By: Alan Sculley
For the South Bend Tribune
Gregg Allman said making the new Allman Brothers Band CD, “Hittin’ the Note,” reminded him of being back in the studio with the group’s original lineup.
“It really was (similar). It had a lot to do with the vibes,” Allman said. “I mean, the songs just went bip-bap, bip-bap. I think it probably took longer to mix it than it did to record it. That’s how it was when we did the first part of ‘Eat A Peach.’ “
For Allman to compare “Hittin’ the Note” to “Eat a Peach” (the 1972 double album that featured studio and live material), or any of the three other records made by the original lineup — is no small statement.
The original lineup featuring Allman, his brother and slide guitarist Duane, bassist Berry Oakley, guitarist/singer Dickey Betts and the other two remaining original members — drummers Butch Trucks and Jay Johanny “Jaimoe” Johanson — essentially invented the Southern rock sound over the course of their four albums together. The band fused rock and blues, supplemented by touches of jazz and country.
That lineup, of course, was cut down in its prime when Duane Allman and Oakley died in eerily similar motorcycle accidents about a year apart, in October 1971 and November 1972, respectively.
The Allman Brothers Band, though, has survived those tragedies, overcome breakups in the mid-1970s and again in the early 1980s, and weathered a number of personnel changes along the way.
To many fans, though, the original lineup will never be surpassed. That may be true, but the remarkable thing about “Hittin’ the Note” is that it comes in the aftermath of one of the most uncertain points in the Allman Brothers Band’s tumultuous history.
In 1997, guitarist Warren Haynes and bassist Allen Woody, two musicians who had energized the group when they joined in 1989, left the Allman Brothers Band to devote their full energies to their power trio, Gov’t Mule. Haynes said at the time he had grown frustrated by the lack of songwriting occurring in the Allman Brothers.
The group pushed ahead. But further troubles were brewing, this time with Betts, whose songs (such as “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed,” “Blue Sky” and “Jessica”) formed a major part of the Allman Brothers catalog.
In 2000, the Allman Brothers Band reached a crossroads, issuing an ultimatum to Betts to clean up his lifestyle or get fired.
Although Betts has denied that he had any problems with alcohol and drugs, Allman confirmed that was the issue that forced the group to confront their longtime guitarist.
“We sent him a letter,” Allman said. “It was a request for him to get rid of these demons.”
Had the Betts situation not been confronted, Allman said the band probably would have fallen apart.
“The fact is, I had all but had my resignation written,” Allman said. “So had Butch. Butch had his written.”
Soon after Betts bowed out, Allman contacted Haynes about returning to the group. To Allman, Haynes was the only likely replacement.
“It was him or probably nobody,” Allman said. “There are only certain kinds of people who are cut out to be an Allman Brother. He’s one, that’s for sure.”
The timing was right for Haynes to consider a return to the Allman Brothers Band. In August 2000, Woody had died unexpectedly, leaving the future of Gov’t Mule up in the air. Haynes agreed to sit in with the Allman Brothers Band in March 2001 during the group’s annual two-week run of dates at the Beacon Theatre in New York.
Then things really started to roll for the group.
Soon after the Beacon shows, Haynes found himself at Allman’s house taking a stab at writing new music with the keyboardist. After a week’s stay, the wheels were in motion to create the “Hittin’ the Note” CD.
“We wrote ‘Desdemona’ and ‘High Cost of Low Living’ and ‘Firing Line,’ ” Allman said, mentioning three tracks that made it to “Hittin’ The Note.” “It all came out real, real easy, and I thought, ‘Man!’ After he (Haynes) left here, he was really, really jazzed.”
The recording session for the CD was the quickest and most productive of the group’s long career. Tracks for “Hittin’ the Note” were recorded in just over a week’s time.
Looking back on the Betts saga and the music the group has made since his departure, Allman clearly is enthused about the future of the Allman Brothers Band — noting he already is looking forward to doing another studio record.
“And the good thing about the whole thing, the main good thing, is the Allman Brothers were saved,” he said. “It’s a good thing, and it’s a hell of an organization. I’ve played with a lot of other fantastic musicians, a whole bunch of other ones — and some dead, some living. But there’s nothing like playing with the Allman Brothers.”