Eric Clapton’s Favorite Guitar Solo: Duane Allman on Wilson Pickett’s 1968 Cover of the Beatles’ ‘Hey Jude’

Ask a group of gui­tarists to name their favorite gui­tar solo, and there’s a pret­ty good chance some­one will men­tion Eric Clap­ton’s solo on the live record­ing of “Cross­roads,” from Cream’s 1968 Wheel’s of Fire album. So then, whose solo does Eric Clap­ton like? On more than one occa­sion he has sin­gled out Duane All­man’s break­through per­for­mance on Wil­son Pick­et­t’s R & B cov­er of the Bea­t­les’ “Hey Jude.”

In late 1968 All­man was about 22 years old and had not yet formed the All­man Broth­ers Band. Eager to make a name for him­self, he showed up at Rick Hal­l’s now-leg­endary FAME Stu­dios in Mus­cle Shoals, Alaba­ma, to offer his ser­vices as a ses­sion gui­tarist. Hall told All­man he already had more gui­tar play­ers than he could use. All­man asked if he could just hang around the stu­dio and help out if the need should ever arise. “I mean, this was Duane,” Hall said to All­man’s biog­ra­ph­er Randy Poe. “He was hell-bent for star­dom and noth­ing was going to stop him.”

Hall let the young gui­tarist hang around, and before long he was play­ing on a few ses­sions with Clarence Carter.  Hall liked what he heard, and All­man’s cru­cial moment arrived short­ly after­ward, when the for­mer Stax record­ing artist Wil­son Pick­ett showed up at the stu­dio unex­pect­ed­ly. As Poe writes in his book Sky­dog: The Duane All­man Sto­ry,

“Pick­ett came into the stu­dio,” says Hall, “and I said, ‘We don’t have any­thing to cut.’ We did­n’t have a song. Duane was there, and he came up with an idea. By this time he’d kind of bro­ken the ice and become my guy. So Duane said, ‘Why don’t we cut “Hey Jude”?’ I said, ‘That’s the most pre­pos­ter­ous thing I ever heard. It’s insan­i­ty. We’re gonna cov­er the Bea­t­les? That’s crazy!’ And Pick­ett said, ‘No, we’re not gonna do it.’ I said, ‘Their sin­gle’s gonna be Num­ber 1. I mean, this is the biggest group in the world!’ And Duane said, ‘That’s exact­ly why we should do it — because [the Bea­t­les sin­gle] will be Num­ber 1 and they’re so big. The fact that we would cut the song with a black artist will get so much atten­tion, it’ll be an auto­mat­ic smash.’ That made all the sense in the world to me. So I said, ‘Well, okay. Let’s do it.’

The orig­i­nal Bea­t­les ver­sion of “Hey Jude” is over sev­en min­utes long. Pick­ett was deter­mined to keep his ver­sion short­er, to make it suit­able for radio play. At four min­utes long, it was still more than a minute longer than the aver­age pop­u­lar song from that era. Most of the extra time is tak­en up by All­man’s explo­sive rock and roll-style gui­tar solo. “From the moment Duane plays the first lick ten sec­onds into the coda,” writes Poe, “until the song fades out over a minute lat­er, it is entire­ly his show. The back­ground vocal­ists are singing those famil­iar ‘na-na-na-na’s’ — but it’s all for naught. Rick Hall has pushed them so far down in the mix, they are mere­ly ambiance. Absolute­ly noth­ing mat­ters but Duane’s gui­tar.” When it was over, every­one rushed to hear the play­back. Hall was so excit­ed he picked up the tele­phone and called Atlantic Records pro­duc­er and exec­u­tive Jer­ry Wexler, who had sent Pick­ett to Mus­cle Shoals. Writes Poe:

Hall cranked up the vol­ume, held the receiv­er near the speak­ers, and played the record­ing all the way through. The gui­tar play­er, nat­u­ral­ly, blew Jer­ry Wexler away. “Who is he?” Wexler asked. Hall told Wexler that Pick­ett called him Sky Man. He said that Sky Man was a hip­pie from Flori­da who had talked Pick­ett into cut­ting the tune. Wexler per­sist­ed. “Who the hell is he?” “Name’s Duane All­man,” Rick replied.

Before Pick­ett chris­tened All­man “Sky Man,” the gui­tarist already had a nick­name he was fond of: “Dog.” In keep­ing with it, he always wore a dog col­lar wrapped around his right boot, like a spur. So the two nick­names were com­bined, and All­man was known there­after as “Sky­dog.”

