Alan Paul Delivers an Astute Oral History of the Allman Brothers Band
The Allman Brothers Band had it all planned last March, celebrating 45 years with a farewell concert at the Beacon Theater. They’ve held court there nearly every year since 1989. Closing out that run this March 2014 would have been a fitting bow for the band, which first jammed as the Allman Brothers in Jacksonville, Florida, 45 years earlier on March 26, 1969. Because of Gregg Allman’s illness in those last days of last March, however, the band had to wait another six months to bid farewell, during a characteristically Allman-esque jam session on October 28, 2014, at the Beacon – the final evening of a six-night stand.
Alan Paul was there for every single night in October, just as he had been in March, when I ran into him. For all the time he’s spent with the Allman Brothers Band over the past year — and over the past twenty-five years — Paul might as well be a member of the band, and he’s certainly part of the extended Allman family. No one else is even remotely as qualified, or close enough to the members of the band, to write an oral history of the Allmans. Indeed, many of the band’s members are among Paul’s close friends.
A senior writer for Guitar World, Paul has a way with a story, too, and he artfully leads us through the twists and turns of the Allmans’ chronicle, much as Duane Allman provided the key to the highway in the notes he dropped along the side of the road for us to follow.
In his book, One Way Out: The Inside History of the Allman Brothers Band, Paul catches up with the legendary band that’s spent its life runnin’ to keep from hidin’ in this entertaining, compulsively readable oral history of the Allman Brothers band. And this is oral history at its best. Through interviews with every member of the band except Duane and original bassist Berry Oakley, their friends and music associates – as well as in sidebars about various aspects of the band’s history and a “highly opinionated” discography – Paul traces the ups and downs of the band and its music beginning in the earliest days of the Allman Brotehrs, during Duane’s and Gregg’s early bands in Jacksonville, Florida, as they developed their signature sound with the original members of the band. He explores Duane’s side projects with Derek and the Dominoes and Muscle Shoals, follows along through the deaths of Duane and Berry to the various incarnations of the Allman Brothers over the past 20 years.
Paul’s free-flowing jam reveals that the band’s deep love of playing music has held them together through many stormy Mondays and win, lose, or draw, they’re bound to keep on ridin’. His book is chock full of photographs of the group, and in the new paperback edition, Paul expands the story, taking us behind the scenes during the final days of the Allman Brothers Band.
I recently chatted with Alan Paul about One Way Out:
Henry Carrigan: What prompted you to write this book now? How long has it been in the making?
Alan Paul: The interviews go back to 1990. The time just seemed right. I started compiling it into a book about four years ago to see what I had, and I knew that I could deliver the book [that] this band’s rich history deserved, which had not been written yet. I had the access, the understanding, and the desire. I felt that I owed it to myself, to the band, and to their fans to write the book and to do my very best to make it definitive.
You’ve talked not only to every living member of the band in its various incarnations but also to many of their friends and fellow musicians. Did you face any challenges getting access to anyone? Is there anyone who was reluctant to talk with you?
Remarkably, not really. I would have loved a second interview with Eric Clapton. I had so many questions I wish I had asked. I wanted to circle back to a few more people, and I kicked myself repeatedly for not doing more interviews with original manager and record label owner Phil Walden, before he passed away. I’m glad I got as much as I did.
Guitarist Dan Toler and tech Joe Dan Petty were both guys I knew pretty well and spoke to quite a few times, but never formally interviewed and then they passed away – Joe Dan way back in 2000, but Danny not long ago. By the time I started writing, he had advanced ALS and could not talk.
And I had a great conversation with Bonnie Bramlett, who then told me I couldn’t use any of it. It was a lot of fun for to talk to her and she had some cool thoughts, but none of it was essential to the Allman Brothers Band.
I found that some people who don’t really do interviews, like Bruce Springsteen’s manager Jon Landau and Boston promoter Don Law were happy to talk because they are proud of their association with the Allman Brothers and happy to have it known.
What are the greatest flaws in the Allman Brothers Band? Their greatest strengths?
