by Sherryl Connelly)
The Allman Brothers have survived it all: murder, bloody mayhem, tragic deaths, and epic addictions.
Still, the band plays on.
A new book, "One Way Out: The Inside History of the Allman Brothers Band," by Alan Paul, lays it all bare as the band readies for its annual, usually sold out, run at the Beacon Theater. This year marks the 45th anniversary of ABB.
Paul, a senior editor at Guitar World, has interviewed the band hundreds of times. The trust he's built up with the Southern rockers and their confederates is obvious in this oral history, as everyone still alive tells their side of the story.
They all agreed Duane Allman created the band out of sheer force of will and launched it to glory. He didn't live to see it, though.
The band formed in Jacksonville, Fla., but truly came together in Macon, Ga. There, the brotherhood of musicians and crew crowded into a cheap apartment, sleeping on mattresses on the floor, living off their driver's disability checks. He was a former Marine injured in Vietnam.
Their blues-based rock 'n' roll was the product of two lead guitarists, Allman and Dickey Betts, two drummers, Butch Trucks and Jaimoe, bassist Berry Oakley, and brother Gregg's vocals.
Allman Brothers Band members (from left) Duane Allman, Dickey Betts, Gregg Allman, Jai Johanny Johanson, Berry Oakley and Butch Trucks sit on some rairoad tracks in Georgia in 1969.
Even before they were famous, the brotherhood's drug intake was legendary as was their way with women. A promoter once said, "Someone in the Allman Brothers has slept with every woman in the South."
"Wild music, wild women, wild times. We were living hard and fast," recalls Red Dog, a devoted crew member.
In 1971, some months before the release of "At Fillmore East," recorded live in New York City and the first ABB record to go gold, the guys were pulled over outside Jackson, Ala. It was their first bust all together, though a roadie had recently been shot off his motorcycle by two cops in another brush with the law.
The police found a wealth of drugs in the bust: marijuana, heroin and phencyclidine (PCP). The mug shots are hilarious. Everyone just looks so chill. Duane and Gregg actually smiled at the camera.
But Duane had almost overdosed once already, and the band and crew were so gripped by heroin that four of them, including Duane and Berry Oakley, checked into a rehab in Buffalo. Gregg was meant to join them but never made the plane.
While in the area, a visit was made to see Twiggs Lyndon, their road manager, incarcerated in a pysch ward. Lyndon stabbed a club owner to death in 1970 when the man refused to pay the band. Lyndon's lawyer convinced a judge that managing the Allman Brothers Band had turned Lyndon psychotic. The ruling was not guilty by reason of insanity.
Duane's personal turmoil came to a far bleaker end. Fresh from rehab, he made a call to score barbiturates. Still, he was energized by his vision of the band's glorious future now that they were heroin free. On Oct. 29, 1971, Duane tried to swerve round a flatbed truck on his motorcycle. He didn't make it.
Three hours after Allman had dropped his bike to avoid the collision, he died in surgery at the age of 24.
So how does a brotherhood carry on? They managed, but only just. Dickey Betts, volatile to the point of viciousness, assumed leadership. Three weeks after Duane's death, the grieving band came together for a gig at C.W. Post College on Long Island, then Carnegie Hall.
But Oakley never recovered from Duane's death.
"He started drinking too much and doing everything too much," says his wife Linda.
One night in Chicago, he fell off the stage into a table specially set up for his relatives. On Nov. 11, 1972, he drove his motorcycle "smack into the side of a bus," as a crew member who was with him described it.
Donna Betts and Dickey Betts. Dickey Betts was a lead guitarist of the Allman Brothers Band, but was forced out of the group in 2000.
Incredibly, Oakley picked himself up and caged a ride home with a couple of girls riding by. Talking crazy and turning blue, he was forced to go to the hospital. He died there, his skull fractured.
Yet, in terms of success, the best was yet to come. ABB became one of the hottest concert tickets in the country. But the drug-infused egos were spiraling out of control. Three crew members beat up a record company executive at a concert in Washington. The pinnacle of ugliness came in 1976 when Gregg Allman, then married to Cher and living the Hollywood life, testified against tour manager and close friend, John (Scooter) Herring in return for immunity on federal drug charges.
Betrayed and bitter, the band severed ties. But the truth was, they'd become rock stars and collectively lost their way. The time had come to go.
The ABB would come together and fall apart again and again through the years. In 2000, the band forced Dickey Betts out.
So the ABB that plays a special 45th anniversary gig on March 25 at the Beacon Theater won't be the band that was inducted into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame in 1996.
It will be the survivors.
As Gregg Allman once said, "We'll keep coming back until we can't come back no more."