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37

Duane Allman at 70: A Reflection

Alan Bryson By

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As the Concert for Bangla Desh was going on, the Allman Brothers were taking a rare two week break from touring. The previous month, July 1971, At Fillmore East, a double album of only seven songs, was released. Around the middle of March Tom Dowd had recorded the band over two nights at the Fillmore East. The Atlantic label had initially rejected the concept of releasing these long jams, but thankfully their manager, Phil Walden, not only convinced them to do it, but got them to accept the Allman Brothers' demand of offering the double album at the price of a single LP. Bottom line alarm bells must have been going off everywhere at Atlantic, but it turned out to be a brilliant idea. The band was able to finally present themselves as the masters-of-live-music that they were. It was an entire concert, impeccably recorded, and it was a double album that fans with hippy finances could afford to buy. In contrast to their first two studio albums, it took off immediately.

During the final weeks of Duane Allman's life, the seeds sown during his band's relentless touring came to fruition. In October 1971 their new live album was certified gold, and at long last they had some money to spend. Now they were flying first class, and Duane even allowed himself to think out loud about the band owning a plane for touring. Another sign of their changing status was evident when Rolling Stone magazine decided to do a feature article on the band.

By yet another strange coincidence, associate editor Grover Lewis traveled with the band for a week during the final weeks of Duane Allman's life. A month later the magazine carried two stories about Duane Allman. In one, his band was introduced to the nation, and the other, with unplanned irony, covered his death and funeral. The feature article by Grover Lewis was headlined on the cover as: "Duane Allman's Final Days on the Road." This could have been an extraordinary opportunity to capture the band at this pivotal time in their history, and leave an insightful pen portrait of Duane Allman for posterity. Instead the article was an egregiously vindictive hit piece, cravenly published just a few weeks after Duane Allman's death. Given all that, the article, "Hitting the Note with the Allman Brothers Band" (Rolling Stone, November 25, 1971, Issue No. 96 ) requires serious examination.

Grover Lewis is known as one of the originators of the so-called "New Journalism" of the 1960s and 1970s. With undeniable literary flair and an acerbic combination of contempt, condescension, and venom, he snidely lanced the boil of Southern counter-culture he considered the Allman Brothers Band to be. In an insightful 2005 letter to the editor of the New York Times, Butch Trucks set the record straight with respect to Grover Lewis' article:

"In these 35 years of criticism I have read reviews and articles that run the gamut, but there has always been one article that stands above all the rest as being the single most meanspirited piece of fiction ever written about us. It is to journalism what an ant is to an aardvark. That is the Rolling Stone article about the Allman Brothers Band written by Grover Lewis..."

In hindsight, this encounter with the national press was very poorly handled by their management. At that point in time (decades before the Internet), being featured in Rolling Stone had enormous significance. As everyone knows, you can only make one first impression, and at this point the band members were neophytes in dealing with the national press. Their manager, Phil Walden, could have sought advice from Bill Graham about what to expect from Grover Lewis and how to deal with him. At a minimum, he should have ensured that the band was on board, and he should have prepared them.

Duane and Gregg appear to have been particularly hostile to the idea and behaved accordingly. Grover Lewis doesn't seem to have had a meaningful conversation with either of them, not even a brief one, and without Duane's blessing this was destined to end badly. Being joined at the hip with this journalistic appendage obviously represented "selling out" and the phony "star trip" Duane Allman despised. Although Lewis was given complete access to the touring brotherhood, it must have been excruciatingly awkward for him, like Mr. Jones in Bob Dylan's "Ballad of a Thin Man":

"Well you walk into the room like a camel and then you frown You put your eyes in your pocket and your nose on the ground There ought to be a law against you coming around You should be made to wear earphones Cause something is happening and you don't know what it is do you, Mr. Jones? "

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