A few months before Duane’s death he’d aimed to keep Gregg away from the draft (and, more than likely, service in Vietnam) by having him shoot himself in the foot while drunk, which might have been understandable, but also definitely points towards a propensity on both parts for impulsive risk taking behaviours. Having noted that, one also notes Gregg doesn’t try to gild the lily or make excuses for a lengthy spell of drug and alcohol abuse. 

Just over a year after the accident that took Duane out of the picture, ABB bassist died in similar circumstances. Popular mythology suggests Oakley grieved himself to death, but Gregg suggests that, rather than wanting to die I just think he didn't want to live, though he admits he could have done more to help him.  

With two out of six original members gone it’s ironic that the next couple of years provided the Allman Brothers Band a commercial heyday based around the emerging songwriting talent of Dickie Betts, which turned out to be, at least with Rambling Man and Blue Sky, something quite distinct from the hard core electric blues and jazz-inspired jamming that was the band’s original trademark.

Success is almost invariably a two-edged sword. While the band as a whole, and Allman in particular, got their spell of fame and fortune in the wake of Fillmore EastEat a Peach and Brothers and Sisters and scored a couple of hit singles in the form of the Dickey Betts-penned Blue Sky and Ramblin’ Man, these things invariably come with a cost, and in Allman’s case the price tag included multiple marriages, subsequent divorces, addictions and health issues that culminated in a 2010 liver transplant as a consequence of hepatitis C (allegedly coming from an unsanitary tattoo needle). 

Allman is fairly frank about both sides of the coin. Women threw themselves at him, and as a notional southern gentleman he probably would have thought it was bad manners to turn them away. When Allmans graduated to chartered jet status and boarded the Boeing 720, someone had written Welcome Allman Bros in cocaine on the bar.

From there the tabloid headline side of things gets the regulation airing, the marriage to Cher (the third of six wives, who smelled like I would imagine a mermaid would smell), hobnobbing with the likes of Jimmy Carter and the drugs busts (he was spared from one in 1976 in return for testimony against the road manager who’d bought the drugs for him and it broke up the band).

 There are helpful survival tips for would-be rockers for young players (When you know you’re going to scream, you lay your head back, which spreads your vocal cords real wide, and when the scream comes out, it barely nicks your vocal cords) and he’s tried to protect his hearing by staying stage right, out of the line of fire. He’d been stage right for most of the Allmans’ existence, but that issue would have been well to the fore in the years leading up to the dismissal of guitarist Dickey Betts, who ain’t no devilHe’s just a mixed-up guy. 

Betts is portrayed as a petty tyrant, who’d become the de facto leader of the band after Duane’s death and Gregg’s substance issues seem to have pushed him into the role. Betts’ own substance issues took hold in the years leading up to his ousting from the band in 2000. According to Allman, he and founder drummers Butch Trucks and Jaimoe intended the move as an opportunity for Dickey to clean up and would have welcomed the reformed guitarist back into the fold. With the subsequent inclusion of Warren Haynes into the fold as effectively, musical director, and the emergence of Derek Trucks, who Allman sees as his brother reincarnated, however, that was probably never a serious possibility.

Those points, for me, at least, cover the major points in the story (or at least the ones that are of most interest to Yours Truly), but there’s plenty of detail and reminiscence to flesh out the tale. Innumerable admissions to rehab centres, half a dozen marriages, two dissolutions of the Allman Brothers Band, drug and alcohol issues, personality clashes and creative decay within the outfit and assorted suicides, murders and accidents on the periphery, hepatitis C and a liver transplant, it’s (seemingly) all there, though you can’t help feeling a couple of matters are skipped over rather lightly.

If he’s inclined to do that while exploring the musical gumbo that the Allman Brothers Band whipped up in their heyday and continue to work right up to the present, you can’t really blame him. An interracial sextet coming out of the Deep South is remarkable in itself, the commercial success they achieved in the early seventies unprecedented, and the subsequent turmoil and travails, with the benefit of hindsight, rather unremarkable. 

It’s not as if the ABB was the only band torn apart by substances and creative issues in the wake of fame and considerable fortune. What is remarkable, and one’s inclined to suspect co-author Alan Light deserves some of the credit here, is the sharp focus Allman gives to most of the reminiscence. 

Though there are places where he could have gone into much more detail what’s there is delivered without apology and the result is a close to three-dimensional portrayal of the interaction of musical talent, fragile emotions and, predictably, rock and roll excess. It’s an interesting read for those who are familiar with the background and the public story, and a cautionary tale for those who might not be.

© Ian Hughes 2012