One Way Out: The Inside History of the Allman Brothers Band by Alan Paul
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I am a long time fan of the Allman Brothers Band. Their music has appealed to me since late in high school when I began to lose interest in harder rock, metal, and pop music and became more interested in music like theirs and Eric Clapton’s. The emotion and the varied influences drew me in and with the Allman Brothers Band so did the sound: it was blues, jazz, rock, and country all stewed together; drums crashing like waves on a beach, a rhythm section that was rolling and artistic instead of just keeping time, guitars soaring harmonically and weaving in and out of the rhythm section’s foundation and finally the Hammond B3 – what a sound! When I saw One Way Out: The Inside History of the Allman Brothers Band on Amazon for Kindle, I knew it was a book I had to read.
“Alan has a way with narrative that just draws you in without using the single-level story-line used by other writers who have attempted telling the Allman Brothers Band’s story. He gets right to the hows and whys that give his narrative real substance.” – Butch Trucks in the Foreward
Alan Paul has written this book in much the same way that James O’Connell wrote another book I’ve recently read – Three Days in June. He doesn’t try to tell the story himself, he lets those that were there and lived it tell the story. This book is an oral history. Paul has interviewed the surviving members of the band, surviving members of the crew, managers, producers, wives, significant others, family members, fellow musicians and more and has pieced interview segments together roughly chronologically to tell not only what happened but why it happened. You may get multiple versions of what happened but that’s normal – everyone sees everything differently but as with everything in life you get the idea that what actually happened falls somewhere in the middle.
Getting the story from sources both inside the Allman Brothers Band and observers on the outside looking in, the reader gets a very thorough and complete (as possible given the deaths of some important figures) view of the band’s history. Most importantly, Paul doesn’t try to judge any members or influence the reader’s interpretation of the interviews; it simply tells what happened in the words of those who were there. One Way Out tells the story of the formation and rise of the band through multiple triumphs and multiple tragedies. It’s clear how not only the force of Duane Allman’s personality and musical ability but also his emphasis and family and teamwork – his selfless approach to the music – made the band what it was and laid the foundation for 45 years of musical magic. It’s amazing how the band survived the deaths of Duane Allman and Berry Oakley, rising like a phoenix multiple times. It illustrates the effect of drug and alcohol abuse on lives of the band and crew as well as their effects on the music. It tells the story of how musical styles and backgrounds of the members blended to create the band’s sound and how new members were encouraged to bring their own styles and sound when they joined. It tells the story of personalities clashed and meshed to bring the band both to the points brink of failure and the heights of brilliance.
“Duane was a natural-born leader. His philosophy was ‘Get on my back. Follow me.'”
Particularly towards the end of the book, one could easily get the idea that it’s “pile on Dickey Betts” time but I wouldn’t agree with that assessment. Betts’ side of the story is told and each of the other band members and observers have slightly different stories of how the final separation went down. One of the most compelling elements of the book to me is how Duane Allman was a natural leader of the team that was the Allman Brothers Band and how Dickey Betts tried to pick up the mantle of leadership but wasn’t as natural at it. Over time I think he lost the team concept of the band and that’s what eventually led to him being fired or quitting depending upon your interpretation of events.
One of the most compelling personalities in the books is Jaimoe, his observations are possibly the most balanced of all. Of all the band members (with the exception of Duane Allman), I think I learned more about him by reading One Way Out. I think he put it best in his Afteward:
“One thing I’ve learned in life is hindsight ain’t always 20/20. History is complicated and everyone sees it differently, understands it in his or her own way. The Allman Brothers Band history involves a lot of people and there are as many versions of what happened as there are people involved in making it happen. That’s why this book gets the history as right as possible; Alan Paul spoke to everyone he could, let them have their say – tell their version of the truth – and then laid it out. You can’t try to escape the shit you did in life.”
When I first started reading One Way Out, I tweeted that I thought it was going to be a hard book to put down. It was. I frequently found myself with the Kindle in hand, iPod beside me, and headphones on my head. I’d read about an album, song, or performance and if I had it stop reading then listen to it before picking the Kindle back up and reading on. I honestly think reading it that way enhanced my experience of the book. If you are a fan of the Allman Brothers, this book should be at the top of your list. It certainly enhanced my knowledge of the band any my appreciation of their music. It may just be the Allman Brothers Band fan deep within me, but I see no reason not to give One Way Out: The Inside History of the Allman Brothers Band a five star rating.
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AFTERTHOUGHT: Another one of my favorite musicians is (was) Stevie Ray Vaughn. The thought that Stevie Ray Vaughn and Duane Allman were similar never crossed my mind until I read this from Dr. John in One Way Out:
“Dr. John: Years later, when I met Stevie [Ray Vaughn], one of the first things I thought was that he reminded me of Duane. They were both eccentric as hell and had the same kind of musical concepts – rooted in the past but totally open to whatever came by.”