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37

Duane Allman at 70: A Reflection

Alan Bryson By

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Dave Hickey's appreciation of Lewis turned out to be quite interesting reading. Grover Lewis had planned to write an autobiographical book entitled "Goodbye If You Call That Gone." Like Gregg and Duane, Grover Lewis had experienced tragedy as a child, as the opening for his proposed book revealed: "In the spring of 1943, my parents—Grover Lewis, a truck driver, and Opal Bailey Lewis, a hotel waitress—shot each other to death with a pawnshop pistol. For almost a year, Big Grover had stalked my mother, my four-year-old sister and me across backwater Texas, resisting Opal's decision to divorce him. When she finally did, and when he finally cornered her and pulled the trigger as he'd promise[sic] to do, she seized the gun and killed him, too."

Hickey notes the courage it took for Grover Lewis to reveal his own story: ..."he was handing every armchair psychologist we knew a false key to his heart, because, clearly, the crazy, loving, violent figure of Big Grover flickered behind half the people he had written about, behind all the bad guys, rough necks and broken poets, behind Robert Mitchum, Duane Allman, Lee Marvin, Lash LaRue, Art Pepper, John Houston and Sam Peckinpah, and Grover knew it. 'I can see it now, of course,' he said, 'how I would want to talk to somebody who was like Big Grover, who was bad and good, and sweet and violent. How I would want to speculate on how he might have survived, done well and been redeemed. That's a reasonable interest, I think, but it doesn't explain anything. That was just the assignment, you know, and I'm too good a reporter to let the assignment distort the story. I always got the story that was there. From all these people. The only difference Big Grover made, I think, was that I was really interested in those guys and predisposed to forgive them for their rough edges. That made better stories, I think.' "

Butch Trucks called Lewis's article mean spirited fiction, with inaccurate and incomplete quotes, and laughable dialog. Grover Lewis claimed: "I'm too good a reporter to let the assignment distort the story. I always got the story that was there. From all these people." Well, the "assignment" may not have distorted the story, but something certainly did. To me, his "story" of Duane Allman's final days on the road is a corrupting tale in which elements of the truth are tethered to a distorted reality clouded by the writer's personal agenda. It is presented as fact, but stylistically it reads like narrative fiction—actually quite good fiction. That makes it powerful, seductive, and pernicious.

He was essentially tagging along with the road crew, who regaled him with their own excesses and exploits. These are reported in detail and represents a significant portion of the "story." His intent seems to have been guilt by association. For example, he couldn't report on any salacious encounters between the band and groupies, so fellow traveler veered off the main road to report from the gutter: "Off to one side, Red Dog is whispering in the ear of the lone groupie who's shown up, a big-nosed redhead with deep acne scars. The girl listens expressionlessly, then finally nods yes to whatever, sucking on a joint as if it were the last sad drooping cock in the world."

In fact, he got next to nothing from Duane Allman, and was merely tolerated by the band. He overheard a few of the musicians' conversations, observed their drug use, and in an entire week only managed to have a few exchanges with the band. From that vantage point he wrote a compelling narrative that conveys the monotony, banality, and exhausting nature of touring. You can actually imagine yourself sitting next to a member of the crew in this tangential reality, but he ignores the beauty of the art. Instead, he cattily focuses on the imperfections of the all too human vessels who were making it—and their crew. In a similar situation Ludwig van Beethoven, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Charlie Parker, or Miles Davis, would not have fared better.

To the outsider, the crew's and band's use of the title "brother" may have seemed worthy of ridicule. Actually, their extraordinary loyalty to each other set the original Allman Brothers Band apart from many other bands. That was due in large part to Duane Allman, who was by all accounts a natural leader. James Brown may have run a tight ship by fining his musicians and insisting they refer to him as Mr. Brown, but Duane Allman's band mates and crew would have followed him to the ends of the earth on an empty stomach without a paycheck—that is a rare thing. Again, Butch Trucks echoed this in his letter to the New York Times: "First, let me state unequivocally that Duane Allman was one of the most powerful, charismatic and trustworthy men I have ever known. I would use the word 'messianic' to describe the impact he had on the people around him..." The impact of his leadership was probably as important to the band as his guitar skills.

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