Willie Perkins No Saints No Saviors: My Years with The Allman Brothers Band
Mercer University Press (ISBN: 0865549672)
No Saints No Saviors is Willie Perkins' story of his days as road manager with The Allman Brothers and, in later years, with Gregg Allman. Since it is presented in anecdotal form, with most chapters consisting of one or two tales going three to four pages, there's no attempt to present a comprehensive story of the group. and the author states as much in the first sentence of his forward to the 150-page book.
Given that this is a series of snapshots, it's up to the reader to glean the continuity from reading it. As the book progresses beyond the comparatively homespun tales of ABB in its earliest incarnation, living commune-style in the now famous Big House, it recalls any number of rock star gets rich self- indulgent and self-destructive melodramas. What's interesting with Perkins' stories is that he mentions the music less and less as time goes on, suggesting he was further and further from the source of his devotion as time passed and, not surpisingly, so were the musicians themselves.
Willie is generally circumspect and conscious of being fair to both his business associates as well as the bandmembers. He even extends recognition, if not heartfelt gratitude, to Scooter Herring, who ended up involved in a federal drug case hat implicated Gregg and, based on its eventual outcome, appeared to have permanently rent The Brothers asunder. By this time in 1975, the bond between the individual group members had all but disappeared as their musical projects away from ABB, combined with the lavish lifestyles perpetuated on and off the road, accentuated rivalries into jealousies: witness the tale of two solo careers of Gregg and Dickey (nee Richard) Betts as described by Perkins.
The lack of fulfillment in these scenarios is decidedly different from the musical ambitions at the heart of Sea Level, the band formed by keyboardist Chuck Leavell with bassist Lamar Williams (Berry Oakley's replacement), original ABB drummer Jaimoe and guitarist Jimmy Nalls. But then at this point, The Allman Brothers had become a machine that existed just to feed itself and Perkins, with knowledge of the business side of the operation, is just the one to see how "...spending habits and overhead had finally outpaced their ability to earn..."
It may be in fact the business angle Willie describes throughout No Saints No Saviors that is its primary distinction. He has his own point of view from first hand dealings with all manner of management within the Allman organization, as well as promoters and record company personnel and as such presents, in often offhanded manner, nuggets of insight that remain particularly relevant at the present time. For instance, the renegotiation of The Allmans' recording contract royalties did not cover the first three albums preceding this event (including the landmark Live at Fillmore album), thus penalizing the band in the long run. Instead of accusing Walden, who simultaneously headed Capricorn records and managed ABB, of surrendering to his apparent conflict of interest, In the most pointed remarks in the book, Perkins suggests the real villains in this scenario are the major labels and their distributorships
It's impossible to say how the group might've evolved musically and otherwise had founding brother Duane Allman not been tragically killed in a motorcycle accident in the autumn of 1971. Duane's generosity and attitude of sacrificeWillie relates how he commanded the road crew be paid before anyone else on the payroll in the early dayscarried on in the form of benefits and charitable work ABB enacted as they became successful. It also led to the support of Georgia native Jimmy Carter's presidential campaign, via Allman manager/impresario Phil Walden's relationship with the plucky peanut farmer, and Perkins suggests political angles behind the Herring drug trial.
What Willie leaves unsaid in large part is how The Allman Brothers carried on Duane's legacy in more ways than the one primary coursetheir music. Certainly it was no conscious decision to act as reflections of their leader's own personality, but it's hard to miss the repeated similarities in the form of Betts' reckless often violent behavior or the group's experimentation with drugs (the entire band dealt with a heroin problem as early as fall of '71 and a beverage container in the fridge of The Big House was marked as acid laced). Perhaps because of Willie's unabashed affection for Duane(and it sounds mutual from Perkins' vantage point), it becomes an unspoken tenet of this book that Duane continues to influence the group, and by extension Perkins himself, who implicitly suggests much of the tawdry goings on in the later years might not have happened had the elder Allman lived
Willie Perkins' descriptions of the colorful cast of characters including Twiggs Lyndon and various other road crewmembers never becomes a distraction or digression from his deliberately unambitious means of relating his memories of adventures legal and no-so-legal during his days on the road and in the various related offices (including professional counsel) of The Allman Brothers Band business empire. While No Saints No Saviors seems slight, the fondness and deep emotional attachment for the people the author describes is all too real, in particular his description of his most recent encounters with Gregg and the current group, but all the more so when describing his elimination from Allman's solo entourage.
Willie Perkins would appear to be looking for more recognition than he often received for the efforts he expended on behalf of his beloved band, but his emotion more often illuminates than camouflages his insight into the workings of what has become a truly legendary American musical unit.