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Credit: Heinrich Klaffs

Music

The scintillating song Frank Zappa wrote for guitar hero Duane Allman

@SamWKemp

Written in 1969, ‘The Whipping Post’ is a classic slice of west coast, soul-infused rock. Blending rich organ stabs and soaring, interwoven guitar lines, it’s enough to send even the most tight-collared Wall Street banker into a divine frenzy. Legendary guitarist Frank Zappa didn’t hear the track until 1974, a time when an audience member at the 1974 Helsinki concert that appears on You Can’t Do That on Stage Anymore, Vol. 2, requested it as an encore in jest.

Nobody expected Zappa to take the suggestion seriously. ‘Whipping Post’ was already something of a cliche, an archetypal encore song that had come to evoke the grandeur of Duane Allman’s (The Allman Brother’s Band) guitar style. What’s more, none of his band members knew the song. Nevertheless, Zappa and his band decided to rise to the challenge, and would go on to play the track as an encore at all of their live shows from then on.

“I’ll tell you how it happened,” Zappa told Guitar World in 1982. “We were playing Helsinki, Finland about six or eight years ago, and in the middle of this very quiet, nice concert hall from the back of the room a voice rings out, ‘Whipping Post’. And I thought, if we only knew it we could blow this guy’s socks off. You know, it would be great to just … sure, fuck you, ‘Whipping Post’… all right, here it is. So, when we got Bobbie Martin in the band I said, “He can sing the shit out of ‘Whipping Post’ and so let’s go for it.”

Six years later, in 1988, Zappa would release an outtake from a live performance of ‘Whipping Post’ entitled ‘For Duane’. This instrumental number from Zappa’s live album Guitar is a gloriously messy freak-out. Underpinned by a concrete blues groove, Zappa shreds away for three and half minutes, never once repeating himself. It’s a testament not only to Zappa’s skill as a guitarist but to the enduring spirit of Duane Allman, who died in 1971 shortly after the release of The Allman Brothers Band’s album At Fillmore East.

Zappa was a big influence on The Allman Brothers Band in the early days, playing with them in the late ’60s on a couple of occasions. As the group’s drummer, Butch Trucks, explained in a 2011 interview, it was Zappa who introduced The Allman Brother to the limitless possibilities of rock music: “One of the first what I would call truly great shows I ever saw was in, probably, 1967,” he began. “The band I was with went to New York to audition to play one of the clubs there and Zappa was playing. It was one of the first public performances of ‘Absolutely Free’ and it had a timpani and about 20 people on stage”.

Trucks continued: “They did ‘Suzy Creamcheese’ and all this performance art, and it was just amazing. I had no idea that a rock and roll band could get up and sound like that… It just changed my whole concept of what you could do with rock and roll or with what you called rock—it ain’t rock and roll anymore, it’s something else. It’s evolved into something else. And you can label it whatever you want but it’s still music. It’s all music.”

Decades later, Zappa would return the favour with a track worthy of Duane Allman’s immense talent. Make sure you check out ‘For Duane’ below.