In Play All Night! Duane Allman and the Journey to Fillmore East, historian and dedicated Allman Brothers Band fan Bob Beatty explores how At Fillmore East cemented Duane Allman’s legacy as a strong-willed, self-taught visionary, giving fans of Southern rock and all readers interested in the role of rock music in American popular culture a new appreciation for this pathbreaking album. We asked Bob Beatty some questions about his new book, which we’re sharing below.
When did you know that you wanted to write this book? What led you to your interest in At Fillmore East specifically?
I spell this out pretty thoroughly in my preface, but the short answer is a review of the book Midnight Riders by Scott Freeman by Ken Hey. I loved the book, and still do, but Hey’s review in the ABB fan publication Hittin’ the Note was from that of a historian. He said the book didn’t answer the why of the Allman Brothers Band. In my head I thought, “I wonder if I could write a book that would answer that question?” That was 1995 or 1996. I finally wrote it down as a goal in 1998.
Who are your favorite authors, and how have they influenced or informed your own work?
This is such a good question. The authors I like best are those who don’t hide their interest in their subject matter. I am a huge fan of Robert Palmer’s Deep Blues, which remains a guidepost. I like Dennis McNally, probably because I relate to his approach as a historian rather than just a Grateful Dead historian. I feel similarly about Alan Paul, whose work on the Allman Brothers Band spans decades. I admire the way each of them hews the line between chronicler, historian, fan, and someone with a ton of inside knowledge. Ta Nahisi Coates inspired me in immeasurable ways, mostly his clarity of thought, his precision with words and phrases. My friend Michelle Moon showed me how to write about her passion for the history of food in a way that engaged me. That’s just the tip of the iceberg. From the ABB perspective, outside of Alan Paul, I really enjoy Scott Freeman’s writing, and Galadrielle Allman’s Please Be With Me is my favorite book about the Allman Brothers Band.
What kind of music do you listen to when you write?
I am listening to music about 85% of the time when I write. The only time I’m not is when a playlist has ended and I’m in a groove and don’t want to stop.
When I wrote the dissertation, I created a playlist for myself of mostly instrumental music. It had very little Allman Brothers Band on it and that was intentional. I needed to clear my head. It’s named “Trilogy” after a Mahavishnu Orchestra song. 16 songs, 4 hours, 12 minutes. Lots of great guitar and ensemble playing and rock-solid drums. Here’s a screenshot in case you’re interested.
I did a pretty deep dive on the ABB when I wrote the book. I had to wrap my brain around the topic a little bit. I pretty much created a playlist of sorts for each chapter as I wrote them—and once I got to March 1969, I primarily listened to the Allman Brothers Band.
How were you first introduced to the Allman Brothers Band?
I knew Duane and the Allman Brothers Band early. Their songs were on the radio growing up. I started playing guitar in 1983 and my guitar teacher, Tim Brown, loved the band and sang their praises. It all sunk in about 1993 when I got Decade of Hits 1969-1979. Yes, a greatest hits collection—from a band with very few true “hits”—inspired my life’s work.
If you could only pick one, which song from At Fillmore East would you have readers listen to?
Gotta be two songs: “Whipping Post” because it’s got Gregg’s vocals and the Dickey Betts instrumental “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed.” These tracks showcase the ABB at their most original, 35 minutes of some of the finest music I’ve ever listened to in my life.
How would you describe public history to someone who is not familiar with the field? When did you become interested in public history and what motivated that interest?
I’ve struggled to answer the first question for years. The distinctions are mostly internal—based on how we historians organize ourselves professionally. Like academic history, public history follows historical processes and methods. But my interest as a public historian is not in creating scholarship for other scholars, but rather in making history relevant and useful in the public sphere (however broadly defined). My experiences with and work in and for museums are what motivated my career choice. I saw more opportunities to do good outside of an academic institution than within one.
Were there any challenges you faced while writing this book? Did anything surprise you while you were researching?
Too many to count, truly. I knew I had to admit up front that I was a fan, and not just a fan, but a HUGE fan. It’s why I started with: “Before you start reading you need to know one thing. I am far from unbiased when it comes to Duane Allman and the Allman Brothers Band.” Going back to the authors I enjoy the most, they wear their interest in their subject matter on their sleeve. I find it makes books more enjoyable.
I also had to be careful to avoid well-trodden ground. It’s something else I referenced in the preface. Duane’s story and the ABB’s story has been told several times over. I wanted to provide something fresh to the conversation. I used a lot of sources folks hadn’t used before to get some new voices into the mix, mostly writers at college newspapers and alternative “rags.” I focused on the music and Duane’s musical vision rather than a biographical story.
As for surprises, there were several. I always wondered how mind-blowing the Allman Brothers Band were when they emerged in the spring of 1969. I’m pleased that I found a fair amount of material explaining that. I genuinely didn’t know that I would find anything. Recollections thirty years later is one thing, I learned that a lot of people found the Allman Brothers Band really significant right out of the chute—from their immediate friends and family to those throughout the music industry. It just took them a while until they caught on.
Second, I finally gave a really good look into the influence of the Grateful Dead on the Allman Brothers Band. No one doubts the influence, but the sources are really clear that audiences heard the connections between the bands’ sound and aesthetic. I had two friends, neither music heads like me, push me to explore the two bands’ connections and I’m pretty proud of how it turned out.
Finally, I was really struck and remain so, by the courage of the five remaining Allman Brothers to carry on after Duane Allman’s death. That 1972 tour was a monster and the band looked like it hadn’t missed a step, even though everyone knew they had. It saved the band, but cost Berry Oakley his life. More than anything, I learned a lot about music’s role in how these musicians process their grief: they play through it. The 5-Man Band not only played amazing music, they also left a legacy for Gov’t Mule and the Tedeschi Trucks Band to follow when they, too, lost key members. As a musician and lover of music, I can relate to this impulse; the ABB’s “Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More” is my go-to song the first time I listen to music after someone I love dies.
What’s one thing that makes the Allman Brother’s Band different from other artists of their time?
One of the things that really came out as I wrote the book was the band’s inherent southern-ness. A majority of contemporary accounts made mention of the band’s Southern roots. It was genuinely odd at that time in music that a band of southerners could launch a career from the South playing Southern-inflected music. It was even rarer that they were an integrated band from the South.
What are you working on next?
I have a book chapter due for David B. Allison’s Controversial Monuments and Memorials. I’m also working on a larger Allman Brothers Band history initiative. Stay tuned!
I genuinely look forward to talking with people about the power of music to bring people together. The Allman Brothers Band story has enriched my life in myriad ways and helped me make connections to all kinds of things well beyond just the music of the band. I want to help create programs that merge history and culture in unique, meaningful ways. Contact me and we’ll plan something fun and within budget: FB/IG/TW: @LongLiveTheABB and www.atfillmoreeastbook.com
For more information about Play All Night!, click here.