I never thought of myself as an Allman Brothers fan. At all. Then I read Galadrielle Allman’s book. I quickly became hooked – on her writing and on her dad’s music.
Such is the power of a story well told. The book is a daughter’s attempt to honor the memory of a father she never knew (she was two years old when Duane Allman died). Through interviews with family, friends and music collaborators, we read about Duane’s early experiences with grief, his formative years and his relationship with Galadrielle’s mother. He developed a fierce work ethic as well as an insatiable appetite for a good party. Above all, he valued family and respected the loyalty of those around him. The word“galvanized” comes up in stories and interviews – Duane Allman brought people together and expected them to give their best.
Allman’s prowess as a guitarist, specifically his slide guitar style, and his dedication to his craft, put him in the studio with some of the finest musicians of his day. He is the master behind the opening licks of Clapton’s Layla, a song intended as a ballad until Duane came along (he plays on the rest of that Derek and the Dominos album, too). Duane provides the “call and response” guitar line in Aretha’s version of The Weight. Wilson Pickett’s rendition of Hey Jude features Duane. So does Boz Scaggs’ Loan Me A Dime. The list goes on.
As I read the book, I listened to music I hadn’t heard in years. Duane Allman was a more significant contributor to my personal soundtrack than I thought. I had heard his riffs at middle school and high school parties, in dorm rooms, country bars and blues clubs, and on “alternative” radio stations. The sound of Duane’s guitar had been on the turntables of my most musically-sophisticated friends. I didn’t think I liked the music, but I remembered every note.
This tale is much more than the sum of its parts. Through Galadrielle’s book, I learned details about each song, lick and riff her father played. I gained respect for his talent and precision. I discovered how each tune reflected on Duane’s life and on my own. The songs that had been in the background are now alive again, part of my playlist.
I was drawn in for other reasons, too. Although Duane was older than I, he and his friends lived the bohemian lifestyle I used to find so romantic, so I read on. He knew the musicians I listened to, so I read on. His growing success turned into an ongoing (and disastrous) party, and I read on.
I know how the story ends. Anyone who was around in 1971 heard about the tragic motorcycle accident that killed Duane Allman. No surprise there. What surprised me was my reaction. When I got to the end of Galadrielle Allman’s book, I mourned her father’s death. Even though I didn’t know him or consider myself a fan, I cried.
Again, it is all about the storytelling. Duane’s death was not just a newspaper article or a loss to an audience. He left a hole in his daughter’s life. He changed the lives of his mother and his brother. We read their sadness. We feel our own parallel losses, and we understand. Galadrielle’s words sing. She has told her father’s story in a way we can relate to.
This is the definition of an artist, that a life long over can still go on. We have two artists here – a musician and a writer. Galadrielle Allman proves herself as one who can convey emotion. And, whether his achievements are measured in family or in music, Duane Allman is still very much alive.