There are TONS of rock’n’roll bios out there. Many of them are by professional writers or people who did not actually know the artist. Some are by bandmates, friends, acquaintances, or hangers-on. A few are by family or wives. But very few are like Please Be With Me, a biography of Duane Allman by his daughter, who died when she was two. And it is a rare, beautiful, and sometimes heartbreaking read, as she discovers a man idolized the world over — the father she never knew.
Galadrielle Allman was two and living in St. Louis with her mother when a motorcycle accident in Macon, Georgia claimed her father at the age of 24. The book is heavily researched, as Allman counts her mother, Duane’s mother, her uncle Gregg, and virtually anyone in the band’s orbit as sources for insight into her doomed father. Early on she writes: “While no one told spelled it out explicitly, it was clear what they all believed: Death was stalking Duane, and it was only a matter of time before it claimed him.” And, while I knew the generalities, after reading this book I learned that Duane clearly lived right on the edge.
One of the joys of the book is in Galadrielle’s writing style. I found a definite Southern “voice” in much of her writing, particularly in the way she’d turn a phrase. In discussing an alcohol binge of Duane’s, she writes “He’d been sleeping late, something he’d never done in his whole damn life…” And she can paint a nice visual metaphor with her words as well; when Duane and Gregg, as the Allman Joys, earn enough money to buy Triumph motorcycles, she closes that chapter with: “The brothers rode out in front of the band’s station wagon and trailer, leading the way down the road.”
That road, of course, would lead to the Allman Brothers Band, and Galadrielle would prove up to the task of writing about the music as well. Her recounting of the mythic first rehearsal of the ABB is note-perfect: “This is the moment everything that followed flowed from….melodies would build and grow, then pass away. It was a journey.”
My favorite part of the book — and quite possible of Duane’s career — is the FAME period. One of my favorite tracks from that era is Boz Scaggs' “Loan Me A Dime,” which his daughter calls “one of the most astounding performances of his life.” And, while Wilson Pickett could be “brutal with songs” and rejected most of them, of course it would be Duane to suggest they tackle the current Beatles hit “Hey Jude.” That is perfectly in keeping with the man Ms. Allman describes throughout the book.
She also went to great lengths to discover “the scope of (my father's) touring life,” gathering a list of all of the known concerts the Allman Brothers Band played from 1969 to 1971. She articulates the band, their music, and what made them tick very well.
Allman recently said an interview "I'm not a musician. I didn’t know him. I had to tell myself that there is a reason to do this. I did this at age 45. I wanted to do this at 21. But I knew I had better be ready to tell it. It's not an easy thing to do.”
Harder still must have been the personal stories she learned about her father, the dissolution of her parents relationship, the young woman who would take her mother’s place in Duane’s life, her tight bond with the also-doomed Berry Oakley’s daughter, the groupie stories, and the drugs which would cast a darkness over the band. Still, “the crazy thing is, I wanted to know. Even as a felt a dark rage growing in me, I never shut down the storytellers.”
Ms. Allman described that initial jam session that formed the band as “a journey.” It was for her father and mother, her uncle, and the rest of the band, whom she has remained close to. Please Be With Me is Galadrielle Allman’s journey, and it’s every bit as compelling, beautiful, sad, and singular as her father's. This is a great book.
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