Duane Allman’s daughter never knew her father until she wrote a book about him.
Last week we introduced you to Galadrielle Allman, author of Please Be With Me, only two years old when her daddy, the world-famous guitar hero, perished in 1971. This week, she continues a conversation from New York City, where the Allman Brothers Band is heading for the finish line of its storied run, playing likely the last concerts of its annual series at the historic Beacon Theatre.
Weld: Another mystery came to light as you were writing your book: you discovered that you had a secret half-sister. How could you have not known about that beforehand?
Galadrielle Allman: I don’t think anyone did. It was really a secret that was well kept. At that time, I think what happened with Duane’s girlfriend from high school, Patty, was kind of classic: families would take their daughters somewhere safe and private to have the baby, and the baby would be quietly adopted. That’s what happened, and it’s a really sad story to me, that [the parents] didn’t have a chance to know her and raise her. But they were incredibly young, they were 16 and 17.
It was hard for me to find that out, because I’ve always had a strong sense of connection to my father as his only child. It made me feel really special. The idea that I would have to share that was actually hard, in a childish way. But she and I have had the nice beginnings of a communication, and it’s been sort of a learning curve for me, trying to think about that in a different way.
There’s an added complication that’s really heartbreaking, which is that she was born deaf and she can’t experience the music. We’ve mostly communicated through notes, texting and emails.
Weld: In the process of gaining this nuanced understanding of your father, can you say now what you think the biggest misconception people have of him might be?
GA: I feel like, in general, there is something about Southern-ness that people underestimate, and I think it’s that way with the band as well as with my father. They’re seen only through this regional lens, which I think they’re proud of, and I’m really proud of; we all have this feeling of connection, and the music absolutely comes out of the history of Southern music and out of that place. But somehow it doesn’t quite get held up with every other kind of music in the world, in terms of rock and roll. It gets separated out as “Southern rock.”
I’ve never thought that that was fair, and it’s kind of the same with my father. I think he was an incredibly well-read, incredibly articulate, very self-composed and elegant man. He could sit down with somebody like Ahmet Ertegun and Jerry Wexler [founders of Atlantic Records, the ABB’s first label] and totally impress them with his knowledge of music and of how the world worked. His friend, Thomas Doucette [harmonica player with the ABB] was a New Yorker who knew a lot of people in the art world, and he told me you could take Duane anywhere and introduce him to anyone and he would have something amazing to say.
There’s this way of categorizing the Allman Brothers…a hint of the redneck, or the good-time party guys. They could play that card and have a good time, but they’re actually sophisticated musicians and thinkers. I mean, Dickey Betts was a Django Reinhardt [celebrated jazz guitarist] fan. These were not people tapping into only one kind of music. They had depths of education in music unusual in men their age back then, especially white men. They really understood black music and had a respect for black culture. I think they’re all deeper than people realize.
Weld: The band’s manager, Phil Walden, had them criss-crossing the States, establishing them domestically, but if they’d been able to tour internationally early on, I think you would have seen a truly global response to the Allman Brothers Band. Which I gather they’re definitely enjoying now.
GA: Oh, yeah, that’s true. In fact, I’m getting friend requests on Facebook now from Japan, which tickles me. We forget that Duane was only with the band for two and one-half years, just the blink of an eye. They had so much ahead of them.
One of the interesting things I found, through a couple of people who work at the Big House Museum in Macon and helped me with some of the research, was a letter about the band going to Europe for a tour. Duane specifically asked to come on his own to Montreux [Switzerland] to do a blues revue, and I print part of that letter in the book. His life was just beginning as a musician. He didn’t begin to scratch the surface of who he could have been as a more evolved and seasoned performer all over the world. That was definitely his future, and it’s sad he didn’t get to do that. It’s sad for all of us. The world lost a real artist.
Weld: Well, you helped reinforce such a notion when you co-produced that box set last year. [Skydog: The Duane Allman Retrospective is a seven-CD collection released on Rounder Records.] How do you compare the job of assembling the book with the process of assembling the gigantic CD set?
GA: I couldn’t be prouder of that project, because that was a huge, epic experience, to listen to those tracks and make choices about them. [Co-producer] Bill Levenson is an incredibly seasoned box set producer, specifically, and he was absolutely determined. That entire set was licensed from so many different sources, I think it may be unique in that respect. Usually one home label has the bulk of the songs with them, but he searched out every single song and never gave up. He let me be at the emotional center of the box, in terms of helping find all the photos and making song choices with him. He really welcomed me into that process and it set the stage for me writing the book.
I was much more of an active participant, boots on the ground, in looking for the stories in my book, and I was lucky that Bill did most of the hard lifting for the box set. I got to go to his home in Long Island and listen, which was the easy part. It was an incredible counterpart to writing the book. Just the scale of it was instructive. I didn’t realize the depths of the session work my father did in so many different genres. He did amazing, amazing things. There’s no way to get the whole picture without hearing the songs. [Skydog] was the soundtrack for me writing the book, and I think it’s an amazing companion for it, because there is a little sampling of every kind of work he did. It was a huge gift to me to have these projects come back-to-back.
Weld: In a way, you’ve followed your father’s footsteps into the recording studios, because you narrated the audio version of Please Be With Me. How’d that go for you?
