. Duane's brother Gregg gave him the Taj Mahal album as well as a bottle of medicine for his cold; the next time Gregg saw him, Duane had emptied the bottle, washed the label off, and was using it to play slide guitar.
The Allman Brothers had a geographic connection with this song: They were from Macon, Georgia, about two hours away from Statesboro.
In the original Blind Willie McTell version, he sings:
Have you got the nerve to drive Papa McTell from your door?
This line gets customized to the singer. Taj Mahal went with:
Have you got the nerve to drive poor Papa Taj from your door?
The Allman Brothers made it:
You got no nerve baby, to turn Uncle John from your door
Duane Allman died in a motorcycle crash in 1971, a few months after the At Fillmore East album was released. At his funeral on November 1, 1971, the band performed this song in tribute, with Dickey Betts playing Duane's guitar.
After Duane's death, the band kept playing the song with Betts handling the slide guitar, something he wasn't keen on doing at first because he didn't want to compete with Duane's legend.
At the end of Duane Allman's guitar solo, he hit an off-key note that his brother Gregg called the "note from hell." The song made the album warts and all, as these things happen during live performances.
Bertrand - Paris, France
A previously unreleased studio version appears on the group's 1989 5-disc box set Dreams.
In 1971 the song was recorded by an Illinois-based psychedelic-blues band called Farm
on their lone album, also named Farm
. The band had obvious talent and was nearly picked up by Canned Heat's manager, but things didn't quite work out and they ended up as one more legitimately skillful group for whom the stars simply didn't align.
They did get something of a vindication after a German label named Shadoks re-released their album
in 2013. After that, Farm developed a cult following.