New book explores Allman Brothers Band’s ‘Brothers and Sisters’ album and the chaos surrounding it

by JAY LUSTIG
alan paul brothers and sisters

The cover of Alan Paul’s book “Brothers and Sisters: The Allman Brothers Band and the Inside Story of the Album That Defined the ’70s.”

“Brothers and Sisters: The Allman Brothers Band and the Inside Story of the Album That Defined the ’70s” (352 pp., St. Martin’s Press, $32), a new book that will be released on July 25 by Maplewood resident Alan Paul, is more about the story than the album. Like Warren Zanes’ recent “Deliver Me from Nowhere: The Making of Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska,” it uses a great album as a launching pad for a thorough exploration of an artist at a unique and fascinating point in their history.

Paul’s book says everything that needs to be said about the Allman Brothers Band in the heady five-year period between the death of its uncontested leader Duane Allman in 1971 and the breakup of the band in 1976. (Brothers and Sisters — featuring the band’s biggest hit, “Ramblin’ Man” — came out in 1973). Also, as Paul writes, “Telling the story of the album reveals a larger story, a story about the nation itself.”

Paul, who has conducted extensive interviews with just about everyone in the Allman Brothers world (and also draws on hundreds of hours of interviews by Kirk West for a book that never got written), has previously written the definitive book on Allman Brothers Band history, “One Way Out: The Inside History of the Allman Brothers Band.” So is another book really necessary?

Yes it is, given everything that happened to the band from ’71 to ’76. Here is a summary of what Paul covers — in great detail, in every case — in the book:

The despair created by Duane Allman’s death — followed by the death of another band co-founder, bassist Berry Oakley, in 1972 — and the band’s subsequent reinvention, with singer-songwriter-guitarist Dickey Betts taking on a greater role, and keyboardist Chuck Leavell and bassist Lamar Williams making vital contributions.

The emergence of Betts and Gregg Allman as solo artists. Allman released his first solo album, Laid Back in 1973; Betts followed with Highway Call in 1974.

The deep bond between The Allman Brothers Band and The Grateful Dead, which peaked with the Summer Jam at Watkins Glen festival — featuring both groups, along with The Band — at a raceway outside of Watkins Glen, New York, in 1973. The event attracted 600,000 fans, which is significantly more than Woodstock did.

ALAN PAUL

The emergence of Southern rock as a nationally known genre, with groups like The Marshall Tucker Band and Lynyrd Skynyrd — which had their first hits in 1973 and 1974, respectively — following The Allman Brothers Band’s lead.

A feud with Rolling Stone magazine, which had published an unflattering feature on the band in 1971. The band agreed to another feature, in 1973, written by a young Cameron Crowe, with Gregg Allman turning out to be an elusive but ultimately cooperative interview subject. (Crowe’s 2000 film “Almost Famous” is partially based on his experiences with the band).

The band’s friendship with Jimmy Carter, who was serving as governor of Georgia during this time period though he had his eyes on the presidency (he officially announced his candidacy in December 1974). A 1975 benefit concert gave Carter’s campaign an infusion of cash when it really needed it, and the Allmans’ support helped raise his national profile.

Gregg Allman’s unlikely relationship with Cher, whom he met in early 1975 and wed later that year. Their rocky marriage ended with a 1979 divorce. (Betts, incidentally, became romantically involved with Cher’s personal assistant and friend, Paulette Eghiazarian, and married her in 1977.)

The band’s growing dissatisfaction with their manager, Phil Walden, and the recording and publishing deals he had set up for them. Like many musicians of their generation, the Allmans didn’t pay much attention to contracts early on, were taken advantage of, and tried to resolve their problems with lawsuits, later.

The 1976 drug trafficking trial against the band’s road manager Scooter Herring, in which Gregg Allman testified, to his bandmates’ dismay and (arguably unreasonable) disapproval. They were already growing apart, but this was the final straw in the breakup.

Paul, of course, takes a close look at Brothers and Sisters, too, which, in addition to “Ramblin’ Man,” includes top-notch songs such as “Jessica,” “Wasted Words,” “Southbound” and “Come and Go Blues.” I — and, I think, many other Allman Brothers Band fans — consider previous albums The Allman Brothers Band at Fillmore East (1971) and Eat a Peach (1972) — to be superior, musically. But Brothers and Sisters had “Ramblin’ Man,” and “Ramblin’ Man” was the main factor behind all the extra-musical chaos that fills much of this book.

Allman Brother Band member Butch Trucks’ son Vaylor is pictured on the cover of the Allman Brothers Band’s 1973 album “Brothers and Sisters.”

“I didn’t realize what a huge difference having a top-five song would make because we never had never had a hit single,” Paul quotes Betts as saying. Betts also says that when “Ramblin’ Man” became a hit, “everything changed. The band reached a whole other level. The places we played got bigger, the crowds were huge and the money was just pouring in.”

Did Brothers and Sisters define the ’70s, as Paul asserts in his book title? I wouldn’t go that far. But it certainly played a big part in one of the decade’s most remarkable rock ‘n’ roll stories, which becomes a real page-turner via Paul’s authoritative storytelling.

As Paul writes in the book’s preface, the band was “teetering on collapse” before and after the album came out. Yet the music was so strong it made them superstars, anyway.

He also writes in the preface that the book “covers the band’s evolution from a modern blues group based in Georgia but rooted in the studios and music halls of New York, San Francisco, and Miami to a group forging a new, distinctively southern sound — a Macon sound — that deeply impacted not only music but also the nation’s culture and politics.”

The book, he continues, is “about how these children of the ’60s became men of the ’70s, for better or worse.”

Paul will make an appearance at the Words bookstore in Maplewood, July 20 at 7:30 p.m. Visit wordsbookstore.com.

Also, City Winery in New York will host a book celebration event, July 30 at 8 p.m., that will feature a signing and Q&A session with Paul as well as a musical performance by Paul’s band Friends of the Brothers plus Duane Betts, Lamar Williams Jr., Johnny Stachela and Vaylor Trucks. Visit citywinery.com.

We need your help!

CONTRIBUTE TO NJARTS.NET

Since launching in September 2014, NJArts.net, a 501(c)(3) organization, has become one of the most important media outlets for the Garden State arts scene. And it has always offered its content without a subscription fee, or a paywall. Its continued existence depends on support from members of that scene, and the state’s arts lovers. Please consider making a contribution of any amount to NJArts.net via PayPal, or by sending a check made out to NJArts.net to 11 Skytop Terrace, Montclair, NJ 07043.

$

Custom Amount

Personal Info

Donation Total: $20.00

Explore more articles:

Leave a Comment

Sign up for our Newsletter