Little Martha"Little Martha" was the only Allman Brothers Band track written solely by group leader and partial namesake Duane Allman. The song first appeared as the final studio track on the Allman Brothers Band's fourth album, Eat a Peach, released in 1972. The track was recorded in October 1971, a few weeks before Duane Allman's death in a motorcycle accident.
Allman's original recording of the song is a bouncy fingerstyle acoustic guitar instrumental duet with minimal accompaniment. Allman and bandmate Dickey Betts played the tune on 6-string guitars using open E tuning. The song's simple melody and rhythmic counterpoint quickly made it a favorite among fans; acoustic guitar virtuoso Leo Kottke, who often covered the song in performance, once called it "the most perfect guitar song ever written."
Song OriginThe story goes that Allman had a dream where Jimi Hendrix showed him the melody of the tune in a Holiday Inn motel bathroom, using the sink faucet as a guitar fretboard. Remembering the melody during the October 1971 sessions that produced most of the third side of what would become Eat a Peach, Allman laid down the track, joined only by Dicky Betts and bassist Berry Oakley, though Oakley's part would be mixed out of the final version, leaving the number as a duet for the two guitarists. (Oakley's part would be restored on the 1989 box set Dreams.)It is commonly believed that the song's namesake was Martha Ellis, a twelve-year-old girl whose grave the Allman Brothers Band most likely came across during their frequent trips to Rose Hill Cemetery in their homebase of Macon, Georgia. The approximate geographic coordinates of the statue are 32°50'55.55"N, 83°38'2.21"W.(Both Duane Allman himself and Berry Oakley would be buried there by the end of 1972). However, as with Dicky Betts' 1970 instrumental "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed", the song seems to have been named for one person, while actually being about someone else. Little Martha was envisioned by Allman as an ode to his then-girlfriend Dixie Meadows. He had given her the pet name of Martha because of the vintage clothing she sometimes wore - Duane saying "you look like Martha Washington." After Allman's death, Meadows sued unsuccessfully for control of his estate.
Longevity and cover versionsBoth Gregg Allman and Dicky Betts have included "Little Martha" on live albums. It appears in a wildly different electric version as the opening track to Dicky Betts' 2004 limited-release live album, Instant Live At The Odeon. On Allman's 1974 effort, The Gregg Allman Tour, the studio version can be heard faintly on the PA system after the closing track, "Will The Circle Be Unbroken". It was also interwoven into bassist Oteil Burbridge's bass solos during certain live shows in the late 1990s by The Allman Brothers Band. Pickin' On The Allman Brothers: A Bluegrass Tribute contains a 3:40 min version of "Little Martha"
Key Signature & Composition
Little Martha is in the key of E Major, and the guitars are tuned in an Open E Tuning (E-B-E-G#-B-E).
The song has occasionally been recorded by other instrumentalists in the decades since its original release, including notable versions by guitarists Leo Kottke, and dobro virtuoso Jerry Douglas.
The song is played over the PA system after every Allman Brothers Band show as a tribute to Duane Allman.
From roughly 1985-2005, Little Martha, along with Stevie Ray Vaughan's "Stang's Swang", was played on Kentucky Educational Television during a scroll of significant sponsors at the end of the broadcast day.
A 2008 commercial for E & J Gallo Winery features a cover of the song.