"Midnight Rider" is a popular and widely covered song by The Allman Brothers Band from their 1970 album entitled Idlewild South. Written by Gregg Allman and Robert Kim Payne, the song has become a fixture of the band's live performances and an enduring standard. Renditions by Joe Cocker, Gregg Allman himself, and Willie Nelson have all reached the charts as singles.
"Midnight Rider" uses traditional folk and blues themes of desperation, determination, and a man on the run:
- I've got one more silver dollar,
- But I'm not gonna let 'em catch me, no ...
- Not gonna let 'em catch
- The midnight rider.
The verses arrangement features Duane Allman's acoustic guitar carrying the song's changes, underpinned by a congas-led rhythm section and soft, swirling organ. Dickey Betts' lead guitar phrases ornament the choruses and the instrumental break, while Gregg Allman's powerful, soulful singing, featuring harmony-producing reverb, has led to the song becoming known by some as Allman's signature piece. Music writer Jean-Charles Costa stated in 1973 that, "'Midnight Rider' has been recorded by other bands and it's easy to see why. The verse construction, the desperate lyrics, and the taut arrangement make it standout material," while musician and writer Bill Janovitz said that the recording successfully blended elements ofblues, country music, soul music, and Southern rock.
"Midnight Rider" has been a concert staple for the band in decades since; it is usually played fairly closely to the original template, and was not used as the basis for long jams until the Allman Brothers' annual New York City run in 2010.
"Midnight Rider" was never released as a single by The Allman Brothers Band, but it has charted four times in subsequent recordings.
In November 1972, British rock singer Joe Cocker, who specialized in treating recently-written songs by others, released a version on his album Joe Cocker, the single from which reached #27 on the Billboard Hot 100; it was billed as Joe Cocker with The Chris Stainton Band.
In Fall 1973, Gregg Allman released a re-imagined version of the song on his first solo album, Laid Back, that featured the addition of horns and a solo rather than harmony vocal line. It reached #19 on the Billboard Hot 100 in early 1974.
In 1980, Willie Nelson recorded a cover of the song for inclusion in the soundtrack to the film The Electric Horseman. Nelson's version was released as a single, and peaked at #6 on the Hot Country Singles chart. Nelson later re-released the song in 2004 as a duet with Toby Keith, although this rendition did not chart.
Many other versions have been recorded as well, starting in 1973 when jazz guitarist Maynard Parker released a version on an album named for the song. Since that time, the song has gone on to be The Allman Brothers Band's most covered song, performed by artists ranging from country legend Waylon Jennings to punk rock legend Patti Smith; from bluegrass fiddler/singer Alison Krauss to ska revivalists Bad Manners to doo-wop vocalists The Drifters. O.A.R.also covers Midnight Rider frequently at live shows, as well as Bon Jovi guitarist Richie Sambora, who sometimes uses it as an intro to Wanted Dead or Alive; during his solo shows but also with his main band, he had also sung "Midnight Rider" before the mentioned. Buckcherry has also played "Midnight Rider" before live, Michael McDonald does a rendition of "Midnight Rider", and it has also appeared on a Hank Williams, Jr. album. Bob Seger covered the song on his long out of print Back in '72 album. An edited and remastered version of his version, which eliminates the breakdown and Seger's scatting towards the end of the track, appears on his 2009 Early Seger Vol. 1 album. In 2009, Stephen Stills played "Midnight Rider" on The Howard Stern Show saying that he and Gregg Allman used to sing it together. In Summer 2010, he and his bandmates in Crosby, Stills and Nash performed the song on their European tour, during a covers section in their set.
"Midnight Rider" has been featured in soundtracks for the movies Wild Hogs, The Devil's Rejects, Unbreakable, and Warren Miller's Storm. Gregg Allman's solo version is featured during the opening scenes of the 2004 remake of Walking Tall featuring The Rock. The concert film Earth vs. The Radiators: the First 25 features Gregg Allman performing the song with swamp rockers The Radiators during that band's 25th anniversary celebration. It is heard in a 2013TV commercial for Geico.