The Allman Brothers Band
The Allman Brothers Band They formed in 1969, but the road veterans continue to tour like they have something to prove. And they're already legends, with a secure place in history, a plaque at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and a 2012 Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. But The Allman Brothers Band is also a vital contemporary phenomenon, as much a part of the present and future of music as any band can be.

In early 2003, the group released the critically lauded Hittin' The Note, their first new studio project in nine years (and 24th overall). Released March 18, 2003 on their own Peach label, these 11 tracks proved the band's ability to adapt its classic sound to the energy and aesthetics of modern rock. The Allman Brothers Band underlined the success of Hittin' The Note (including two Grammy nominations for the track "Instrumental Illness") with a live DVD and CD recorded in New York during the group's annual marathon of shows at the Beacon Theatre (which they have packed over 150 times, including 13 sell-outs in 2007). The group also continues to release music from their personal archives, which they've guarded closely over the years.

The Allman Brothers Band at the Beacon Theatre... just hearing the phrase conjures up images and sounds of well executed and passionately played live rock and roll. To capture the event for fans who might not necessarily have been lucky enough to get into the 2894-seat venue, the group recorded the shows, and released the Live At The Beacon Theatre DVD in late '03, and it was quickly certified platinum. One Way Out, a live album from the same Beacon stand, came out in March 2004. Both of those along with Hittin' The Note were re-released in 2011 via their own Peach Records (via their new distribution deal with Entertainment One Music).

2003 also brought further accolades for the Allmans. The band was recognized by Rolling Stone for featuring four of the top 100 guitarists of all time: the late Duane Allman was cited as #2, while current guitarists Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks came in at #23 and #81, respectively. Known as one of rock's best live acts, the Allman Brothers Band were one of only two artists whose live albums ranked in the top 50 of Rolling Stone's list of the "500 Greatest Albums of All Time." The Allman Brothers Band was honored for At Fillmore East (while James Brown was saluted for Live At The Apollo). An expanded version of At Fillmore East and the previously unavailable Atlanta International Pop Festival (the July 1970 concert that they both opened and closed) were released to critical and fan acclaim. The group was selected as the first artist to introduce the "Instant Live" program, whereby fans were able to purchase CD copies of the Allman Brothers Band concert they just saw, immediately after the show. In 2006, another honor was bestowed upon Brother Gregg Allman: he was inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame in the performer category (the band was inducted in 1998) and his brother Duane was inducted in 1982.

Not many groups have been around as long as The Allman Brothers Band. Of those that have, most have either lapsed into a nostalgia-act coma or withered on a weary vine. If you're talking about a band that has both legs and heart, whose experience feeds an intensity that's rare even among the greenest music newbies, that narrows the field pretty much down to these psychedelic sons of the South.

But passion doesn't come easily, which helps explain why it's taken them so long to record once again. In April 1997, frustrated by tensions within the group that were threatening to slow its creative momentum, Warren Haynes and bassist Allen Woody left to pursue Gov't Mule (with whom Haynes still tours and releases new music, as well as with his solo project), and the focus of the group shifted exclusively to live performance. Though they still delivered killer shows, something was missing, and eventually it became clear that the only way to get it back was to make a change in the personnel.

The Brothers had been in this place before; in 1999 it expanded its improvisational range by bringing a then-fresh faced, 21-year-old Derek Trucks, into the lineup, with a solo style that mingled elements of Southern rock, bluesy slide guitar, and free-form jazz. In September 2000, after the departure of longtime guitarist Dickey Betts, they reached this time into their past by inviting Haynes to come back. It was a poignant moment for all concerned, as Allen Woody's passing had suddenly put Gov't Mule on hold.

Sitting in with the Allman Brothers Band in 2001, during their annual concert series at New York's Beacon Theatre, Haynes slid easily into his old role, trading licks and cruising through the group's trademark twin-guitar passages, paired for the first time with Trucks. That's all it took to convince the band to start laying down tracks again.

"Everybody was itching to get back into the studio," Haynes says. "We all wanted to break some new ground, and at the same time we wanted to maintain the Allman Brothers Band. Of course, that's not difficult with this band, but with all the new blood and excitement about making a new record, we found ourselves exploring a lot of new territory. The chemistry between me and Derek very quickly reached a telepathic level, and I think Gregg started singing better than he has since the '70s."

More critically, a rush of new songs accelerated the band's momentum. "Gregg and I started writing, and everything fell into place, even more so than in the past," Haynes says. "The first song we wrote this time out was 'Desdemona,' and it was such a high water mark that we were like, 'Okay, now we've got to compete with that in every song we write.'"

They kept to that standard on all the original titles recorded for Hittin' The Note. (The album also includes two covers, Freddy King's "Woman Across the River" and the Rolling Stones' "Heart Of Stone," along with "Rockin' Horse," which Allman, Haynes, Woody, and Jack Pearson co-wrote in 1994.) In settings that range from the intimate acoustic guitar duo "Old Friends" to the turbulent long-form (and Grammy-nominated) jam "Instrumental Illness," Hittin' The Note proves that this band is bigger than any era through which it has passed, as strong as any of the many acts it has inspired, with a lot more history still to be made.

"Things have changed in a good way," Gregg Allman muses. "They say everything happens for the best, and you wonder why at the time, but then in the long run you see why. Someone will go, and that's a real drag, but then somebody else comes in who adds so much more than you even expected. With the people we've got now, as long as we just keep playing without any gimmicks or cutting any corners, I guess we'll be around for a long time more."