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The hilarious encounter that inspired The Allman Brothers classic 'Melissa'

The Allman Brothers band are one of the most revered of all time. Featuring brothers Duane and Gregg, the pair pioneered southern rock and gave us many iconic moments. Tragically though, Duane, who has long been hailed as one of the best guitarists of all time, died in a motorcycle accident in October 1971, but luckily for us, the band would carry on rocking in his name. 

One of the band’s best-loved songs is ‘Melissa’ from their February 1972 album Eat a Peach. One of the finest southern rock songs in existence, the song transports you to the beaches of the band’s native Florida, whisking you away from the mundanity of everyday life. 

During a 2013 interview with American Songwriter, Allman recalled writing the song: “I wrote that song in 1967 in a place called the Evergreen Hotel in Pensacola, Florida. By that time, I got so sick of playing other people’s material that I just sat down and said, ‘Okay, here we go. One, two, three – we’re going to try to write songs.’ And about 200 songs later, much garbage to take out, I wrote this song called ‘Melissa.'”

Ostensibly a love song, at first Duane was not keen on the song, saying, “It’s pretty good—for a love song. It ain’t rock and roll that makes me move my ass.” However, Duane would grow to love it, and Gregg would play it at his funeral. Come Duane’s death, it was “my brother’s favourite song that I ever wrote.”

The brothers recorded a demo of the track on February 31st 1968, alongside future Allman Brothers Band drummer, Butch Trucks. This early version is said to feature the debut of Duane Allman’s signature slide guitar, and it features on May 1972’s Duane & Greg Allman.

The two songs that inspired Duane Allman’s slide guitar

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However, the hit version of ‘Melissa’ that’s on Eat a Peach, was recorded six weeks after Duane’s death, with the classic slide guitar line written by the band’s other guitarist, Dickey Betts. It’s a real shame that Duane never played on the popular version of the track, but you’d be forgiven for thinking Betts’ work is his; that’s how similar it is. 

Furthermore, it turns out that the band’s ultimate love song originated in the most hilarious of ways, a significant departure from the unrequited love that Gregg sings of. During an interview with Howard Stern in 2012, Gregg explained how the idea for the song came to him. 

He said: “That’s the first song I ever wrote. I wrote that one when I was 17. I was out on the road for the first time, I guess I was a little homesick. So I just invented this girl and I wrote the whole damn song except for the title. ‘But back home he’ll always run to sweet…. Barbara’ (laughs). (I thought) I need three syllables now. Anytime you get hung up on something, it’s best just (to) put it down and when you pick it up again later, who knows. So it was my turn to go to the grocery, get coffee, sugar and all that stuff, beans and bacon, you know.”

Allman continued: “Me and another person we were the only ones (in the store), because it was like four in the morning. So this was an old Spanish lady and I guess her granddaughter, she couldn’t speak much English at all. The little toddler had just learned that she had legs that worked, boy she was (running around). She took off one time way out of earshot, and the lady yells ‘Melissa!, come back Melissa!’. And I went ‘Ahh, Melissa’. I wanted to kiss her on the cheek, but she would probably call the law.”

A marvellous track with a brilliant story to match, there’s no wonder ‘Melissa’ is remembered as one of the finest songs The Allman Brothers Band ever produced, even if it was without the heroic Duane.

Listen to ‘Melissa’ below.