Music

Song Premiere: Gregg Allman Performing “Melissa” Live in 1974

Preview a bonus track from a special reissue of Laid Back, Allman’s debut solo album

photo: Herb Kossover

Gregg Allman and Chank Middleton, his best friend for forty-eight years, outside Macon, Georgia, in the 1970s.

In the spring of 1972, Gregg Allman was reeling from the death of his older brother and bandmate, Duane, who was killed in a motorcycle accident less than six months earlier. Nevertheless, Gregg and the rest of the Allman Brothers Band had soldiered on to finish their classic album Eat A Peach without him. But after it was finished, Gregg was restless, seeking refuge in the bottle and needing some time away. He had quietly begun writing a handful of songs that he felt might be outside the ABB’s oeuvre of searing Southern rock, blues, and country. 

At the urging of a friend, Gregg set up shop at Criteria Studios in Miami to work on a few songs, which would eventually lead to the late icon’s debut solo album, Laid Back, released in October 1973. Gregg brought one of those songs, “Queen of Hearts,” to the band as they were beginning sessions for their next album, Brothers and Sisters, but it was rejected by the other members, who weren’t exactly thrilled that he was working on a solo record at the same time the band was recording. “It was like the guy who has a girlfriend across town so as to keep his marriage together,” Gregg wrote in his 2012 memoir, My Cross to Bear. “With that in mind, Laid Back was my mistress. It didn’t make the other guys happy, because it slowed down the progress of Brothers and Sisters, but making that record was something I needed to do at that moment.”

photo: Neal Preston

Gregg Allman in 1973.

Once work on Brothers and Sisters wrapped, Gregg returned to Laid Back with gusto, recruiting musicians including guitarist Tommy Talton and future Allman Brothers keyboardist Chuck Leavell. By all accounts, the final recording sessions were electric, overflowing with chemistry and good vibes. Allman and producer Johnny Sandlin brought in horns and a string section as well as a gospel choir, all of which gave the album a clear delineation from the Allman Brothers’ sound. “Gregg loved Laid Back,” says his longtime manager Michael Lehman. “He just always cherished it and liked to look back on it. It held a special place in his heart.”

On August 30, Universal Records will reissue a remastered edition of Laid Back, including 26 extra tracks of early mixes, demos, and rare songs that provide a full picture of the album’s evolution, from a reworking of “Midnight Rider” to a solo demo of the gospel classic “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” and a raw, sparse version of “Multi-Colored Lady.” The reissue also features a previously unreleased live solo acoustic version of Gregg performing the Allmans’ classic “Melissa,” which Garden & Gun is thrilled to premiere below.

In the spring of 1974, Gregg embarked on his first solo tour, complete with a 24-piece orchestra (a vinyl reissue of the accompanying live album, The Gregg Allman Tour, also hits on August 30), and this version of “Melissa” was the encore from a show at the Capitol Theatre in Passaic, New Jersey. The audience is raucous as Gregg dedicates it to Duane and Allman Brothers bassist Berry Oakley (who died in a motorcycle accident a year after Duane), but by the middle of the song, the crowd is hushed as Gregg pours every ounce of emotion into his singing, culminating with a spine-tingling finish. 

Listen to “Melissa” below, and preorder  the remastered Laid Back here. 


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