In his introduction to Alan Paul’s new One Way Out: The Inside Story of the Allman Brothers, drummer Butch Trucks noted many previous histories of the band have chronicled the “whos” and “whens.” But Paul’s oral history, built on interwoven interviews with those who were there, digs into the “hows” and “whys.” Trucks’ observation is pretty much spot on. No matter what you think you know about the ABB, One Way Out is bound to be revelatory on many levels. The story, after all, is a very complex saga. So it’s appropriate Paul lets those involved, the living members, managers, roadies, and contemporaries, some 60 voices in all, share how it all happened from the inside.
We all know the Allman Brothers Band was the brainchild of guitar virtuoso Duane Allman. At first, the group featured the line-up of Duane, his brother Gregg (vocals, organ, songwriting), Dickey Betts (lead guitar, vocals, songwriting), Berry Oakley (bass), and dual drummers Butch Trucks and Jai Johanny “Jaimoe” Johanson. Despite the many changes in membership to come, without question, upon this rock the ABB in particular and Southern rock in general sprouted and spun off in so many directions.
So it’s no surprise One Way Out begins and ends with testimonials from current and past members giving justified tribute to Duane, who was clearly one of those creative icons whose life was fast, hot, bright, and over much too soon. But less known is the fact Duane’s emphasis was on the brotherhood of the band, and that met the crew as well as the players. He insisted the crew be paid before the band and established the idea every player was as important as any other. For example, he was generous enough to play harmony while Betts provided the melody lines. In his studio work for other musicians, he not only played on Wilson Pickett’s version of “Hey Jude,” it was his idea the soulful belter do the song and Allman provided the basic riff for the cover as well.
Those were heady, memorable times for all involved. While the band was building steam beginning in 1969, the ABB were elevated into the stratosphere when they released At Fillmore East in 1971. Then the group took on mythical status when Duane died a few months after the album’s release, which was followed one year later when bassist Oakley died in similar circumstances. This was the period where Paul’s interviews really point to the music of the group, as this was when the bulk of their standards were recorded including “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed,” “Dreams,” “Midnight Rider,” “Mountain Jam,” and “Whipping Post.”
As noted by Trucks, fame is a dangerous thing, and it didn’t always help the group’s metamorphosis. Adding to their legendary status, like a phoenix from the ashes, the ABB were even more successful in 1973 after Betts took leadership, penning the hit “Ramblin’ Man” for that year’s Brothers and Sisters. But, by all accounts, the ABB then became something of a runaway train and stayed so for decades. Clearly, drugs took a huge toll on virtually every member. Less known was the fact Betts not only became the musical leader, but became something of a bully both on and off-stage. For example, he insisted on turning his amps up so loud, the rest of the band couldn’t hear themselves. Not only was the “brotherhood” being eroded, Gregg Allman became known more for being a celebrity — as when he wedded Cher — than his musicianship. If it was to survive, The Allman Brothers Band needed new, younger blood.
Which is exactly what saved the institution. With the comings and goings of many revolving players, the stories of the replacements and their perspectives show just how much the ABB went through to remain a viable performance entity, especially after 1989. Vital components of the refurbished group included the likes of Warren Haynes (guitar), Oteil Burbridge (bass), Derek Trucks (guitar), and Allen Woody, the bassist found dead in 2000, the same year the rest of the Allmans had enough of Betts and fired him. After that, Haynes became the de facto musical director, and the front line was freer to improvise and spread the leads around. In the new century, the ABB had finally found stability and really returned to the vision Duane had inspired all those years ago. A true musical brotherhood.
One Way Out: The Inside Story of the Allman Brothers is a book assembled by the right editor at precisely the right time. Journalist Alan Paul has covered the group for some 25 years and has integrated the memories of everyone available allowing them to tell their own stories, warts and all. This is rock ‘n roll, so there are plenty of warts from physical fights to legal battles to tragedies but triumphs as well, as when the 40th anniversary celebrations included jams with fellow travelers like Eric Clapton.
The timing is appropriate as the band has made it clear 2014 is their last hurrah. So One Way Out is something like The Beatles’ print version of Anthology, just with some 56 or so other participants. If you’re into the Allman Brothers Band, this is essential reading that strips away the myth to expose all the moving parts in vivid detail. A 45 year trip is no mean feat.