Whipping Post (1969)
If there’s a devil, the sound his approaching chariot would make is caught and pressed in the rumbling of Berry Oakley’s earth-rending opening bass line of “Whipping Post.” It seizes, for the first few moments of the song, the distillation of the diabolical.
It’s what the Blues were born for. That the essence of pain and the evil it brings is so fully fleshed out in a Rock song – in a bass line – is nothing short of genius.
The studio original is a good piece of craftsmanship – not a thing wrong with it – except it is not the version that eventually came full-blown from the head of Satan at the Fillmore in New York’s East Village. (Recorded in March of ’71, the famed venue would close just months later.)
The studio version is a solid, southern-boogie track. It is muscular, macho and seems a bit ghostly in the way that other Blues songs interpolated through the Rock prism are: Cream’s “Crossroads,” Skynyrd’s “Tuesday’s Gone,” and work off Zeppelin’s first album. Gregg Allman’s vocals are well-shaped soul turns and if he had not sung quite so exquisitely on the Filmore recording, we would surely still judge it a classic performance.
“Whipping Post” – the studio version
All the parts are in place on the studio cut. The bass, as mentioned; Dickey Betts’s rhythm guitar; Duane’s model for the live excursion at the Fillmore are sketched out, a blueprint. The dual drumming of Renaissance man Butch Trucks and Jai Johanny Johanson were laminated together, forming what amounts to two radically different ideas of the art made into one continuous vibe. The former provides a Rock drumming under-strata while the latter painted in Jazz and freestyle drumming.
The elements all rose in unexcelled ensemble work the night of March 13, 1971. At the outset, the audience, enthusiastic as it was, seems not to know what’s in store. “Whipping Post” begins with the famous bass line’s odd time signature (11/4) now so familiar to listeners. The fun begins after the first verse and chorus are complete.
I’ve been run down
I’ve been lied to
I don’t know why
I let that mean woman make me a fool
She took all my money
Wrecks my new car
Now she’s with
One of my good time buddies
They’re drinkin’ in some cross town bar
Sometimes I feel
Sometimes I feel
Like I’ve been tied
To the whipping post
Tied to the whipping post
Tied to the whipping post
Good lord I feel like I’m dyin’
Duane Allman handles the first solo in a slide style but tosses in some surf guitar, sped up Blues, and the electric frantic form made popular by such bands as Ten Years After. Duane makes his guitar speak in tongues. It is wild, mournful, angry, pained and happy enough to begin rising above the emotions molded by the lyrics and Gregg Allman’s singing. All the while a steady, heavy rhythm guitar from Dickey Betts drives the tune forward with the hot-stove cooking of the two drummers.
Betts then steps in for a second solo that, while more earthbound than Duane Allman’s, is highly emotive and just as quick, his fingers teaing out a number of seemingly ageless themes. Betts works to build to a long, suffering crescendo, besting Allman on sticking to the subject matter. This is where the “whipping” can be found, and every horrendous image of human torture at the lash comes alive from galley slaves to the scourging of Christ to human chattel abused in the old South.
All for lovin’ you
I drown myself in sorrow
As I look at what you’ve done
Nothin’ seems to change
Bad times stay the same
And I can’t run
Although the story is simple and as familiar and gray-haired as time itself, the tale of a man wronged by a two-timer is brought to life again in the roiling waters of the band’s artistry.
A first-ever listener would be safe to assume that another chorus and a short musical coda would end the song around the ten-minute mark, and that listener would have felt amply rewarded artistically, and well entertained. The Allman Brothers Band has something else in store, though.
A radical tempo change takes place and we are thrust into a netherworld, a personal inner journey, or perhaps a complete examination of a life damaged by love gone wrong. You could call this section of the song a Purgatorio. The listener is treated to a breeze through classic Blues; Jazz; a few Baroque and late Classical études, and a guitar that rings like a buoy bell, projecting a sense of drifting at sea. One wouldn’t be surprised if they had spontaneously broken out Van Morrison’s “Into The Mystic.”
During the interlude, this is not a work about a bad lover. It’s about the struggle for self, for psychological integrity. The break represents a high point in the art of Rock-N-Roll. We are in the Himalayas.
But the band makes its money doing a certain kind of business. Just as the weeping of guitars and the slow-walking bass feel as if they will engulf us, the song restarts. Almost from the beginning with the tumbling and a-rumbling Oakley bass line. We are strung out again.
Is there no relief? Can this torment stop? They’re a Blues-Rock band again. The mood is lighter, chains breaking. Duane snaps to his lead line… they come to a complete stop.
Gregg Allman howls once more:
Sometimes I feel like
I’ve been tied to the whipping post!
Frere Jacques is picked out and played altogether, not as the children’s round song but as a dirge that is terribly unsettling in its effect. A long slow jam that ropes in virtually all the musical themes of the performance are touched upon in somber rhythm.
The chorus is sung one more time, glacially slow. Brothers Gregg and Duane speak to each other with vocals and the slide-sound guitar, respectively, “calling and answering” to one another back and forth. It’s a moment of profound fraternal communication molded in deepest sympathy.
The long, slow, dignified coda quietly sums up and sews up the song. The mourning vestments are spectacular. The event is one of the most important in Rock history.
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- “Whipping Post” is one of a few songs that command a comically ironic “request” shout-out at random concerts, at random times. “Free Bird” is another, as is a timeless, silly yell started at a Rolling Stones concert in the late-’60s, “’Paint It Black,’ you devils!”