Jacob Johnson Embraces The Allmans’ Jessica | Exclusive Premiere

The South Carolina guitarist gives a Dickey Betts instrumental a loving makerover.

Jacob Johnson celebrates The Allman Brothers’ (and his wife) with his soul-affirming, spiritually uplifting new cover of Jessica — premiering exclusively on Tinnitist.

Penned by late ABB guitarist Dickey Betts, along with contributions from guitarist Les Dudek, the original composition was named after Betts’ one-year old daughter, who crawled into the room while the song was being workshopped. Released in 1973 on the album Brothers And Sisters, the seven-minute instrumental debuted on the Billboard Hot 100 a few months later and then in 1996, a live recording included on An Evening With The Allman Brothers Band: 2nd Set won a Grammy for Best Rock Instrumental Performance at the 38th Grammy Awards.

With Betts’ recent passing, Johnson sees the rendition as a tribute to the great composer and musician but also in honor of his wife who, like many other young girls in the era, was named because of it. This confluence of circumstances added to the gravity and magnitude of presenting the song respectfully while also adhering to a Southern tradition of courtship.

“It’s an unwritten rule for musicians that if your darlin’ (that’s how we say ‘significant other’ or ‘partner’ in the south) is named after a famous song, you must learn the song, and you must use it to serenade them. My wife was named after a seven-minute Allman Brothers jam so I put together a solo/acoustic version that I later played as she danced with her dad at our wedding reception on May 31, 2019. It’s been knocking around in my head since then, and earlier this year I decided it was time to flesh out the arrangement with some collaborators,” said Johnson.

“Of course, this entire project was created with lots of love and respect for its composer, the great Dickey Betts, who we lost not long after production was completed. If you know southern music, you know he was one of the greats. Though I never had the opportunity to meet the man, I hope that my arrangement and attention to the details of this composition can honor his legacy in some small way.”

Being stationed in Greenville, S.C., home to breakout act The Marcus King Band, Johnson was able to enlist MKB’s rhythm section — Jack Ryan on drums and Stephen Campbell on bass — to join the proceedings, with the legendary Mickey Raphael of Willie Nelson & Family on harmonica elevating the mood with an undeniable groove. Overall, the rendition faithfully memorializes parts of the original but adds a distinctive cosmic Grateful Dead flair as the arrangement floats higher and higher into the ether.

Johnson fondly recalls the session. “Jack and Stephen had some down time back in February between tours, so we got together and laid down the rhythm tracks at Jack’s home studio. I had the parts worked out on solo guitar, but it’s not a simple song! It took us some serious time and sweat to take it apart and put it back together with the band, but it was important to all of us to get it right. That’s the tricky balance with arranging. I want to make it my own, but all of the compositional elements need to be there in some form or I don’t feel like I’ve done the song justice.

“Once we had the rhythm tracks, we talked about a few possible guest artists for the solo section, but Mickey was my first pick. I sent him a rough mix, and he was into it. Mickey’s played on some of my all-time favorite records, so it really feels special to have some of that magic on the track”.

Magic is a path in which he has reckoned. Beginning with his now out-of-print 2007 debut Est 1986, his 2013 holiday album Wild and Sweet: A Christmas Album and 2014’s One-Take Jake to last year’s EP The Sketchiest Motel in Fayetteville, Johnson has woven his predilection for skilled arrangements and mind-bending musicianship with his love of history and pop culture.

Photo by Sandlin Gaither.

Fans and critics both applaud his interstellar circle around the sun on Chim Chim Cheree, an interpolation of the 1965 Oscar winner for Best Original Song, a minor-key waltz for the Disney movie Mary Poppins. Other standouts in Johnson’s catalog include the dexterity masterpiece, 8 O’Clock Jive and the free-flowing levity of the rock-leaning F. Scott Fitzgerald, named after the heralded author who wrote The Great Gatsby. It’s a song about being on the road with someone you love, in a car old enough to have an ashtray, listening to Jerry Reed and Kris Kristofferson through a cassette adapter. Old souls who know.

Beyond his guitar prowess, Johnson has proven himself as a talented songwriter, garnering recognition as the Don Gibson Songwriter Award Grand Prize Winner, Nashville Connection Songwriter of the Year, and a finalist for the Freshgrass No Depression Songwriter Award. His ability to craft captivating and heartfelt songs has earned him performances at prestigious music festivals. During his nearly 20 year touring career, he’s had the privilege of sharing the stage with Grammy winners like Tommy Emmanuel, Paula Cole, Zac Brown Band and Victor Wooten, as well as esteemed musicians Frank Vignola, Edwin McCain, David Wilcox, Tim Reynolds, Darryl Worley, and many more.

Watch him play Jessica and listen to the track above, hear more from Jacob Johnson and check out his tour dates below, and keep up with him on his website, Instagram and Facebook.

Jacob Johnson Tour Dates

June 26 | Cleveland, TN – Pokey’s Music Hall
June 27 | Crossville, TN – Palace Theatre
June 28 | Huntsville, AL – Tangled String Studios
June 29 | Hayesville, NC – Peacock Performing Arts Center
June 30 | Spartanburg, SC – Upward Star Center Freedom Fest
July 10-13 | Nashville, TN – Chet Atkins Appreciation Society 2024