Written by Alan Paul
St. Martin’s Press
One would have to think long and hard about embarking on a daunting task, especially when that task is chronicling the forty-five year legacy of a truly iconic rock band. Thankfully, Alan Paul was up to the challenge. Over his years as a senior writer with Guitar World magazine, the author conducted countless interviews with people involved with all of the different aspects of the Allman Brothers Band – from the four surviving original members to producers, management, road crew, and various musicians including those who were part of the fluctuating line-up over the years.
The author supplies the narrative thread starting with the formative days in Daytona Beach, FL where Duane and Gregg grew up after the family moved from Nashville. What makes the book special is that Paul uses quotes from his various sources to flesh out the narrative, letting the people who were actually there tell the story in their own words. When people have different recollections about a certain time period or a specific moment in time, Paul includes the differing points of views and lets the reader form opinions on what really transpired. It is a fair approach that works well, particularly when it comes time to detail the bitter parting- of-the-ways the band had with founding member Dickey Betts.
The first half of the book chronicles the genesis of the band as Duane and Gregg’s attempt to hit the big time, including an ill-advised move to Los Angeles in the pursuit of stardom. Duane quickly tires of the demands to conform and heads back home, eventually landing in Muscle Shoals, AL where he becomes a valued session musician for hit-makers like Aretha Franklin and Wilson Pickett. It was Duane’s idea to get Pickett to cover the Beatles “Hey Jude” resulting in a monster record. Soon Duane connects with drummer Jaimoe and bass player Berry Oakley, their jams creating plenty of musical sparks. Soon they add Butch Trucks, fulfilling Duane’s desire to have two drummers like James Brown and Otis Redding.
When Duane and Dickey Betts start jamming, they immediately develop a rapport that allows them to play off each other’s guitar lines, with Betts playing melodic harmonies that magically intertwine with Duane’s brilliant slide playing. But the band still is missing something. Finally, Gregg is convinced to come home from LA to give the band its voice. Building from free concerts in parks to club dates up to theater concerts, the band honed its unique blend of blues-based rock while building a faithful fan-base for their rousing live shows.
Duane is the driving force behind the band – his positive energy and encouragement keeps things together despite the constant grind of touring. His reputation gets a further boost when Eric Clapton invites Duane to be part of his Derek & the Dominos project that ultimately leads to the classic Layla album. Paul takes you into the middle of that project with comments from Clapton, producer Tom Dowd, and the keyboard player for those sessions, Bobby Whitlock. Once the Allman Brothers release their famed Fillmore live recording, they reach the height of acclaim. Bookings for concerts and festivals include fees that exceed $100,000 per show.
But it all starts to unravel when Duane is killed in a motorcycle accident at the end of October, 1971. The band family is stunned. After only a few weeks, the survivors decide to soldier on. Paul explores the emotional turmoil of that period through statements from a wide range of people involved with the Allman Brothers organization. At the same time, drug and alcohol abuse begins to take its toll. Betts struggles to learn to play the slide guitar licks that their fans expect to hear. He takes over the leadership of the group and, as Paul points out, utilizes a style that is dramatically different than Duane’s guidance.
Paul portrays the slow dis-integration of the band at several different points, examining the struggles of Gregg, Betts, Jaimoe, and Trucks to remain relevant through line-up changes that forced the band to be constantly adjusting their sound to fit new players into the “Allman Brothers” sound. One valuable aspect of Paul’s efforts over the years is his interviews with key people like Dowd, Lyndon, and Woody allow them a voice in the story even though they all passed away years ago. Over the second half of the book, the band manages several times to resurrect itself just as the end seems near. Once the decision is made to pair returning member Warren Haynes with Butch’s nephew, Derek Trucks, the revival is complete. Their distinctive sound returns, delighting long-time fans as well as a new generation of listeners.
It is all here, laid out with fairness and honesty, without dwelling on the sensational episodes of the band’s existence – tragedies like Berry Oakley’s death, the murder charge for road manager Twiggs Lyndon over an unpaid performance fee, and the passing of Allen Woody, bass player for the ABB for eight years and a member of Gov’t Mule. It is a monumental tale that Paul spins with an easy grace, helping readers to experience the palpable excitement of the early years as well as crushing despair of the dark moments that seem to dog the band at every turn. This one will have you turning pages into the wee hours of the night. It is an outstanding read – and comes highly recommended!