Although Pick­ett record­ed “Hey Jude” against his will, he liked the result so much he made it the title song of his next album. And right about the time the Bea­t­les’ ver­sion was com­ing down after nine weeks at num­ber one on the Amer­i­can charts, Pick­et­t’s ver­sion start­ed going up. It peaked at num­ber 15 on the R & B chart and num­ber 23 on the pop chart. When Clap­ton first heard All­man’s solo on his car radio, he report­ed­ly pulled over to the side of the road to lis­ten. “I drove home and called Atlantic Records imme­di­ate­ly,” Clap­ton said. “I had to know who that was play­ing gui­tar and I had to know now.”

Lis­ten to the full song:

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Here Comes The Sun: The Lost Gui­tar Solo by George Har­ri­son

Eric Clapton’s Iso­lat­ed Gui­tar Track From the Clas­sic Bea­t­les Song, ‘While My Gui­tar Gen­tly Weeps’ (1968)

Gui­tar Sto­ries: Mark Knopfler on the Six Gui­tars That Shaped His Career

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Comments (13)
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  • skcusamabo says:

    Umm…I don’t get it. Best solo ever? What am I miss­ing? sounds pret­ty aver­age to my ears.

  • Doug McWilliams says:

    I agree with skcusam­abo, to my ears it sounds like Rick Hall mixed down Duane’s solo along with the back­ground vocals.

  • jackthebiscuit says:

    I’m puz­zled too — what about Sweet Home Alaba­ma or Alvin Lee with Ten Years After I’m Com­ing Home at Wood­stock for amaz­ing gui­tar play­ing and many more

  • RoseHillGardenBand says:

    @ com­men­tors 1,2,&3 — The lead break on this song was indeed ground­break­ing. At the time, it would have been mind blow­ing to alot of peo­ple, because of Duane’s unique style, phras­ing, and tone. This, cou­pled with Mr. Pick­et­t’s incred­i­ble voice, is what caused heads to turn.

    This was record­ed before Wood­stock, SIX years before Ed King record­ed Sweet Home Alaba­ma, and also before Duane was even well known. It was his style that made EC stop his car (report­ed­ly!). Not too many peo­ple played with burn­ing inten­si­ty like that in 1968 (par­tic­u­lar­ly 22 year olds).

    You could count on three fin­gers (Clap­ton, Hen­drix, and All­man) peo­ple that had that much fire in their bel­ly. Lots had fire, but not that much fire.

    Today, peo­ple have had 40 years to copy those styles, so it does not stand out as unusu­al. But the author of the arti­cle is cor­rect — it indeed pro­pelled Duane to star­dom.

  • RoseHillGardenBand says:

    Remiss to add Jim­my Page to that list of fire burn­ers. This was before Led Zep­pelin I was released. Point being, not too many peo­ple played lead gui­tar like that in 1968.

  • S1owhand says:

    Peo­ple lis­ten to the EC com­ment again ” the best R&B solo” don’t for­get this was back in 68. I can defi­ant­ly hear the influ­ence this had on Eric’s play­ing. Go back to his first solo record 70’s “Eric Clap­ton” and lis­ten to Slunky or After Mid­night, Blues Pow­er, .…..The tone is all there,know ques­tion about it.

  • Rob Hillyer says:

    Ummm, Jeff Beck????

  • BucketShred says:

    There’s no claim at all about it being the “best” solo ever. The title is Eric Clap­ton’s FAVORITE gui­tar solo. Nonethe­less, in 1968 it was ground-break­ing. By the time of his far too ear­ly death, Duane All­man had proved him­self to be one of the great­est ever gui­tar play­ers.

  • Kev Claxton says:

    Same era 67/68 — Rory Gal­lagher was show­ing folks the way to play cook­ing blues — lis­ten to Taste — the first album. When Jimi Hen­drix was asked what it was like to be the best — he replied — “ask Rory”

  • balaam says:

    Page played like this on anoth­er Bea­t­les cov­er (and record­ed in ‚68). Joe Cock­er, With a Lit­tle Help From My Friends.

  • Jeff Tutsch says:

    We’re all enti­tled to our opin­ions, but I’m putting way more stock in Eric’s opin­ion than most of these.

  • bobby bloomfield says:

    Are there any more ver­sions? I bet there’s anoth­er cut of this record with an absolute­ly heart-break­ing emo­tion-wrench­ing soar­ing mind-open­ing delight of a solo because this one is just slight­ly drunk sound­ing pen­ta­ton­ic twang­ing. It’s real­ly not a good sign if I think I could do a bet­ter job because I’m just a record pro­duc­er and not much of a gui­tarist.

  • RALPH LANDI says:

    I know that many peo­ple con­sid­er it a very pedes­tri­an solo, but no gui­tar play­er had ever soloed on any soul record up to that point in time. In 1968, Duane All­man solo was absolute­ly rev­o­lu­tion­ary. Up until that point oh, that was the best solo that Eric Clap­ton at ever heard. Up to that point. but if you lis­ten to all of Duane All­man’s work on the first two albums as well as live at the Fill­more East you will tell me that you under­stand what a giant Duane All­man is

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