Alan Paul’s One Way Out : The Allman Brothers Uncut
It struck me that you weren’t able to speak with Duane or Berry – but they have a strong presence just the same.
Oh, thank you. Some people were urging me to use interviews with Duane and Berry – they both did some radio interviews that haven’t been very well heard and those were available to me. Some people that I trusted and were talking to about the book really wanted me to use those so I would have Duane and Berry’s voices. I certainly contemplated it, but it was important to me in the end to have everything first hand and use interviews I had done.
The only interviews in the book that I didn’t conduct were the ones with Red Dog. Those were done in – I believe – 1986 by Kirk West. He conducted the interviews and literally never even listened to them – they went right into his archives. When Kirk turned the tapes over to me, I was literally the first person that had ever listened to them.
I really thought it was important to have Red Dog in there; I knew him quite well and spent a lot of time hanging out with him but I never formally interviewed him … what was I thinking? So I felt very, very blessed and lucky to have the ability to use those tapes … and that’s why I made an exception for them.
Did you envision this being an oral history right from the beginning?
Yeah, I think I did. The origins go back to a 2009 Guitar World cover piece celebrating the 40th anniversary of the band, which was an oral history. I always really liked the format; I thought it was a good way for me to use my archives. I felt it was one of the better in-depth stories that had been done on the band and covered a lot of their history – but even a long magazine article is pretty short when you’re talking about a 40-year history.
So I had a pretty good vision of how I could expand that and how there was room there to turn it into something bigger and better. I think it’s effective because the guys have such strong voices – and there are places where there are different versions of what happened …
Ah! I wanted to ask you about that. I imagined it helped with you not always having to be the referee.
Well, I was the referee in the sense that if someone told me something that I totally just thought was wrong – something where it was clear to me that version A was what happened and version B was just wrong because I’ve talked to four people that tell me that the fifth person wasn’t there – then I’d treat it the same as any other format. You have to have some due diligence in your reporting.
But, having said that, that still leaves a lot of places where there are versions A, B, C and D – and there’s no clear, right answer … any of them are equally feasible. That’s when you say, “Let’s just lay them out there, man – let people read them.”
It’s just a replication of life; you can think about your own family or your own friends, talking about an important event or incident and everyone has a different version of what happened. And all of them are interesting and maybe none of them wildly contradict each other … you still know what the end result was – it’s just how you got there.
I believe you handled the parting with Dickey as judiciously as anyone could. Everybody has an opportunity to speak.
Thank you. You know, I thought at the time it took place that it was very sad and tragic that it happened, but I think they’d reached a point where they just weren’t going to play together. You were either going to have an Allman Brothers Band without Dickey Betts – or you were going to have no Allman Brothers Band.
I know that some people believe it should’ve been no Allman Brothers Band, but I’ve got many, many hours of enjoyment and enlightenment from listening to Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks play together. It’s been a wonderful run – and that doesn’t diminish Dickey’s greatness or his importance to the band, which was immeasurable.
And that comes through in the book.
Thank you – I’m happy to hear that. I’m sure some fans will have complaints that I was unfair in one way or the other – it’s inevitable – but I did try to just present what happened. I don’t ultimately feel it’s my job to pass judgment. I’m a reporter trying to get to the heart of the story and let everyone have their say.
Not going to give anything away, but there’s one particularly chilling scene involving Dickey and Allen Woody, told by Kirk West. Did you have any reservations about using it?
I talked to Kirk quite a bit – he was the photo editor of the book. After lots of chatting and consulting I finally said, “Kirk, now it’s time to do an actual interview. I’m going to record it – and unless you tell me otherwise, everything you say is fair game for the book.”
With the guys I’ve had long relationships with, I will sometimes say, “If you say something and you want to retract it, just tell me.” I think it frees people up to speak a little more freely, rather than self-censoring. And they rarely retract anything.
So when it got to this scary scene between Dickey and Allen, I said, “Are you willing to go on the record with this, Kirk?”
And he said, “Yes, absolutely.”
You know, I talked to Derek Trucks not long after that, and he said two things that struck me.
I told Derek, “I really like Dickey and I’ve always had a great relationship with him. I feel bad about some of the things that I’m going to publish that he did.”
And Derek shrugged his shoulders and said, “If it happened, it happened.”
And that’s pretty much it, you know?
And then Derek asked me how the book was going and I said “Well, it’s taken a pound of flesh out of me.”
And again, in his Derek way, he just sort of shrugged and said, “ Any project that’s worthwhile does.”
