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37

Duane Allman at 70: A Reflection

Alan Bryson By

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A contributing editor scorned is a potential publicity nightmare, and Grover Lewis had his revenge —he eviscerated the Allman Brothers Band. According to the editorial comment at the beginning of the article, it was submitted a week prior to Duane Allman's death. Thus, Lewis and his editor had a month to react to what had happened, but Lewis didn't allow tragedy to lessen his wrath.

The approach of his piece is readily apparent: come readers, climb up onto my cynical perch, snuggle up next to me under this smug blanket, and look down on this "hoard of Dixie greasers." Music was parenthetical to his chronicle, the "new journalism" focused on other priorities:

..." The Allmans are fast asleep, their mouths characteristically ajar. Duane, whose nickname is 'Skydog' but who resembles a skinny orange walrus instead, looks bowlegged even when he's sitting down." It's fitting that the article features an iconic photo of Duane and Gregg by Anne Leibovitz (which was also a popular poster in the 70s.) Contrary to Lewis's description, her photo captured both of them in the back of a car in a deep sleep with their mouths tightly closed. He felt the need to describe Dickey Betts as having a "bony chest" and wrote: "he has that kind of bony, back-country face that calls to mind the character Robert E. Lee Previtt in James Jones' From Here to Eternity."

A reader in 1971 might have imagined that someone that captious must be quite the physical specimen himself, perhaps a rugged Robert Redford type with a rapier wit. In an appreciation of Grover Lewis published in the L.A. Times on June 25, 1995, his fellow "new journalism" colleague Dave Hickey wrote:

"Since my old pal Grover Lewis no longer walks among us, let me begin by saying that, as a physical creature, by the standards of the culture, Grover was nobody's dream date. But he had an air about him, something likable and complicated. He had this lanky Texas stance, a big mouth with a big smile, and attired as he usually was, in boots, jeans and some goofy '40s shirt, faintly squiffed and glaring at you through those thick Coke-bottle glasses, he was a caricaturist's delight: all eyes, mouth, angles, sweetness and ferocious intelligence. Moreover, he was a Southern Boy to the end. "

Discovering that he was more geek than hunk wasn't nearly as surprising as the assertion he was "a Southern Boy to the end." Throughout the article he refers to himself as "fellow traveler" and misses no opportunity to depict his fellow travelers as backward "Gawgian" lowlifes and churls. In his letter to the New York Times Butch Trucks wrote: "In Lewis's article, all the dialogue among members of our group seemed to be taken directly from Faulkner. We are from the South. We did and still do have Southern accents. We are not stupid. The people in the article were creations of Grover Lewis. They did not exist in reality."

Rereading Lewis's article after all these decades, and reflecting on it light of his friend's description of him, it's not difficult to imagine what the source of his caustic treatment of the Allman Brothers Band might have been: A geeky teenager with talent and ambition graduates high school in 1950 ends up in San Francisco in the late 60s and 70s as a star reporter for Rolling Stone. In 1971 he could make or break people with the written word, and rock musicians treated him accordingly. By then he saw himself as cool and projected a cocksure attitude, but this constructed identity rested on a fragile foundation—below the surface the underlying insecurity and resentment remained. Unfortunately, Duane Allman's personality was kryptonite for Lewis's ego, and the star reporter was suddenly whisk back in time to his former geekdom. Not only did Duane Allman refuse to kiss his ass, when Grover Lewis mouthed off to him, Duane Allman threatened to kick his ass.

The unfortunate result was that his influential article became of revenge-of-the-geek piece. Butch Trucks echos that thought in his letter to the New York Times: "I am sure that our fellow traveler was used to bands falling all over themselves at having one of the great writers from Rolling Stone magazine around. He was somewhat taken aback by our lack of interest in his presence." That would explain his hostile treatment of the Allman Brothers Band, but his self loathing portrayal of Southerners is perplexing.

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