Right now we've got the right mix of players, maybe the best since [my brother died]. When we're together there is no bullshit, credit grabbing or paranoia. It's just a group of seven guys playing music, which is what it should be.
The band broke up, reconciled and broke up again numerous times gaining and losing more members than Christopher Guest's fictional "New Main Street Singers." Through it all they continued to perform, have hits and pull plenty of fans to their shows, netting Gold and Platinum records, a Grammy Award (for "Jessica") and sold-out tours.
The turning point for Gregg Allman, and in many ways the band, was when he saw a video of himself giving the acceptance speech during the band's 1995 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
|Betts, Haynes & Woody - ABB by Blakesberg|
"For years doctors told him, 'If you don't stop drinking you'll die.' And he would say to the doctors, 'I’ve been hearing that for years and I'm still here,'" said Trucks. "When he saw that speech and how bad he looked that is what straightened him up."
Although Allman has been sober for years, he suffers from a host of ailments including Hepatitis C and a back condition that forces him to have ample rest between shows. Allman said his drinking is a major regret of his life.
"I tell my kids, 'You are not going to live forever. Don't put anything in your mouth that will shorten your life. If you don't do it, then my illness won't be in vain,'" he said.
Son Devon Allman, who heads the band Honeytribe, took his father's message to heart.
"I am nearly a year sober," said Devon. "The road can swallow you up if you let it. You have to make the decision, 'No, I am not going to find an after party or find a place to jam.' When the house lights go up and people go home, you have to go home. I am so happy and proud that my dad is happy and healthy and sober enough to do this. My hat's off to him and the other Brothers."
However, Allman's sobriety didn't end the band's troubles. Trucks explains how various internal uproars kept pushing him to leave the group.
"It was almost always because of one person and when I finally did make the decision to leave that's when we decided to change personnel," said Trucks of the dark days of 2000. "Dickey just couldn't stop drinking. When Gregg would get drunk, he'd try to stay out of the way. We'd run his mic down, turn is organ down and play more instrumental. Dickey stayed right in the middle of the stage and became very mean and aggressive. At one point I said, 'I can't do this anymore.' I called Gregg and he felt the same way."
The band sent Betts a letter urging him to seek help while they toured without him.
"Instead of seeking help, he sought a lawyer," said Trucks and a lengthy litigation continued. "That's when he was out."
After Betts left, the band went through several personnel shifts before it settled into the current lineup of Allman, Trucks, Jaimoe, percussionist Marc Quiñones, guitarist Derek Trucks (Butch's nephew), bassist Oteil Burbridge and guitarist-singer Warren Haynes.
|Haynes & Allman - ABB by Blakesberg|
"Right now we've got the right mix of players, maybe the best since [my brother died]," said Allman. "When we're together there is no bullshit, credit grabbing,or paranoia. It's just a group of seven guys playing music, which is what it should be."
Holman said residencies like the Beacon keep the members centered and give Gregg the much-needed time he needs to recharge before playing the marathon three-plus hour shows for which the band is famous. The result, said Trucks, is apparent on stage.
"It is getting better and better and better – it's like it was in this early days," he said. "We are all playing music because we like playing music. We like each other. We respect each other. If we have a little blow up we confront it and get it out and the band is stronger than ever. The people in the band are acting like adults rather than children. It's the right chemistry."
And that, observes Allman, is the reason he plans to continue playing with these guys for as many years as possible.
"I guess there is part of me that thinks there will come a day I can only sit back and watch," he said. "I want to get in as many shows as I can without taking anything away from the fans. I won't do the show half assed."
The Allman Brothers Band is currently in the midst of their annual Beacon Theatre run and recently announced West Coast dates. Details available here.
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