The title of Galadrielle Allman's biography of her father, Duane Allman, is taken from Scott Boyer's song "Please Be With Me," which was recorded by the group Cowboy, with Duane Allman providing the slide guitar accompaniment, is so appropriate for this book of remembrances that chronicle the mostly ups, and a few downs, of the genius of Duane Allman. For anyone who has ever heard the silky tones of what his slide guitar sounds like, you soon begin to realize that at some point in his life, the gods of music touched Duane's heart and fingers, and they freed musical tones to be channeled through to a guitar for the rest of the world to hear and be in awe.
This is an extraordinary book, and one immediately recognizes it will be one as Galadrielle Allman begins it with these first sentences: "My father is killed in the first paragraph of every article ever written about him. His life story is told backwards, always beginning at the end: in the road, his motorcycle down, his body broken. People linger over the wreckage as if it says something meaningful about his life."
Galadrielle was two years old when her father died, and while one may ask, how can a two year old write a biography about someone she could not have possibly remembered much about, you soon realize she does have her memories, and more importantly, she has chronicled her father's life from others remembrances to give an almost "no holes barred" recount of her father's life. As you read her book, she recounts circumstances in Duane's life that went into making him the musical artist he was, whether it be how he took time to visit and write an injured friend or how attending a military prep helped in his developing as a band leader.
The book details the shock Galadrielle feels when she learns she is not Duane's only child, a secret she learns from someone who was writing a book about the band. While Galadrielle's words detail the hurt she felt at first when she first learns of her half-sister, she, also, expresses a sadness for her after she learns her half-sister was born deaf because her mother contracted rubella during her pregnancy, as she writes, referring to the memories she has of her father versus those her half-sister never had, "Stranger still, all I have of him, which never felt like enough to satisfy my need for him--the stories I have gathered, the relationships with our extended family, and even my name--suddenly feels like a great wealth of riches that she does not share, and I feel ashamed of that. Most of all, I am wounded by the thought that she cannot hear his music."
As one reads through PLEASE BE WITH ME, one gets a true feeling of what it is like developing a band, and just how difficult it was. There is very little of Duane's life that isn't documented in this book: from the birth of Galadrielle to her parents break-up, from Duane's lifting spirit, to sometimes dark moods. With regards to the Duane's collaboration with other artists, such as Boz Scaggs, Delaney & Bonnie, Eric Clapton, et. al., she recounts the how those came about, and how that collaboration made their music better.
If there is a weakness in this book, it is that the stories are just that, and at times the stories seem to run together, but for the most part, the book, when Galadrielle is writing strictly from her feelings, you feel a certain poetry expressed in her sentences, for example, her description of Macon, Georgia, is, "Macon is beautiful in the spring, white magnolia blossoms hanging heavily in the trees, fallen pink cherry petals swirling on the cobblestone streets, and new grass growing in so green it hurts to look right at it." Having been raised in the South, I immediately recognize her description, having seen it in so many Southern cities.
I began this book by referring to the song, "Please Be with Me," that was written by Scott Boyer and sung by the group Cowboy. If you ever wondered just what it was about Duane Allman's playing that added to a song, do a search on YouTube, first of "please be with me duane allman," and then of "please be with me eric clapton," and note the differences in the way the music was played. This is not a knock on Eric Clapton, for I view him as one of the greatest guitarists there ever was, but a comparison of the two song reveals the gifts Duane Allman brought to the songs he played on. Also, speaking of Eric Clapton, if you ever get a chance, listen to the jams that Eric Clapton and Duane Allman on the extended version of the album "Layla and other Assorted Love Songs" by Derek and the Dominos. Those recordings will show you how two great guitarists can feed off of each other.
During this past year, the documentary "Muscle Shoals" was released, and this book provides wonderful stories about the recording sessions Duane had at FAME Studios In Muscle Shoals and Muscle Shoals Sound Studios in Sheffield. Being a resident of the Shoals area, I knew some of these stories, and I am glad to read of other stories I hadn't heard before. Which brings me to two personal remembrances of Duane Allman. The first being the only time I ever heard the Allman Brothers play live.
