Editors note: In light of Widespread Panic’s sold out, two-night stand at the Saenger Theater this week, let’s dig into some southern rock roots … in the first of what will hopefully become a somewhat regular column for SANDSpaper, writer Nic Schuck — who routinely explores local history with his Emerald Coast Tours — relays a notable Pensacola connection to one of the Allman Brothers Band’s more well-known hits.
by Nic Schuck
At the time Gregg Allman wrote what would become one of the Allman Brothers Band’s biggest hits, he was still two years away from forming the legendary southern rock band with his brother Duane. The pair was tiring of playing cover songs and decided to try their hand writing their own music — it was in a local beach motel that the muse struck and “Melissa” was born.
“I wrote that song in 1967 in a place called the Evergreen Hotel in Pensacola, Florida,” Allman told the San Luis Obispo Tribune in 2006. “By that time I got so sick of playing other people’s material that I just sat down and said, ‘Okay, here we go. One, two three — we’re going to try to write songs.’ And about 200 songs later — much garbage to take out — I wrote this song called “Melissa.””
Some of the popular music venues in Pensacola during this period included the Spanish Village on Santa Rosa Island and the Sahara Club. It was at the Sahara Club where local teenage girl group the Sandpipers met Gregg, then 17-years-old, and Duane, who was a year older, and had them join the group as the backing band. Gregg and Duane soon convinced the girls to go to New York for the summer where they had some shows set up.
“Duane and Gregg Allman were responsible for telling my parents, ‘Fran and Charlie, bring the girls out to New York, we’re gonna be there during the summer at Trude Heller’s in Greenwich Village, and you should bring the girls.’” Sandpiper Charlyne Kilpatrick told writer Jeff Lemlich with Soul Up North magazine. “The disc jockey that got us into the Sahara Club had some connections with Columbia Records and Bob Johnston, who was working with Bob Dylan, and he arranged an audition with Columbia.”
Once in New York, the Sandpipers landed a recording contract with Tru Glo Town Records and the Allman Joys were not chosen to be the backing band during the recording sessions. The brothers and the Sandpipers parted ways.
While the Sandpipers enjoyed their success, the Allman Joys came back to Pensacola and started playing shows at venues like the Sahara Club, The Place, The Casino at Casino Beach, the Electric Experience and the one show recorded during that period at The Spanish Village where they shared the bill with a band called the 5 Men-its.
The Allman Joys recorded their first album in 1966 at a studio called Bradley’s Barn in Nashville. At some point between their first and second album, Gregg and Duane played with the band the 31st of February and it was at this time “Melissa” was written. The following year, the band changed its name to Hourglass and recorded another album.
They toured the country and opened for such acts as Buffalo Springfield and the Doors and played venues like the Fillmore West and Whiskey-A-Go-Go.
In 1968, Hourglass recorded a second album and then traveled down to Muscle Shoals, Ala., for a demo recording session with the legendary Jimmy Johnson. Their record label wasn’t interested in the new demos and, in fact, was no longer interested in any of the band members except Gregg. And the Hourglass era came to an end.
By 1969, after a brief reprise of both 31st of February and Hourglass — and Duane’s stint as a session musician in Muscle Shoals — the brothers reunited in their hometown of Jacksonville, Fla., and formed what would become arguably the biggest and most influential southern rock bands of the era.
In 1972, the year after Duane’s fatal motorcycle accident, the song “Melissa” made its debut on the Allman Brothers Band’s “Eat a Peach” album. Gregg sung the song at his brother’s funeral, citing it as one of Duane’s favorites.
The only known recording of the Allman Joys in Pensacola is from July 22, 1966 at the Spanish Village. The performance includes covers of the Beatles’ “Help,” as well as “Old Man River” and “Good Lovin'” … Enjoy.