I used to wonder why there were guitar solos. I had a hard time understanding why a perfectly good song would be interrupted with a lengthy guitar solo. Was it that they couldn’t come up with good lyrics for that part of the song? Was it the guitarist just wanting as much time as possible to show off his/her skills? I got bored during the solos. If there was a story to the song, the story got lost for me as soon as the solo began. If there was momentum, the momentum was lost. If there was a message, I didn’t understand what it was.
As I got older, and as I began to dabble in playing the guitar myself, I found myself enjoying the good guitar solos, the really good solos, with a keen appreciation and new understanding. I began to see how a solo…a wordless period of music… could actually helped to move a song, a story and a theme forward.
My favorite example of how a guitar solo can be an integral, necessary part of a song is in “Blue Sky” by The Allman Brothers Band. From the very first, sweet notes of the two lead electric guitars, there is a tone of sunshine and brightness. Though lead guitarist Dickey Betts wrote the song about his Native American girlfriend (who would soon become his wife) Sandy “Bluesky” Wabegijig, it sounds only like a simple song of praise for a beautiful day.
“Walk along the river, sweet lullaby, it just keeps on flowing,
It don’t worry ’bout where it’s going, no, no.
Don’t fly, mister blue bird, I’m just walking down the road,
Early morning sunshine tell me all I need to know.”
This is the longest verse in the song. After a brief chorus, Duane Allman (in one of his last recordings before an untimely death at the age of 24) begins the first of two lengthy solos.
The guitars are not screaming, and the guitarists are not playing to simply show off their skills. We can feel the sunshine on our face, and we can see it glistening off the water. For over a minute, Allman takes us on a walk down the road, along the river, looking at the bluebirds.
Behind Allman’s beautiful solo we can hear Dickey Betts’ rhythm guitar. These friends are walking together. At 2:28, the guitars join one another in melody, after which Betts picks up the lead, and solos for another minute and ten seconds. These friends are both in a good mood, enjoying the beautiful day.
At 3:50, Betts begins to play another melody line and Allman joins him. The two guitars playing together in perfect unison brings us to the second and final verse.
“Good old Sunday morning, bells are ringing everywhere.
Goin’ to Carolina, it won’t be long and I’ll be there.”
“Blue Sky” was first released as a radio single where most of the guitar solos were cut out to make it a manageable length to play on the air. It was released with people like a young Larry Glickman in mind. Listeners like the young Larry didn’t understand the solo. We wanted to hear the words and the story. But what a loss that was. A generation of listeners never got to appreciate the story told by the guitars. They never got to walk down the road, along the river.
“You’re my blue sky, you’re my sunny day.
Lord, you know it makes me high when you turn your love my way,
Turn your love my way, yeah.”
Written by Dickey Betts
Performed by the Allman Brothers Band
Released February 21, 1972