One Way Out (song)

One Way Out (song)

"One Way Out" is a blues song first recorded and released in the early-mid 1960s by Sonny Boy Williamson II and Elmore James, an R&B hit under a different name for G.L. Crockett in the mid-1960s, and then popularized to rock audiences in the early 1970s and onward by The Allman Brothers Band.


Song origins

As with many blues songs, the history of "One Way Out" falls into murk. It seems to have been originally recorded by Elmore James at Beltone Studios in New York City in late 1960 or early 1961,[1] as part of James' legendary Fire/Fury/Enjoy recording sessions. It features a full band arrangement with a four-piece horn section, but a completely different melody from later versions. James appears not to have released it at that time.

Instead, Sonny Boy Williamson II reworked and recorded it for Chess Records in Chicago in September 1961,[2] releasing it shortly thereafter. He would then return and re-record a different working of it in September 1963, again for Chess in Chicago, this time with Buddy Guy on guitar and Lafayette Leake on piano.[2] The two efforts were substantially different, with one dominated by harmonica playing while the other has the vamp and arrangement that would become familiar with the Allman Brothers' rendition.

Subsequently, Elmore James finally released his initial recording of "One Way Out" in 1965, using it as the B-side of his single "My Bleeding Heart" for Sphere Sound Records.[3] But by now, the song was associated with Sonny Boy not him.

Writing credits for "One Way Out" have varied over the years, with some recordings crediting Sonny Boy alone, then others giving Marshall Sehorn and Elmore James the nod, and finally some naming all three. Furthermore Sehorn was a recording engineer, record producer, and all-around "record man" at Fire/Fury Records in New York, who likely engaged in the then-common practice of adding himself onto composer credits of songs that he was not actually involved in writing, to get a cut of subsequent royalties.[4] And of course no confusion is complete without mentioning that there are two different Sonny Boy Williamsons − I and II; "One Way Out" pertains to the second one.

Whatever its origins, the song's narrative captures the classic tale of a man having sex with another man's woman in an upstairs bedroom. Someone comes to the front door unexpectedly, and our lover must plan a hasty exit out a window:

Ain't but one way out baby, Lord I just can't go out the door —
Ain't but one way out baby, and Lord I just can't go out the door!
'Cause there's a man down there, might be your old man ... I don't know.

Under a different name

In mid-1965, bluesman G.L. Crockett, from Carrollton, Mississippi, released yet another reworking of the song, now called "It's a Man Down There", on Four Brothers Records. It featured a slower tempo, a softer blues vocal line apparently styled after Jimmy Reed, and a hint of rockabilly. "It's a Man Down There" became a big hit in R&B circles, reaching number 10 on the Billboard Hot Rhythm & Blues Singles chart, and qualified the otherwise obscure Crockett for one-hit wonder status. Songwriting credits on this reworking appear to have been given to Crockett and one Jack Daniels. The Crockett track was memorialized on the Time-Life album "Living the Blues: 1965-69," part of the "Living the Blues" series.

Indeed so much was the vocal style like Reed, that Reed himself then recorded an answer song later that year, entitled "I'm the Man Down There", which became a mild hit.

In the same time period, under the name "The Man Down There", a Swedish band called the Melvins recorded a version of this song; it was included on Pebbles, Volume 26.

Next up in 1966, "It's a Man Down There" was given the Tex-Mex music treatment by the Sir Douglas Quintet on their debut album The Best of the Sir Douglas Quintet. The Beatles used the riff of the song during jams in 1969. It is instantly recognizable in a jam titled "My Imagination," featuring Paul shouting simplistic vocals over the main riff for 7 minutes, and later on a jam with Yoko Ono which incorporates the riff occasionally over its 16 minute span. Both tracks remain unreleased.

Allman Brothers Band version

Returning to the original title, The Allman Brothers Band is known to have been playing "One Way Out" in concert from at least February 1971. A live recording was included on their 1972 album Eat a Peach. This was indeed recorded at the Fillmore East, but unlike the March 1971 live material used on the rest of Eat a Peach and At Fillmore East, "One Way Out" was recorded at the venue's final show on June 27, 1971, as producer Tom Dowd thought that to be their definitive effort on the song.

In this punchy, dynamic performance,[5][6] the Allmans showcased their abilities in the blues-rock roadhouse style.[5] Guitarist Dickey Betts sets up the Sonny Boy Williamson boogie vamp, while Duane Allman comes in over the top with bottleneck slide guitar part, after which vocalist Gregg Allman narrates the drama of the song. Betts takes a solo, Gregg instructs the audience "Ahh, put your hands together," and Duane Allman and Betts trade guitar licks. Duane Allman then takes the solo. Bassist Berry Oakley actually comes in a beat early after the guitar trade, but the band recovers quickly, and then drops out as Gregg carries the vocal a cappella, after which the band returns for the "Big Ending". The recording of the song from Eat a Peach became popular on progressive rock and album-oriented rock radio formats, especially as it was under five minutes in length and more convenient to play than some of the band's lengthier jams; it remains quite popular on classic rock radio. "One Way Out" has become a staple of Allmans concerts in the decades since, often used as an encore and stretched in length.

The Eat a Peach "One Way Out" is included in Martin Scorsese Presents the Blues: A Musical Journey, a box set accompanying his 2003 documentary The Blues. It is also on the soundtrack of Scorsese's 2006 film The Departed; it was previously used in the soundtracks of Almost Famous (2000), Dogtown and Z-Boys (2001), and Lords of Dogtown (2005). It is included in the Allmans compilations Dreams (1989), A Decade of Hits 1969-1979 (1991), and Gold (2005). Other concert performances of it are included on various retrospective live albums, such as Nassau Coliseum, Uniondale, NY: 5/1/73, which illustrates a rendition from the band's Chuck Leavell era.


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