Gregg Allman was probably far better known for his one-of-a-kind voice than he was as a songwriter; no less a legend than Charlie Daniels once said, “Gregg Allman is the finest white blues singer I’ve ever heard.” As a member of the Allman Brothers Band, he actually wrote fewer songs than guitarist Dickey Betts, and Betts was responsible for the band’s biggest commercial hit, “Ramblin’ Man.” But some of Allman’s original ABB songs became immortal pieces in the rock pantheon, “Melissa,” “Midnight Rider” and “Whipping Post” among them. Before his 2017 death he also wrote quite a few songs to support his solo career, which saw sporadic releases over a 40+-year period. One of the best-known is the ballad “Queen of Hearts.”
“Queen of Hearts” took Allman into territory he hadn’t before covered, writing a love song when so much of his work had been blues-based or third person. The song showed a vulnerability we hadn’t seen in Allman’s writing with lines like:
And after all that we’ve been through
I find that when I think of you
A warm soft wind runs
Through and through
And in my heart
There’s only you
Now, with the recent reissues of Allman’s albums Laid Back and The Gregg Allman Tour, both of which contain versions of “Queen of Hearts,” the song is being revisited as one of his finest compositions. He discussed the song in a phone interview with American Songwriterin 2011.
“I stumbled on that progression, but the whole thing took me about a year and a half to write,” he says. “We were rehearsing for the Brothers and Sistersalbum in 1973, and I had this pile of confetti around the piano where I’d tear it (the song) up in a rage at the piano and then go back to it. I finally played it for the band and said, ‘Why don’t we just try it?’ And one of them, I won’t say who, said, ‘Well, it just ain’t sayin’ nothin’.’ I was livid. So I got on the first thing smokin’ to Miami and recorded the Laid Back album.”
And the inspiration for the song? “I’m a hopeless romantic,” he admits. “‘Queen of Hearts’ was about somebody I wished would come along, and she finally made it.”
In his 2012 autobiography My Cross to Bear, Allman also discussed the song. “… It’s one of my favorite songs that I have ever written … I brought the song to the band during a rehearsal, and because I was a drunk – and nobody listens to a drunk – they turned it down without even really listening to it … The guys were firm: ‘No, man.’ “When I asked why, they told me, ‘Because that song just ain’t saying nothing.’ Boy, those were the best words they could have ever said to me. You might even say my solo career started right there. I waited until that rehearsal was over, and then I headed into Capricorn Studios by myself.”
Having already combined influences of blues, jazz and R&B to create the southern rock sub-genre, Allman was still in his mid-20s when he wrote “Queen of Hearts.” It’s not to be confused with the 1970s – ‘80s international hit “Queen of Hearts” written by steel guitarist Hank DeVito and recorded by Dave Edmunds, Rodney Crowell and Juice Newton.