1975 proved to be a year of drastic change for Lynyrd Skynyrd. In January, drummer Bob Burns left the band because of the stress brought on by heavy touring. (See our FAQ) Ronnie VanZant would later pen the song "Am I Losin'?" about Bob's departure. Artimus Pyle quickly filled the drummer's slot and Skynyrd proceeded to record their third album, Nuthin' Fancy.
After the release of Nuthin' Fancy, Skynyrd began a strenuous 90-day, 61-concert schedule aptly entitled "The Torture Tour". During the middle of the night on May 27, 1975 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, guitarist Ed King simply walked out. Ed remembered, "I couldn't live with it anymore. It was a situation that had gotten out of control and I had gotten out of control with it."
"I'm not proud of the way I left," said Ed, "but I'm glad I did. I had problems with the management, and there were internal conflicts in the band I just couldn't cope with."
Following the Ed's leaving, Lynyrd Skynyrd operated as a more conventional two guitar band, but still maintained their murderous concert schedule. However, for many, the band's momentum and creative ability had been dulled by the grind of their relentless touring and the constant demands to produce.
Rolling Stone magazine's record review called Nuthin' Fancy stiff and "awkward compared to live renditions of the same songs." Although commercially successful, Nuthin' Fancy reflected the turmoil Skynyrd was enduring. The album also marked the end of the band's releationship with several of their management staff.
The group bought out their original manager, Alan Walden, for 225,000 dollars and contracted with Peter Rudge and his Sir Productions. Many in the band felt Walden did not have a coherent long-term plan for Skynyrd. Allen Collins felt Walden simply booked Skynyrd in "the same old places where we had made all the money, so they could make their money." Collins believed, however, that Rudge had a career for us. You don't go to the same markets. You go to new places -- Canada, England and Europe. He's a brilliant guy."
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 recalled that 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. I never did find out what that was, but he did work really well with us."
Tom Dowd's approach for recording brought a touch of professionalism and maturity to Skynyrd's studio work. While Kooper had relied heavily on overdubbing to approximate the band's live sound, Dowd utilized a different style.
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, "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. Elson commented, "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."
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.
Originally, the band's recording shortcomings frustrated Dowd. He recalled his first steps in recording Gimme Back My Bullets, "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."
Four tracks of Gimme Back My Bullets were recorded in late September and early October 1975 at the Record Plant in Los Angeles. Skynyrd began a three week European tour on October 16, 1975. When the band returned to the United States in November, they completed the album at Capricorn Studios in Macon. Georgia.
Allen believed working with Dowd, "turned the rain into sunshine." The band appreciated the amount of freedom Dowd afforded them in constructing their songs. At the time of the album's release, Allen commented, "I think material-wise its 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. "Tom is still the best and only producer for this group," Ronnie VanZant asserted in the summer of 1976, "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."