The Allman Brothers Band: The Road Goes on Forever
By the time the group’s live effort Wipe the Windows, Check the Oil, Dollar Gas was released in 1976, the Allmans had disbanded. They reunited in 1978 with guitarist “Dangerous” Dan Toler, who had played with Betts in his band Great Southern, and released Enlightened Rogues in early 1979. But some indefinable spark was missing, and the band’s music grew weaker over the course of two uncompelling albums recorded for Arista: 1980’s Reach for the Sky and 1981’s Brothers of the Road.
DOWD We tried very hard to reach the classic sound on Enlightened Rogues. We worked our fingers to the bone.
TRUCKS That band just didn’t work. The chemistry wasn’t there. The only reason the first album [Reach for the Sky] was half successful was that Tom Dowd worked so hard.
BETTS We just could not measure up to the original band. Even when we had some great players, there was a pull, a tension. The unity was lacking. And we didn’t have another slide guitarist, so I played slide, which I never really liked, and which also took away from the sound of my guitar.
BUTCH TRUCKS At Arista, [label founder] Clive Davis tried to turn us into Led Zeppelin and brought in outside producers, and it just kept getting worse.
BETTS When the music trend started turning away from blues-oriented rock toward synthesizer-based dance music arrangements, the record company started to dictate what type of record we could make, and we got caught up in that whole thing. A guy like Eric Clapton has a way of being a chameleon, of finding songs that keep him in the forefront and surviving through times when the kind of music he loves to play isn’t popular. The Allman Brothers Band was never able to do that. We either sounded like our band or we didn’t. The band never really had anything special when we’re not able to do the instrumental jams and improvisation—which were kind of taken away from us for a while. We were even asked not to mention southern rock in an interview or wear hats onstage.
ALLMAN Arista tried to throw us into doing something that we weren’t. The whole music scene of the Eighties just wasn’t conducive to our music at all. We cut two albums and…it was very frustrating. Embarrassing, really.
BETTS We broke up in ’81 because we decided we better just back out or we would ruin what was left of the band’s image.
Throughout the Eighties, the members of the Allman Brothers Band toured with different groups. By the end of the decade, the new classic rock radio format had given the Allman Brothers’ great songs renewed prominence, while the 1989 four-album Dreams box set shone a light on their legacy. Epic Records, which had both Gregg Allman and Dickey Betts under contract, suggested an ABB reunion. The band took to the road with two new players: guitarist Warren Haynes, who had played with Betts for several years, and bassist Allen Woody, who was hired after open auditions.
BETTS Classic rock stations really brought the Allman Brothers back, and Stevie Ray Vaughan opened the whole thing up. He just would not be denied and kept making those traditional urban blues records. He just shoved blues down people’s throats, and they got to likin’ it. He just kicked the door open.
I remember how beautiful it made me feel to hear him on the radio. And I think that a lot of other people felt the same way and were more ready for us to reappear. The Who were touring, and the Stones were getting ready to hit the road. CBS wanted us to get back together because everyone else was doing it. But it wasn’t nearly that simple. We knew we had to go slow, to see if the music was up to snuff and whether we really wanted to do it.
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