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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