One Way Out: The Inside History of the Allman Brothers Band by Alan Paul

Like many Allman Brothers fans, I feel like a major part of the band disappeared when guitarist Duane Allman died at the age of 24 after putting together two studio albums and one (massive hit) live LP. And while One Way Out,  Alan Paul's new oral history of the band confirms that indeed the band was assembled as a showcase for Duane's skills (already honed as a session player for musicians such as Wilson Pickett and Aretha Franklin), they have succeeded as a unit by adapting skillfully to new musicians while keeping one Allman (Gregg) intact. In this new book, Paul definitely adjusts some preconceptions that I (and probably other fans) have about The Allman Brothers, one of the most successful southern rock bands of all time (although the band members themselves reject the "southern rock" label as being too limiting).

Paul's book pulls from interview with remaining band members Gregg Allman, Jaimoe and Butch Trucks, as well as former longtime guitarist and guiding light Dickey Betts and others who have joined the Allman Brothers along the way. Much of the early part of the book establishes the camaraderie among the band members as they attempted to make it as musicians both individually and later as members of what became The Allman Brothers Band (after Duane rejected The Duane Allman Band as not recognizing the fact that they were a larger unit). Their early years living together in The Big House in Macon, Georgia, while trying to eke out a living playing music are captured by band members, crew members and family. This closeness was reflected onstage in their ability to stretch their songs into marathon length, setting the bar for all "jam bands" that followed. Meanwhile, the importance of the extended "family" around the band echoes, and can be observed by the inclusion of the crew on the back cover of the Live at the Fillmore East album.

Drugs and alcohol certainly color this book, as both Duane and bassist Berry Oakley partied hard and died young while Gregg Allman has struggled with alcoholism for years, eventually requiring a liver transplant. Guitarist Dickey Betts, who took over the leadership mantle after Duane died also has had substance abuse problems and while he is interviewed in this book, he is also made out to be a bit of a villain, as he could be abusive and confrontational and would sometimes disappear when required to play dates. Betts does get credit for keeping the band alive after Duane died and keeping the Allman Brothers working as a successful unit, later able to thrive when Betts was voted out of the band in 2000.

Perhaps the biggest surprise for me is how much of a non-presence Gregg Allman has been through the history of the band. While his voice is certainly a distinguishing feature of the band, he's not a prolific songwriter and one gets the impression that he's happy to go along with whatever direction the other members of the band ask. Guitarist Warren Haynes has essentially taken the role of bandleader since Betts left, though with his recently announced plans to leave the band in 2014 it is unclear where that mantle will fall. Gregg Allman recently stated that the Allman Brothers band will retire from touring following some final concerts this year, but I can't imagine that we won't hear from them again.

Paul has put together a good overview of The Allman Brothers Band by bringing together the voices of all of those involved, including people who might not have pleasant things to say about the band. I found that while others discussed the infighting that led to multiple breakups, I would have enjoyed more input from the main culprits during these periods, namely Allman and Betts. That being said, anyone who enjoys the music of The Allman Brothers should be able to learn something about the band from this book, although your preferred parts of the book might correspond with your favorite version of the band.

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