There have been plenty of books written about the Allman Brothers Band over the years, but none as heartfelt as “Please Be With Me: A Song for My Father, Duane Allman.”
Written by the late guitar legend’s daughter, Galadrielle Allman, it’s as much the story of a little girl who lost her daddy before she turned 3 as it is the story of a musician who founded one of the greatest bands of all time and played alongside the likes of Eric Clapton, Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett and many others before dying in a 1971 motorcycle wreck at age 24.
Despite having no real memories of her father, Galadrielle -- named for author J.R.R. Tolkien’s Elf Queen -- captures the fire that drove him as a pioneer in the new genre of Southern rock as well as the excesses of life on the road that led to his breakup with her mother, Donna.
“The void he left can never be filled. It is that simple,” Allman writes in the book’s introduction. “I wanted to fill that space with knowledge of him, but I did not know how and the confusion that created was constant. The force of my longing for my father was a defining part of me from the beginning, and nothing could touch it.”
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Macon plays a significant role in the book, as a setting as well as through such people as Otis Redding, Little Richard and Phil Walden.
Allman, who also produced the box set “Skydog: The Duane Allman Retrospective,” spoke to The Telegraph about her lifelong quest to get to know the man whom the rest of the world seemed to know in a way she never did.
MT: How long have you been working on the book, and what was your motivation to write it?
GA: I first started to think about doing it and taking notes and dream about doing it when I was still in college -- that was in the early ’90s. It’s been a long, long dream of mine. In 2004, I had just quit my job. I worked with my mother -- she’s an artist and she makes things by hand like jewelry and different fashion accessories. ... But I got the book deal in 2009 and really started to do it seriously then. So it’s been about five years of traveling and actively writing for it.
MT: In the book, you wrote sections in which Duane appeared less than ideal, especially when it came to the relationship between him and your mother. Was there ever a point that there was too much “dirty laundry” that you yourself might not want to know and that you might not want to share with the general public?
GA: It’s interesting, because I really wanted to get to know my father as a person. There have been a lot of books and articles written about him in terms of his career and his talent, and writing about him in a distanced way. I really wanted to tell more personal stories for my own information so I could really learn who he really is. I think about the hard things. I tried to handle it carefully enough so that it’s not in there for no reason. It’s really there as a balance so you can see what he sacrificed and what he went through to do what he did.
I think if you keep it in the context of their remarkably young ages and the times they were living in, I actually don’t think any of it is that unusual. I think relationships end and they were going through a huge change and they were living with a very intense life and intense people in an intense period. So, I don’t really see it as overly revealing. Much of the kinds of information about my family that’s always been out there has been complicated, and a lot of the stories get dark, but by far the strongest story that speaks to me is about the best times. (The band was) in the middle of starting something really beautiful with the music, with their marriages and their children, and it came to a quick end -- all of it. But there were some golden times in there, too.
MT: Did your mother have any issues with putting private elements of their lives in a book?
GA: She was pretty open with me. It wasn’t easy for her by any means, but I think she understood what I was trying to do. She understood that I wanted to know who my parents were, what they felt toward each other and what the arc of their relationship was. The radio interview with my father has been on the Internet for years, so the hardest things were already out there. The other side of the story was showing me his letters, which were very loving. ... I think she was eager to share her side of things as to what happened.
MT: Was one of the motivating factors in writing the book a chance to you put your mother’s story out there, since it’s less known than Duane’s?
GA: Well, it’s less about sides. It’s more that I wanted to tell the story of my whole family. I wanted to tell my grandparents’ story. I wanted to tell the story of (Duane’s) childhood, which nobody has ever heard before. I wanted to explore his relationship with Gregg. I wanted to know where the music came from and what was impacting him when he was writing songs for the band. That kind of music, the blues, and that powerful way they performed doesn’t come out of nothing. It comes out of life. It comes out of the emotions from the things that you go through. So I wanted to tell the complete story.
MT: Does that desire set this book apart from the others that have been written about the Allman Brothers Band?
GA: I don’t think there’s ever been a book that’s tried to create a more human family story. I think (the other books) have usually just focused on the music, which is fine, or not even focused on the music, but focused on sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll in kind of a distanced way, and nobody becomes a person. I wanted to put them in the context of their families, and it does make it more remarkable in a way because they weren’t operating out of nothing. They created something out of a lot of hard work and a lot of difficult situations. So I think, yeah, my book tells a really different and more complex story in a lot of ways than the other books that are out there.
The other thing is, I’ve always thought of myself as a writer and I love to read, and I wanted the narrative to be engaging even for people who don’t know a lot about the band. I think, in some ways, it reads as a family story, that I think anybody can take something from, I hope -- particularly people who have lost family members, that have lost people they love. A lot of the book, for me, is about how to process a serious loss, and I hope that people who aren’t necessarily just Allman Brothers fans will find something to take from it, too.
MT: What was the most surprising thing you learned about your father or the band?
GA: I think the most surprising thing for me, especially as someone who’s a lot older than they were, is how condensed the time frame was. I hadn’t quite realized the fact that they only had two and a half years together as a band (playing with Duane). ... It was pretty remarkable to me how many experiences my father had before the band even started, how much he traveled, how many other bands he and (his brother) Gregg had been in before that. I didn’t realize the Allman Brothers’ whole career was compressed into less than three years. That put everything into sort of a different light. They were living every day to the fullest and working unbelievably hard, and that wasn’t quite in focus for me before I did this.
I think it (explains some things) about drugs and my parents’ relationship being in their young 20s. It makes a lot of sense. Most people don’t end up with the person they’re with in their late teens and early 20s forever, and most people are not given that kind of access to travel and to music and to life, and live at that speed. The fact that they were so young, it changes the way the story feels, if you keep that in mind.
MT: You wrote early in the book about going to a music store in Athens and having the owner talk about your dad without knowing that you are his daughter. It must have been an interesting experience to grow up with his name and his legacy without having gotten to know him, learning about your family through other people. Do you think people approach you differently because of your connection?
GA: That was really the main reason I needed to do this, because it wasn’t enough to just go on through fragmented stories from different people that I know and love. I really wanted to create some kind of coherent picture of him that I could understand because I do live with the legacy all the time and I’m really proud of it, but I wanted it also to feel less abstract and less about his role in music history, which I also know well. ... There wasn’t a lot of detail about what his process was or how he became who he was, and I really needed to know that for myself.
It’s interesting. I think if we had stayed in the South, it would have been a bigger thing to have people already know (who my father was). But I never have led with it before. This is the first time in my life that I’m really being more of a public person, and it’s definitely a new feeling. For the most part, there’s been an incredible amount of good feeling for my family out there. For the most part, it’s been an incredibly positive thing. People want to tell me stories about how they’ve seen him play and how incredibly powerful it was. Everybody who ever met him just remembers him as this kind of unique and powerful person, and that’s always been great to hear. It’s always been kind of a gift to me. ... It’s a beautiful thing to be connected to someone who’s known and loved for being so talented.
To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 478-744-4334.