At the time, I was attending school at the University of Alabama in Birmingham, UAB, and I was on the Entertainment Committee at the school. It seemed there was a promoter that the Allman Brothers owed a concert, but he couldn't find a place to stage it, and he proposed having the Entertainment Committee sponsor it. This was in 1970, just before "Idlewild South," a name for a cabin they used back then. The Entertainment Committee rented the Oporto National Guard Armory near Eastwood Mall in Birmingham, and we were treated to three-and-a-half hours of great music as they played all of the tunes from their first album, "The Allman Brothers," plus all of their upcoming album, "Idlewild South." The band was on a stage elevated five or so feet off of the concrete floor of the armory, and the band, with its two drummers, two lead guitarists, bass player and Greg Allman's massive B3 Hammond and amplifiers, took-up a third of the back wall. The place was packed, with only the local Fire Marshall stopping the people wanting to pay their $7.00 to get in to hear them. The band played so tight, yet they, also, seemed to be jamming at times, that before we knew it, it was 11:30, and the Fire Marshall literally turned on the house lights and made everyone start leaving, or I think, we'd have been there for a couple of more hours, as the band seemed to be feeding off of the positive energy of the crowd.
My second remembrance isn't really a remembrance, rather it was an experience I had while taking a tour of the Hard Rock Cafe's Vault in London, England. My wife and I are very proud of the musical heritage of "The Shoals," as most everyone calls the area in which we live, and as we went through the tour, we started telling stories about some of the artists who had recorded at the old Muscle Shoals Sound Studio on 3614 Jackson Highway, Duane, Bob Dylan, Lynyrd Skynyrd, etc. It wasn't long before we had as many folks listening to us talk as the tour guide had. So, he walks up to me carry this Fender Strat, and says to me, "Here, this is the Strat Duane Allman played on for the tune "Layla" with Derrick and the Dominos. It's number 19, you play it while I give the tour," and with that, I held this really sweet instrument whose strings played so perfectly up and down the fret board. It was an experience I will never forget.
This book isn't for everyone, I know, but for those who love Duane Allman's music, who want to know what the Allman Brothers Band went through in their development, or even a large part of what the music scene was like during the late 1960's and early 1970's, Galadrielle Allman's PLEASE BE WITH ME: A SONG FOR MY FATHER, DUANE ALLMAN will be a book you will enjoy reading.
NOTE: This review was based upon an advanced copy I received through Amazon's Vine Program. It is anticipated that the book will be available for purchase in early March 2014. There could be some changes in the book when it is finally published, but, if there are, it is expected that those will probably be minor. I was asked how I received an advance copy, and I replied:
As a member of Amazon's "Vine Program," Vine reviewers receive an E-mail of products Amazon thinks we would like to review. Usually, the items they notify us are of items similar to what we have shown an interest in or have reviewed in the past. A week after we receive the first E-mail, we receive a second one listing all the products people in the program have not chosen. Most of the books I have reviewed have just been published or are on the verge of being published. Ms. Allman's biography of her father, Duane, was offered to Vine members almost two months before it is being published. It is a "pre-published proof," which means it may still be edited some, but for the most part, only minor grammatical corrections will be made to it before it is published.
As a fan of the band and the guitarist, this popped out from the choices available. I knew next to nothing about Duane Allman, a truly gifted and unique guitarist who died far too young, even by rock tragedy standards. In retrospect, it's amazing he made such a name for himself in such a short time. I was eager to learn about a man whose time in the spotlight was shorter than his peer Jimi Hendrix, but arguably no less influential and lasting.
While there have been other biographies of this storied artist, there might be none that possess such an aching personal motive. In fact, I've yet to read a biography of anyone written from this perspective. There isn't a hint of self-aggrandizement, no indication that Galadrielle took this on to capitalize on her famous ancestry, and no sense that she has any agenda beyond transforming this rock phantom into flesh and blood man. It's a unique perspective for a biography and as a first time writer; Ms. Allman demonstrates a talent that has a lot of potential.
For a first time author, she occasionally tries a bit too hard by peppering her story with descriptive passages that seem overstuffed with metaphors and excess, but nonetheless, there is a lyrical quality to her writing. It is a lovely mix of soulful diary-like musings coupled with a master storyteller's gift for keeping the audience riveted. Additionally, it's perhaps a bit long, but that seems understandable when you consider just how ravenous she was for every morsel available involving her dad.
