‘We were hungry, the whole band was hungry’: How Gregg Allman almost sold away his signature tune ‘Melissa’

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Gregg Allman remembers the first tune he ever wrote, at 17 — and the struggle for songwriting credit that engulfed “Melissa” before it was ever part of the Allman Brothers’ 1972 classic Eat a Peach.

Everything but the title of this track came at once, but then Allman struggled with the name. He even tried out “Barbara.” There was, alas, no Melissa.

“I was out on the road for the first time, and I guess I was little homesick — and I invented this girl,” Allman tells Howard Stern in this clip. “I wrote the whole damned song, except for the title. Anytime you get hung up on something, it’s best just to put it down. When you pick it up again later, who knows?”

Allman first put the song to tape in the late 1960s, with a pre-Allman Brothers band called the 31st of February that also included brother Duane Allman. But that album project, produced by Steve Alaimo, was never finished — and Allman, as things got tight financially, ended up making a youthful error: He sold away the songwriting credit for “Melissa” to Alaimo in 1968.

“We were hungry, the whole band was hungry,” Allman said. “I said: ‘Man, if you can hold this song and give me $250 on it, I would greatly appreciate it, because my band is starving.’ Anybody made of anything would have said: ‘C’mon, man, I’ll feed the band.'”

When Allman subsequently decided to redo this old favorite as part of the Allman Brothers discography, he was forced to confront Alaimo — who he’d come to feel was overly opportunistic.

“Later, I came back and said: ‘I need my tune back; here’s your $250,'” Allman said. “He said: ‘I’m sorry, I don’t think that was the number we were talking about.’ We weren’t talking about any number, but I saw what he was playing, and I said: ‘How about $10,000?’ Then I said something really foul to him. He’s a real parasite.”

Lawyers got involved, and ultimately Allman regained his rights to the song, and “Melissa” has become a concert staple.

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