This past weekend was supposed to be the end of the Allman Brothers Band‘s final annual New York City residency. Earlier this year, guitarists Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks announced that they are leaving the band at the end of 2014; days later, Gregg Allman said that he’d retire the Allmans for good at the end of the year. Radio.com interviewed Galadrielle Allman – daughter of the band’s late founder and who is currently promoting her book, “Please Be With Me: A Song For My Father, Duane Allman” – across the street from the Beacon Theatre shortly after the residency kicked off in early March. Sadly, the Allmans didn’t perform this weekend; Gregg Allman missed two shows of the residency due to bronchitis, and the band postponed the remainder of their Beacon concerts after that.
What goes through your mind at the Beacon Theatre shows?
It’s really a pretty amazing experience, and I’ve been lucky enough to go to complete runs every year, pretty much since their 40th anniversary [in 2009]. It really gives me a perspective on their work ethic. And it’s incredibly moving, I definitely feel the presence of my Dad, there in the music, and I’ve gotten gotten really close to everyone, even the crew, because I’ve been around them so much.
Obviously you had a lot of questions for your uncle Gregg about your late father, but I know he’s not the easiest interview. Of course, it’s different for you, being his niece.
I spent three weeks at Gregg’s house. I didn’t try to “interview” him in the traditional way, it really wouldn’t work. I just sort of wove questions into conversations while having dinner, or watching movies or walking his dogs. I was lucky to spend that time with him. It was daunting, I was nervous about having an artificial feeling with [all of our] family members. As much as I could, I just spent more time with them, and let the conversations happen. Even though they knew I was writing a book.
If Gregg and other family members talked to you more about your father earlier in your life, you probably wouldn’t have written this book. [Duane Allman died when he was 24 years old; Galadrielle was two years old at the time.]
I think that not talking to people about him in the ways that I wanted to definitely created a real kind of hunger for it. I used to think that I was writing this for myself. I thought that I could write it, put it in the drawer, and it would be OK. And then I thought, I really want to share this. I want to do this in a way that’s artful. I want to do this in a way that fills in the gaps for everybody. So the book was really a labor of love. I think I would have done some version of this research even if I hadn’t been writing the book, but it was nice that I had somewhere to put it. But some of my avoidance was my own fear. It’s not like anyone ever told me ‘No,’ when I asked about my father. I think it’s very American to not talk about death or lost ones. I think we have a lot of cultural taboos about raising topics that are difficult. Also, I wouldn’t see the band all that often in personal private ways, in situations where it would have been appropriate to have real deep conversations. For the bulk of my life, these guys were on the road a lot.
I was surprised when I’d heard that Gregg did a public Q&A with you to promote the book; he doesn’t usually do that kind of thing.
No, he doesn’t. We’re really close. I think he’s proud of the book. And he knew what it meant to me, so I think he was willing to go there in ways that maybe he wouldn’t normally. He put me at ease. It made it easier for me because he was there.
The book is obviously aimed at Allman Brothers Band fans, but you don’t have to be a fan to get something from the book; a big part of it is learning to cope with loss.
For me, a big thread in this book is how to integrate my father [into my life], and learning how to not be shut down, and not be trapped in pain about loss. I think it’s important to figure out how to do that when you lose someone. You have to figure out how to carry them with you, and not just get trapped in the hard things. And also be able to celebrate them, I don’t think we’re taught to do that. Other cultures do that: look at Mexico, they have their Day of the Dead, they actually talk to their ancestors and bring them flowers. And it’s very clear that they’re still in the world with them in some way. That feels like a very human desire, to keep them with you. This was my way to do that.
It’s tragic to lose your father at such a young age. But unlike other kids who have lost a parent, your father is celebrated by thousands of people every time the Allmans play a show, keeping his memory alive in a very moving way.
It is very moving, it really speaks to the power of what he shared. It still has the power to move people. His music is gonna outlast all of us. It’s eternal stuff.
Is there a marketing plan to get this book to people who are unfamiliar with the Allmans, and expose it to people who might benefit from your journey and experience?
Yeah, even though there are many, many, many women who love the Allman Brothers Band, it’s a pretty male heavy fan base. The publishers actually asked me initially, “How are we going to reach women with this book? How are we going to reach people who don’t necessarily know the band?” My answer is, it’s a family story, it’s a family memoir more than anything else. My project was to write about my father, not to write about “Duane Allman,” that’s what the book was for, to give myself the experience of getting closer to him as a person. Hopefully that does carry the book into a different place. I hope that people will find it. Books have a long life.
What did you learn from the book?
It takes a level of dedication to get as good as he was, it takes a level of focus… [artists like that] sacrifice every other thing in their life. That was my bigger question, what was his life like, what was his personality like? I put together a lot of different people’s perspectives, certain things started to emerge. He really did have this kind of special charisma and focus. Everyone who ever met him, even when he was young, saw it. I feel like I came to understand him in a different way than I had before, and it’s a good story regardless of what art he made.
What’s next for you? Are you going to keep writing books?
I hope this is just book number one. I’m not reallysure what’s next. I’d love to write a novel. I love writing about music. I have a curiosity to talk to other children of musicians. I’ve been lucky enough to meet and become friends with enough people that it wouldn’t be hard to do that. I wanted to write fiction, but when you’re born into a story like this, you have to do something with it.
You wrote a bit about Dickey Betts in your book, and I read an interview where you spoke very highly of him. Does that get touchy?
You mean, touchy with other people in the band? No. Everyone pretty much takes the high road with that (Betts was dismissed from the band in 2000). Especially when you’re talking about the early era of the band, nobody disputes Dickey’s contribution. And in some ways, because I was not telling the whole story, I didn’t have to go there [to discuss his dismissal]. It was really important to me to look at that in the context of the time and not color it with what went on later. That initial sound, that’s kind of the sound that everybody still chases. Warren and Derek, their story with the band didn’t start when they took that stage and joined the band; they were raised on this music, they felt that music in their DNA, that’s part of how they became musicians in the first place, was loving this band.
So, Gregg has said that the band are calling it a day at the end of 2014. How are you feeling about that?
I actually think that it’s the right way to do it. It feels like the right time. It honors the legacy to leave it at a really high mark. It has to end sometime, and you don’t want to watch it diminish. It’s an epic band, and in some ways it makes sense to give it a “send off party” and leave it there. For selfish reasons, I’m sad: I’m not going to see them play anymore and I love seeing them. It’s gonna leave a big hole. But I think it’s beautiful that they made the decision together and they’re going out strong. It could have so easily have lost its momentum and just sort of faded. Instead, they can still easily sell out a month of shows there [gesturing towards the Beacon Theatre] in an hour and a half. It’s a good way to say goodbye.
Gregg Allman recently posted a message to the Allman Brothers Band’s official website saying, “The bronchitis is pretty much gone. I feel almost 100%! I look forward to seeing the Allman Brothers Band fans at the Wanee Festival April 10-12, and I can’t wait for my first trip to Australia with my solo band to meet my down under fans.” There have been rumblings that the Allmans will wrap up their career with one big show at New York’s Madison Square Garden in December, but no details have been announced.
— Brian Ives, Radio.com