Gregg Allman, “Midnight Rider”

Written by November 5th, 2012 at 6:00 am

Gregg Allman’s “Midnight Rider,” first recorded by the Allman Brothers Band on their second album, Idlewild South, in 1970, is the story of a man on the run – presumably from the law and on a horse – that has been recorded by numerous other artists. In three short verses, the song sums up what it must be like to be the outlaw who lives life a day at a time, moving from place to place, woman to woman, in a journey that never ends.

With “Midnight Rider,” Allman threw some paint on a canvas and handed brushes to the listeners, inviting them to use their own colors, their own imaginations, to complete the picture. Who is this “Midnight Rider?” What/who is he running from? Does he ever get caught, or does he elude his trackers to live to a ripe old age? Where some songs might be considered incomplete if these details were missing, “Midnight Rider” is a well-written classic about a faceless character that invites the listener in to make his or her own conclusions.

Many of the performers who influenced Allman’s artistic growth were straight blues writers whose songs almost exclusively used I-IV-V progressions. But unlike the material of those artists, Allman’s own writing has seldom revolved around such progressions, and “Midnight Rider” is an example of that. With the signature lick on the open A and D strings that is a cousin to licks used by Neil Young, Journey and others, “Midnight Rider,” in the key of D, utilizes a IVmi7 chord (G mi7) and a VII chord (C) for its chorus, and the solo is played over a VII chord and a VIb chord (Bb). The original guitar tunings by Duane Allman and Dickey Betts were probably standard, but some artists, including Gregg Allman himself, have been known to drop one or both E strings to D.

Another notable thing about “Midnight Rider” is that the song is so open to stylistic interpretation. Some performers (e.g., Alison Krauss and Union Station) have taken major liberties with the key, changes and tempo without losing the flavor or intent of the piece. It has been cut by bluegrassers like Krauss and Eddie Adcock, “Godmother of Punk” Patti Smith, and Canadian rockers Theory of a Deadman, and has been recorded at least three different times by Willie Nelson. Bon Jovi has performed an abbreviated version of the song as a segue into their own “Wanted Dead or Alive,” continuing the theme of a man on the run, but on a motorcycle.

“Midnight Rider” is a great song, a prime example of what can be said with only a few words, a song for all times and generations whose titular character is “bound to keep on ridin’.” You’ll be able to read more about “Midnight Rider” and other compositions by Gregg Allman in the Jan/Feb Legends Issue of American Songwriter.

Midnight Rider”

Well, I’ve got to run to keep from hidin’
And I’m bound to keep on ridin’
And I’ve got one more silver dollar

But I’m not gonna let ‘em catch me, no
Not gonna let ‘em catch the midnight rider

I don’t own the clothes I’m wearing
And the road goes on forever
And I’ve got one more silver dollar

But I’m not gonna let ‘em catch me, no
Not gonna let ‘em catch the midnight rider

I’ve gone by the point of caring
Some old bed I’ll soon be sharing
And I’ve got one more silver dollar

But I’m not gonna let ‘em catch me, no
Not gonna let ‘em catch the midnight rider

No, I’m not gonna let ‘em catch me, no
Not gonna let ‘em catch the midnight rider

No, I’m not gonna let ‘em catch me, no
Not gonna let ‘em catch the midnight rider

No, I’m not gonna let ‘em catch me, no
Not gonna let ‘em catch the midnight rider

- Written by Gregg Allman

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