By: Keith Ryan Cartwright
For The Tennessean
”It has to do with the music. It’s under my skin and all up in my cells and into my soul. It is my existence.” — Gregg Allman
Being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame should be a time to celebrate. For many, it’s the crowning achievement in a longstanding career. That should have been the case with The Allman Brothers Band, which in 1994 was inducted in its first year of eligibility. Instead, it’s a night Gregg Allman remembers with embarrassment.
”I walked up on stage and Willie Nelson looked at me,” recalled Allman, sounding a bit uncomfortable, ”and he meant it when he said, ‘Are you all right? Do you need me to help you back off the stage?’
”Aw, God, I tried all day to stay cool. It was nerves on top of all of it, but my knee started shaking. Anyway, right then it hit me, when I was standing there with one of, not necessarily my mentor, but one of my dear friends. I mean everybody loves Willie, and for him to see me in that shape at such an important moment crushes me when I think about it. So . . . I did something about it after that.”
Sober and once again writing and recording with the same inspiration as the old days, Allman, a onetime Nashville resident, looks at that particular night as the ”turning point.”
”It was a very bad day,” he continued, ”but it led to good things. That’s the day I finally stopped drinking and just stopped everything. That’s the day it dawned on me.”
It was the same year The Allman Brothers released the aptly titled Where It All Begins, and yet it’s taken the last nine years for the band to pull itself together emotionally, physically and, more importantly, creatively to record its 24th studio album, Hittin’ the Note.
The new album, hailed by critics and fans alike as their most prolific effort since the 1972 classic Eat a Peach, finally finds the band members — Gregg Allman, Butch Trucks, Jaimoe, Warren Haynes, Marc Quinones, Oteil Burbridge and Derek Trucks — at peace with themselves after nearly a decade of discontent.
It’s a tranquil time that provided Allman and Haynes, two guys struggling to overcome adversity, a chance to focus on the future.
Haynes, who had left the band in ’97 along with Allen Woody to form Gov’t Mule, was still reeling from Woody’s death in 2000. Meanwhile, a clean and sober Allman was dealing with an ever-incoherent guitarist in Dickey Betts.
”We had a different working title (for this album) called Victory Dance,” Allman explained, ”but after what’s gone down and everything with arbitration, we figured that might be ostentatious.
”We figured people would ask us 100 times if this has any connotation to letting Dickey go. We didn’t let him go, so let’s get this straight. Print this, all right. We gave him a letter saying we’d like you to go into rehab, he didn’t go, and so, hey, it was either that or break up the band. As it is, we got Haynes back and the band is just smoking.”
Instead of merely calling it a day, Allman brought in Butch’s 21-year-old nephew Derek Trucks and called on his old pal Haynes to play guitar.
The moment Allman and Haynes got back together in a collaborative manner — they met down in Savannah, Ga., where Allman now lives — they could instantly feel the ”vibes.” Well, that is, when they weren’t sleeping.
”Warren came down here and the first day he slept,” Allman laughed. ”Then he got up and we wrote Desdemona and then I went on to bed. I got up the next morning, and he said, ‘Check this out,’ and had the basic structure to Old Before My Time.
”We had peace and quiet and nobody bothered us. We didn’t have anywhere else to go, no appointments or nothing like that. . . . It has to do with the music. It’s under my skin and all up in my cells and into my soul. It is my existence.”