Their greatest strength has always been their openness to everyone expressing themselves, and the way they touch on so many musical genres – blues, jazz, rock, country, folk and rock – and combine it into something entirely unique.
Their biggest flaws have been mostly non-musical: ongoing struggles with substance abuse, an inability to get along for long stretches of time. In the ‘80s they succumbed to trying to be au courant and that was a big problem. Otherwise, they’ve remained remarkably true to their original musical vision.
In many ways, this is a book about Duane Allman; his spirit certainly pervades the book, and almost every conversation somehow turns back to Duane. Can you describe what the band lost when Duane died, and how his death affected later incarnations of the band?
That’s an interesting question and I agree with the premise, though I think it’s an exaggeration to say almost every conversation turns back to him. It raises an interesting point, though. I haven’t necessarily thought about this as a book about Duane, but I understand why you say that and I did very consciously bring it back to talking about Duane on the last page because his spirit so thoroughly infuses the band to this day. Warren Haynes just told me the other day that when they have to make musical decisions, it still revolves around “What Would Duane Do?”
What they lost is almost incalculable. It was very important to Duane that the band not be about him – that everyone have an equal say. That has oddly kept him more alive in the band over the years. If he had made it the Duane Allman group, it would have died with him. But he was undoubtedly the visionary and the unspoken leader. Bassist Berry Oakley was second in command, and he died a year after Duane in 1972. What they accomplished in the shadow of these losses is truly remarkable, and deserves as much or more attention as all of their struggles.
I love Warren Haynes’ words: “The Allman Brothers Band is based on the fact that no one on stage can rest on his laurels; you have to bring it.” Were there periods when the band did not “bring it”? What are some of the shows that you can recall where the band more than brought it?
For the most part, the Allman Brothers have always remained an excellent live band. 1980-82 was their only embarrassing period, when they released two really lame albums for Arista, trying to make music of the time and write pop hits. But even then, they were mostly a strong live band, as long as you can overlook an occasional keytar solo.
Throughout the 90s, they were mostly very strong, but both Gregg Allman and Dickey Betts went through periods of serious substance abuse that could derail shows. The overall band was strong enough to overcome a lot, but I saw a few shows that made me cringe.
I’ve seen the band more than bring it too many times to count. Most of my most memorable experiences have taken place at the Beacon Theatre, where they have will have played 236 shows since 1989 when the upcoming run is done. I think I’ve been to well over 50. I wish I’d been more of a counter, but it’s been plenty, and the energy in that room when they are really cooking is just off the charts. I’ve never experienced anything else quite like it.
What are some of the ways that the Allman Brothers Band has influenced rock and other kinds of music?
The Allman Brothers have always been very diverse, so their influence is widespread. No one else has really copied them, because the scope is too big. They’ve had a huge influence on country music – as evidenced by the presence of Eric Church, Martina McBride, Trace Adkins and others at the Tribute to Gregg Allman concert in January. The Allmans and the Grateful Dead are the lynchpins of the entire jam band world, though most of those bands lack the blues feeling to really do the Allmans justice. All of Southern Rock, from Lynyrd Skynyrd on down, stemmed from the Allmans. And every band that’s ever featured two lead guitars played in harmony owes them a debt of gratitude.
Have you had a chance yet to read Galadrielle Allman’s memoir/biography of her father, Duane? What do you think of it?
Yes. I read an advance copy of Please Be with Me and thought it was a lovely, and courageous book. People who can’t get enough of Duane – and there are lots of us – will really enjoy it. I felt pretty proud to walk into a Barnes and Noble and see our books together on the front table and be a part of bringing Duane to the fore like that.
Her book also provides a lot of heartbreaking insight into the process of trying to get to know a parent who died when you were too young to remember them.
What’s next for you?
I really don’t know. I’ve been grinding on this book pretty hard for two or three years– researching it, writing, it, picking photos, proofing, and now promoting it. It’s all been an honor and fun in a meta sense, but I want to stop and smell the roses a little. Hang out with my family. Eat, drink, be merry. I have a few solid ideas percolating and in the process of chilling a little, the right thing will surface.