Midnight Riders: The Story of The Allman Brothers Band
By Scott Freeman (Little Brown)

By Michael Campbell

After Duane Allman leaves the scene on page 111, the remaining 197 pages retell, with numbing consistency, the story of a dysfunctional group that continually achieves commercial success. Scott Freeman's flatly written account of the Allman Brothers Band implies a stark contrast between the Duane and post-Duane eras.

Reflecting his career in journalism, Freeman's account of Gregg and Duane's childhood, dispensed in less than 20 pages, delivers data – but not insight – into the forces that primarily shaped the brothers' personalities, and thus the entire history of the band: Duane's mercurial talent, charisma, and confidence overshadowed Gregg's self esteem, insecurities, and darkness.

The documentary style of the book works best when the events themselves are compelling: the brothers catching their initial musical "fever"; the formation of the Allman Joys; the legendary first jam of the Allman Brothers Band (after which Duane blocked the doorway, declaring that anyone who would not play in this band would have to fight his way out); Duane's landmark collaboration with Eric Clapton on "Layla"; the Brothers subsequent ascension to the top of the pop music world.

It becomes obvious early on that Duane had the alchemical ability to galvanize any musical situation he attended. The starpower involved never intimidated him, be it Wilson Pickett or Aretha or Eric (the opening seven note intro to the song "Layla" is Duane's) or Delaney & Bonnie or Boz Scaggs. Even more than his fiery playing, his very presence seemed to inspire the musical best in others.

So it is no surprise that the post Duane era of the band is a recurring cycle of drugs, betrayal, ego and conflict that continues to this day. The touring industry magazine Pollstar recently speculated that yet another rift between Gregg and Dickey Betts prematurely ended their most recent tour. It's not very pretty reading, and makes it seem truly miraculous that the caliber of their music and performance could withstand all that it has.

While not on a level with Peter Gurnalick's definitive biography of Elvis, Freeman's chronicle is a good read for fans of the Brothers, old or new, who want to fill in gaps in their knowledge of the band. All will find the Duane Allman portion powerful. If, however, you hunger for the poetry that is the Allman Brothers Band, my suggestion is to crank up the recently remixed recordings of the Brothers at the Fillmore East, where, as Duane reflected, they were really "hittin' the note."