So the Trucks have really inspired me at times; like I mentioned before, there’s Butch’s story about Duane … and Derek was right in what he said: why should it be easy? I’m trying to write the definitive book about one of the greatest bands in the history of rock ‘n’ roll and it’s a tortuous, long, 45-year twisty, turning, many-character story – why should it be easy? Of course it’s going to take a pound of flesh. Man up! (laughter)
So I took that comment from Derek as a good, get-with-it slap in the face. And then I was talking with Butch last summer at Peachfest and he said, “Man, I can’t wait to read your book.” At that point it was turned in, but a long way from coming out, of course.
He said, “Are people going to be pissed off when they read it?”
I said, “I don’t know, Butch.”
And he said, “If they’re not, you did a bad fuckin’ job.” (laughter)
But so far a bunch of the guys have read it and the feedback has been good. I haven’t heard from everyone but those that I have, it’s been good. I can’t really worry about how anyone is going to respond … I needed to write the book I needed to write.
Beyond the story itself, there are so many great photos in the book. Many fans may be familiar with Kirk West’s work – but they may not be aware of what a talented photographer that original ABB road manager Twiggs Lyndon was, as well.
That’s right – and it’s a unique thing about the book, actually: there are about 150 photos and almost 100 of them were taken by the band’s road managers, Kirk and Twiggs. It was a happy, happy twist of fate that they had these two road managers during two different eras that were both great photographers. What each of them were able to do was take photos that nobody else could’ve taken. They weren’t guys putting a lens in your face; they were the guys you were always with – the trusted confidant and friend. They both ended up taking very natural photos.
Twiggs’ photos really bring him to life, I think. Thanks to his brothers, who granted me permission to use the photos. I think they’re going to be really happy to hear people have the reaction you just had.
It’s the truth. And the book is worthy of coffee table status, regardless of how many times it’s been read.
Well, thank you. There are so many photos that fly around on Facebook and stuff now – and sometimes you don’t even know where they came from or who took them, which I don’t really like. Bringing Kirk on as photo editor was essential; we’ve been friends for a long time anyhow, so that made it fun. I told him, “We’re going to spend a lot of time talking about this book, anyhow – let’s make it official and put you on the payroll.” (laughs) He knew where so many things were. We spent hours and hours going through boxes of photos and computer images, striving to have different photos that haven’t been seen … and I think that’s true for the vast majority of the photos in the book.
Speaking as an author, it’s the words that count, but there’s something about the physical package, too.
So, the book was in the can and ready to be released when the news broke about Derek and Warren leaving … is it okay to ask if you were surprised?
Well, yes and no …
I mean, yes: ultimately I was very shocked when the news came out – I’d spent so much time talking to these guys and nobody told me it was coming. Once I found out a little bit more, I realized nobody told me because nobody knew it was coming. Butch, I think, stumbled and said something during the Jam Cruise that Derek was going to leave at the end of the year … and once that was out there, Derek and Warren decided to make their statements. I don’t think it was planned – I think they were going to wait until later in the year before announcing it.
So, yes – I was surprised, but I wasn’t shocked. Derek has intimated to me for a long time that there was a part of him that wanted to do this. But Derek also holds the Allman Brothers Band in such high esteem that I don’t think he ever wanted to be the guy who ended the Allman Brothers …and that weighed heavily on him. I think he’d been contemplating it for quite a while.
I suppose it’s been good for the book; I know the publishers are excited because they feel it’s good for the book and therefore it’s good for me.
But as a fan? I’m not happy about it. I would’ve taken a few less book sales to be able to have the band keep going. (laughs)
If next March rolls around and there’s no Beacon, that will be a sad day for me – it’s been a big part of my life.
Well, change of any kind is often scary … and who knows what this may evolve into from here, right?
That’s true: in 1989 it would’ve been inconceivable that we’d be talking about this in 2014. Or in 2000, when they parted ways with Dickey, I don’t think anybody would’ve thought that it was possible that the band would be together now. What they’ve achieved is quite remarkable – any way you want to look at it. So yeah – who knows what’ll be next? I’m not quite ready to give in and believe there will be no more Allman Brothers. I guess I’ll have a new chapter to write for the paperback next year. (laughter)
In the meantime, I’m going to go to as many Beacon shows as I can. I have a good excuse to do it this year – nobody can tell me I’m crazy (laughs) – and I’m going to enjoy it all. I always do, but this year there’ll be a little extra in-the-moment reflective kind of feeling.
Brian Robbins sits on the floor with his copy of Eat A Peach over at www.brian-robbins.com