After Second Helping, MCA had bought out Al Kooper's Sounds of the South record label, but Kooper stayed with Skynyrd to produce Nuthin' Fancy. Rudge, however, quickly broke with Kooper and arranged for veteran producer Tom Dowd to take over at the recording controls. Dowd had previously worked with everyone from Otis Redding to Cream to the Allman Brothers.

Originally, the band approached Dowd with little hope he would be interested in producing Lynyrd Skynyrd. However, Leon heard differently.

Leon; "Dowd was all for it, and commented that he was really interested in working with us because he wanted to do with us what he never got to do with the Allmans in the studio."


ALLEN, RONNIE, GARY 1975

 


Leon;
"I never did find out what that was, but he did work really well with us."

Lynyrd Skynyrd, under Dowd's supervision, would not record an entire album at one time. During the formative stage, the band would begin putting together their new songs. Skynyrd wrote much of Gimme Back My Bulletsin the studio under Dowd's direction. Dowd took a more active role because, in his view, the band was at a weak point in their career.

Tom Dowd; "Gimme Back My Bullets was laborious. Ed King had left, but it wasn't a new horizon for them. It was a new opportunity for them, I guess, because they were weaker than they normally stood."

 


Kevin Elson, one of the band's first roadies/all purpose assistants who later graduated into running Skynyrd's live sound, also felt the recording of Gimme Back My Bullets occured at a poor time.

Kevin Elson; "They were pushed into the studio too quick. I think partially it was the record companies fault and partially the band's fault. They felt they could probably write just about anything and do well...I think they were just too hurried."

 

Gary Rossington agreed; "We were kind of lost. You know, we just did it because it was time and they said do it. We wrote half that in the studio with Tom."

 


GARY ROSSINGTON

 


Dowd's recording technique required him to develop certain arrangements for the new songs and then, after intensive rehearsals, he would send the band out on the road to practice playing the new arrangements. Then after the tour, if the songs went over well live, Skynyrd would again meticulously arrange and rehearse each song in preparation for recording. After the band worked up the songs satisfactorily, they would record the basic tracks with the band in the studio as a whole. The only overdubs were for vocals and fine tuning. Indeed Kooper's over-dubbing obsession left the band weakened in the studio.

Dowd; "They were all very good musicians, but they were running over some elementary things. Once they mastered the elementary things, things came easily. Its like a child. They take one step backwards so they can take two steps forward. I took them one step backwards and they started going forward."

 


Another major change in Skynyrd's approach was their decision to record with ( and later, tour with ) a trio of female backing singers. The first two to be hired were Leslie Hawkins and Memphis resident Jo Jo Billingsley. The band had two, but wanted another singer. Jo Jo suggested her friend Cassie Gaines and the 'Honkettes' ( as they became known ) were together. Cassie came to the band as a graduate from Memphis State University.

The band cut four tracks for the album between late September and early October of 1975, at the Record Plant in LA. October 16 saw the band embark on a three-week European tour. Once this finished, they reconvened at Capricorn Studios in Macon, Ga to finish the album.

Skynyrds country influences were more on show than on past efforts on this album. Country tinged tracks included 'All I can do is write about it' and 'Every Mothers Son'. Another notable track was 'Cry for the Bad Man' which was written about Skynyrd's somewhat bitter split from former manager Alan Walden.


'HONKETTES'
CASSIE GAINES
JO JO BILLINGSLEY
LESLIE HAWKINS

 


Before he died. Ronnie spoke with Alan and told him that he was sorry for having written the song about him.

Once again, heavy touring was called for to support the sales of 'Gimme Back my Bullets'. It didn't take long for the band to ditch the albums title track from their live set list.

Ronnie; "We quit doin' the song, because almost every audience would throw a handful of bullets, you know, like .38 slugs. I'd say 'Gimme Back My Bullets', and they'd let me have it. There are two types of 'bullets' ( in the music business ). There's bullets from a gun, and there's a bullet on the trade magazines. I wish you'd listen to the song that ( second ) way, that's the way it was meant."

 
Allen believed working with Dowd,
"turned the rain into sunshine". The band appreciated the amount of freedom Dowd afforded them in constructing their songs.

Allen commented; "I think material-wise it's our best album. Its definitely our best mixed."

Initially, Gimme Back My Bullets was Skynyrd fastest selling album to date and gave ammunition to those who claimed Lynyrd Skynyrd had replaced the stagnant Allman Brothers as the Kings of Southern Rock. However , the album sales slowed considerably and Gimme Back My Bullets remains the least successful of all the original Skynyrd albums.

Dowd did make true believers of Skynyrd though.

Ronnie; "Tom is still the best and only producer for this group. We were going for a completely different sound and it didn't work. We had always been so heavy and muddy, we decided to make a clean Lynyrd Skynyrd album. The material was good, it was just too... refined."

       


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Chapter 6: 1976 To 1977 - 'From The Road'