GA: Oh, that was an amazing experience. I have to tell you, the first day, I thought, there’s no way to do this. I almost broke down midway through the first day. It wasn’t an acting job. You have to emotionally interpret things, and I had a wonderful producer who really took time with me.
We were alone, she and I, in this little room with a glass wall between us. The first thing she said to me when she walked into the room was, “I read your book, I think it’s really honest and emotional, and I’m going to make sure you read from that place, too.” That was a pretty difficult thing. It took six days, nine- to ten-hour days, of just reading, which I had never even approached before. … It’s not easy, but it’s really rewarding to do, because you actually have to acknowledge the work that you’ve done. You have to go back to it and read every word out loud, and that really gave me a connection to the book as a whole. I could see it with a new eye.
It was intense. By the end, we were both in tears, and it was really powerful. And it did feel cool to end this in a studio, which was sort of home turf for my dad. I was grateful to have the opportunity and I’m glad I didn’t chicken out.
Weld: Having been able to realize the book in this medium, can you now imagine Please Be With Me being turned into a movie, as with your uncle Gregg’s memoir [My Cross to Bear]?
GA: I would absolutely love that experience. I think visually, and I made an effort — I went to the Chelsea Hotel and spent the night there, I went to the clubs [Duane Allman played] that still exist — I went to those rooms and kind of absorbed it. For the book, I tried to create a world that you could see in your mind, and I did that myself to write it. I would love to see it become a film. I think that would be exciting.
Weld: With the news that guitarists Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks are departing to pursue other projects, it looks as though the Allman Brothers Band is reaching the end of the proverbial road this year. How does that make you feel?
GA: [sighs] It’s really sad. It’s really sad to think about not seeing the music live anymore. It’s been a huge, huge gift to me to come to the Beacon every year. I’ve been lucky enough to see the entire run over many years, and it’s been an incredible experience to see artists like Oteil [Burbridge, bassist and honorary Birminghamian], Derek and Warren take seriously the project of the Allman Brothers Band, which is to be in the moment performing, pulling things out of yourself that have never been heard before. They don’t play the same set twice, they’re still living the music the way Duane and Berry and Dicky lived the music, making it in the moment for their audience. I think that’s why there is such absolute love for this incarnation of the band. It has genuine integrity as a creative experience. It’s not some sort of tribute band.
It’s a hard loss, but I understand it. This is year 45. It’s a huge milestone, and in some ways, that’s a goal, too: better to go out on a beautiful high note with the 45th anniversary than to sort of squeak out in year 47. [laughs]
Weld: I won’t mention the Who by name.
GA: Right. There are plenty of cautionary tales about staying too long at the party. I think [the ABB] wants to go out strong, and they’ve all got other projects, including my uncle. Jaimoe’s got his jazz band, Butch [Trucks, Derek’s uncle and the band’s other original drummer] has his Roots Revival project — they’re all going to be musicians for the rest of their lives. They’re just ready to put down the huge three-hour show, which I think anybody can understand.
Weld: Do you see any young musicians on the scene today who appear to you to burn with the same creative fire that your father had?
GA: Well, I’m kind of a dinosaur. I don’t pay attention to modern music that much, but I have to say that Derek and Susan’s [Tedeschi-Trucks Band] is a remarkable achievement. It’s an 11-piece group, and they are all serious musicians pushing themselves as hard as they can, working as this big unit. It’s not about highlighting a guitar prodigy, it’s this big, beautiful band. They really inspire me. There’s also a band called the Wood Brothers. Very scaled-down, almost singer-songwriter, but drawing from original American roots; I think they’re brilliant. I actually love Fleet Foxes: incredibly young guys who do these beautiful harmonies. They play music in an almost bluegrass vein, but it also feels really modern. And Cat Power. I really love Cat Power. She’s got such an emotional quality to her voice, it just moves me.
There’s real music going on out there in a pretty broad range of things, but I still have a deep love of people who really play their instruments and write songs. I’m not one of these people that says they hate hip-hop; when I was 20, I loved Public Enemy and Eric B & Rakim. When I was a lot younger, that music moved me, and it was powerful when I was in college. I have a pretty broad base of musical tastes, but for what I listen to at home, it’s the brilliant guitar players and the writers that move you. I think that’s always going to be the core.
Weld: Are you going to keep writing? Do you have another project lined up?
GA: I do want to keep writing. I have a couple of ideas. I’m curious about doing a project talking to other children of iconic musicians and how they found their own identities and how they see their parents. Even if your mother or father is a musician who just travels, you end up not having them in a traditional way, so you tap into their art as a way to supplement that. I think I’ll do something with that at some point. I’d also love to write a novel. I’ve started the skeleton of one. I’ve no idea if I can do it. I’ll have to just try.
I feel incredibly grateful to have had the experience to work with people who gave me the time and space to figure it out along the way. They were very patient with me, my wonderful publishers and my agent…I feel like I came into my own through the process, and it’s kind of an amazing idea to have a job where you can get interested in things and follow that passion and make something out of it to share. It’s a pretty good gig. I hope I get to keep it.
Though as yet her publishers have not ponied up to underwrite a sure-’nough book tour for her, Galadrielle Allman looks forward to getting back South and hitting Birmingham along the way, to meet fans of her father and to sign copies of the wonderful book she’s written about him. Please Be With Me: A Song for My Father, Duane Allman, in handsome print and dulcet audio versions, is available from Random House at fine bookselling emporia everywhere.