Like most biographies, you know the ending, so what make the trip worthwhile are the details, anecdotes, and revelations of the person behind the myth. One particular recollection sits with me still. During the Atlanta Pop Festival in July, 1970, Duane Allman and Jimi Hendrix (both acts were on the bill) were supposed to meet. Unfortunately, Duane was exhausted after his set and passed out, sleeping through Jimi's later performance. One wonders what those two on the same stage might've done together. Given that Jimi died a few months later, and Duane not much longer after that, it's downright eerie that the world was never given the chance to have these two guitarists occupy the same stage at the time. Maybe we're just not supposed to have it that good...
Anyway, Ms. Allman does a fine job couching the respectful admiration and palpable awe for Duane Allman's legacy in her plaintive and sincere sojourn to re-create the famed stranger and thus, peel back the layers to reveal her dad. I'm glad she shared this engaging and reaffirming tale of the power and pull of music, family, and self-discovery. Definitely recommended.
As one of countless fledgling teenage guitar players who cut their improvising teeth playing along with `the Fillmore album' in the 70's, I have to say that readers looking for musical revelations may be a little disappointed: Galadrielle speaks from the heart about her father and his band's music but she's not a musician and doesn't offer any new insights regarding Duane's gear, technique, practice habits, influences, etc.
But that's not what I felt this book was about - rather, `Please Be With Me' is an extremely well-written and movingly told account that weaves two main threads: 1) the author's motivations and search to get beneath the public surface and legacy of a father she never really knew. 2) To provide what she labels `a women's perspective ` on being part of (while at the same time increasingly apart from) the rapidly expanding world of the ascendant Allman Brothers Band, as told through the remembrances of those who knew Duane best during his short life: `Uncle' Gregg, band members and associates, and primarily her own mother Donna and Duane's mother Gerry - who's still going strong at 95 and living in the same Daytona Beach childhood home the boys grew up in.
I appreciated the upfront honesty - Galadrielle acknowledges there remain many missing pieces to the puzzle of who her father was as a person and the totality of his relationship with her mother. Their union was not especially long and there's an uncomfortable yet undeniable subtext that questions how deep it really was - at least from Duane's perspective. I would imagine a lot of this was not easy to come to grips with and put down in words. Yet by the end I really felt the journey served as an important catharsis for the author.
For myself, the most powerful parts of `Please Be With Me' were the author's description of her visit to Macon with a friend, scoping out and contemplating buying the `Big House' that served as a homestead HQ for the fledging Allman Brothers Band, Galadrielle's extended meditation on what the Fillmore East album means to her, the immediate aftermath of Duane's - and very shortly thereafter - Berry's deaths and finally, rather climatically, her visit to Duane's mother in Daytona Beach and spending the night in his childhood bedroom.
It's all beautifully written, but I sometimes wished the overall narrative were framed differently, with these key events serving more as anchor points for extended flashbacks. As it stands, I found the pacing of `Please Be With Me' somewhat uneven: At times the story of the band seems the focus, at other times it's a mere backdrop to the activity of the women on the home front, and yet other scenes are told in present-day remembrance through old letters and photographs. A large part of the early book describes Duane and Gregg's childhood in great detail and most traumatically, the death of their father and experience attending military academy. Gerry, their mother, and I suspect Gregg, obviously served as a primary sources of detailed remembrances.
It's a complex timeline and very cinematic - in fact I can imagine this same story told in documentary form that might actually feel more cohesive than the book. Still, I was never tempted to stop reading: Galadrielle clearly has the gift for prose, for communicating setting and genuine emotion.
To that extent, `Please Be With Me' is better written than Gregg's `My Cross To Bear', for which it serves as a companion book. Having read both, I have to say those looking for the `guy's perspective' of rock-and-roll life will overlook any prose shortcomings in Gregg's book - his is certainly the more ribald side of the story and great fun to read. But `Please Be With Me' fills an important niche in the personal history of an important group of musicians who influenced generations and was an engrossing read albeit with a very different emotional tone.
Galadrielle also wrote the extended booklet included with `Skydog - The Duane Allman Retrospective' CD set that I would highly recommend getting and following along with - along with copies of Fillmore and Eat a Peach, of course.