Galadrielle Allman on “Please Be with Me: A Song for My Father, Duane Allman”
On October 29, 1971, Duane Allman, the soulful lead guitarist who passionately wove expressive and fluid guitar solos into the music of iconic artists like Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, King Curtis, Derek and the Dominoes, and the Allman Brothers, died in a motorcycle crash near Macon, Georgia. He left behind an already remarkable musical legacy, a young wife, and a two-year-old daughter named Galadrielle.
With the same musical emotion that her father spun into whatever songs he played, Allman’s daughter spins a poignant and picturesque portrait of a father she never really knew, while at the same time searching to discover, to know, and to love him. Please Be with Me: A Song for My Father, Duane Allman (Speigel & Grau), is lovingly crafted as part memoir and part biography. Galadrielle Allman – named for the princess of the elves in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Duane’s favorite book – moves from feeling so distant from her father that she feels simply like one of his many fans, to feeling a close and everlasting connection to him.
As she searches for a fuller portrait of her father, she gathers stories from her family, his bandmates, and friends, all of which helps her to grow ever closer to the man whose music moved millions. She comes to recognize herself in him and embrace their deep connection. Through her quest, Galadrielle narrates her father’s life, revealing the portrait of a man so immersed in music that his hands played guitar notes even in his sleep.
From Duane’s life, she learns several lessons that she embraces: “Do what you love and own who you are. Time is precious and death is real. So is Art: it defies them both.” In the end, writing this book simultaneously opens and closes a chapter in Galadrielle’s life. She writes as if to her father: “I want to believe you will stay close to me. I tell myself you live in my blood and bones and you will come when I need you. I will stop seeking you constantly now. I will know you are in me and not out in the world …We are tied together as surely as a string is wound tightly through the tuning peg of a guitar. The connection between us is physical, actual, real.”
Galadrielle Allman’s sweet song to her father brings Duane Allman to life in a way that no other biography will ever be able to do. I recently talked with her about her book and her father.
Henry Carrigan: What prompted you to write this book?
Galadrielle Allman: It’s kind of amazing that there aren’t more books about my father. I read the ones that are out there, and I couldn’t get a sense of what drove him. It was right. It was right before my 40th birthday, and I thought “I’m not going to learn about him organically,” so I went after it. Once I got my courage up to go on this journey, everyone was so supportive. I am always searching for a song, a photograph, a moment saved in someone’s memory to bring my father into sharper focus. I was so young when we lost him. I have no memory of my own to lean into. I am very lucky that my father is Duane Allman, an artist who left behind a wealth of incredible music, and the world shares my desire to know him.
How long did it take you to write it?
The research and writing probably took about five years, but I’ve had parts of this written since I was twenty-five. Of course, it’s been a kind of lifelong dream to do this. Sometimes you have a story like this, and when you get ready to start to write it, you follow what it asks you to do. I sort of walked into the deep end.
How did you come up with the title?
I kept a list of titles. I’ve always loved the song, “Please Be with Me,” the Cowboy song he played on, and that was one of his last studio recordings. I realized that this is exactly what I would say to him.
You had a chance to tune up for this longer book in your shorter remembrance in Skydog: The Duane Allman Retrospective box set that came out in 2013.
Yes, that box set is the soundtrack I wrote to. As I say there, it’s in the music on those seven discs where Duane can finally be found.
As you got to know your father through writing this book, what do you think are some of his most memorable traits?
My father was passionate, honest, a man of integrity and a truth teller. In his guitar playing, he was emotionally expressive; I’m always moved by the nakedness of his playing; he’s absolutely baring himself, moving on this musical journey, and he never wastes a note. What’s amazing to me is that he’s playing notes that aren’t even on the guitar. He has a distinctive voice, too, and he communicates a world with his vocals.
Were there aspects about your father about which you wish you hadn’t learned?
Well, there were definitely upsetting moments. His touring schedule was brutal and he often sought the company of drugs and other women. But, it was important for me to see a lot of that in the context of the age and what everyone around him was doing, too. It was important for me to recognize my father as a human being. He was a provocative person who could be sweet, loving, and funny, and I wanted to know about all aspects of him. You can’t play the blues unless you live life fully.
What are Duane’s greatest contributions to popular music?
Playing slide guitar. Jesse Ed Davis and Ry Cooder inspired him, and my father took this fairly arcane blues style and married it to his own. He inspired a generation of musicians to use slide. He was a great lead guitarist, and just as good a rhythm player. He always had this confidence and charisma, and people still talk about his presence in the studio or on stage. He never put down his guitar. He’s influenced the ways that the guitarists in the Allman Brothers Band play. I’ve seen Warren [Haynes] and Derek [Trucks] take huge leaps. I’ve seen the way a guitar player can stretch out, keep learning and keep finding new ways of pushing himself. I think my father demystifies the idea of genius with his guitar playing. His playing illustrates that it takes focus, drive, commitment, and a deep work ethic to achieve the heights he was able to reach.
Do you have a favorite song of your father’s?
What fascinates me most about his music is its range. I like best to hear him playing tough old blues and acoustic blues.
What do you think Duane would be doing today if he had not died?
He would have been just as curious as he always was. I don’t think he would be resting on his laurels. My father would have taken his work in a lot of different directions. I think he would have done more writing and producing. He always stayed engaged. Duane was a powerful person whose vision of the band was that every incarnation of the band involved every musician playing at their peak every night.
Have you had a chance to read Alan Paul’s book on the Allman Brothers Band, One Way Out?
Yes. I love books like his that use oral histories to tell the story of the band.
What lessons would you like readers to take with them from your book?
The power of music. I hope they’ll dig deeper into my father’s entire catalog and to see the depth and meaning of what the Allman Brothers did. I hope my book inspires people who have lost ones they love to revisit their own families. I hope the book illustrates how we can carry the ones we’ve lost in our lives with us.
What’s next for you?
I’m very interested in talking to children of musicians who have lost their parents – like Rosanne Cash and Ravi Coltrane, for instance – and trying to discover how music functions in family, and how such loss affects their identity.