There is no greater example of the captivating allure of simplicity in music than in the song “Little Martha” written by Duane Allman in 1971 and released posthumously on the Eat A Peach album of 1972. The song is earthy and infectiously joyous. Its golden guitar lines radiate like early morning rays of sunshine. It evokes a feeling of serenity, like watching water foam over rocks in a bubbling brook. The natural tranquility of the song, the suggestion of nature’s simplicity, inspires an exalted emotional response. “Little Martha” is a musical affirmation of life
Duane’s immediate inspiration for the song, reminiscent of Dickey Betts’ Elizabeth Reed experience, was the grave of 12 year old Martha Ellis in Rose Hill Cemetery. It was also written as a tribute to his girlfriend Dixie Lee Meadows. Because of her penchant for wearing vintage American clothing, Duane sometimes referred to her as Martha Washington. Adding to the colorful legend surrounding the song was the visionary dream Duane had that gave birth to the song’s hallowed melody. According to Duane, the ghost of Jimi Hendrix appeared to him in the bathroom of a Holiday Inn motel in dream and passed the song along to his soul by playing it on the sink faucet which he used as a fretboard. Duane woke that morning with the harmonic lines floating in his head.
“Little Martha” is a duet played in an open E tuning by Duane and Dickey Betts. More importantly, it is a timeless dance that stands eternally as testament to the intricate beauty that may potentially be gleaned from a simplistic musical form. Its precious two minutes and seven seconds seem to span infinitely and exemplify the indelible imprint that a seeming ditty of a song can forever leave in the hearts of listeners. Rest in peace Little Martha Ellis. Rest in peace Brother Duane.