Losing Betts

The Allman Brothers' high-stakes gamble to replace a founding member pays off

The Allman Brothers Band

Fox Theatre

Performs on Tuesday, Aug. 14, with Susan Tedeschi opening.

Forget reality TV. The Allman Brothers are rock & roll's ultimate survivors. Few bands have experienced more controversy over the past 33 years, and none has bounced back from the brink of disaster as often. Just ask Joseph "Red Dog" Campbell. An original Allman Brothers roadie dating back to the legendary Southern-rock group's inception in 1969, Campbell has written A Book of Tails, his wild, firsthand account of the Allman Brothers' early years. Talk about inside information -- some of the stories are news to the band.

"It's a fun book, a fun read," says Allman Brothers founding member and drummer Butch Trucks. "Red Dog hung with the two or three or four guys in the band who got into the hard stuff that I never got anywhere near, so some of that stuff in the book I was unaware of. I mean, I saw the results. I spent more than one night dragging someone up and down a hallway sticking ice down their pants to keep 'em from falling asleep."

Sure, there's plenty of drug abuse, rampant sex and mind-blowing rock & roll in A Book of Tails (available only at www.legendaryreddog.com). But beyond the down-and-dirty reflections of life on the road and romping with groupies, Campbell also provides a rare glimpse into the complex personalities behind the hazy blur of stoned hedonism, including his unique perspective on the bond of "brotherhood" that enabled the band to survive the tragic motorcycle deaths of Duane Allman and bass player Berry Oakley a year later. "One of the reasons I wrote the book was to let readers know different things about how people feel," Campbell says. "Sometimes when you know that and then listen to the music, the music takes on a whole new life."

There's more. Graphic descriptions of the time the entire band and road crew were thrown in an Alabama jail after being set up for a drug bust and fresh insight into what caused original manager Twiggs Lyndon to kill a bar owner shed new light on some of the Allman Brothers' darkest moments.

Although A Book of Tails focuses exclusively on the Allman Brothers' tumultuous early days, controversy has plagued the band throughout its three decades of stardom. Most recently, founding member Dickey Betts was booted out of the band last spring. "The change wasn't an easy thing to do," Trucks admits. "In fact, there's no doubt that we held it together the way it was a lot longer than maybe in hindsight we should have. I was ready to check out. I'd had enough. It just was not fun anymore. We had reached a point where everything had gotten so damn predictable. There was one guy absolutely dominating ... and you just had to follow him, you had no choice. It was either make the change or split the band up. So we decided that the band was worth going on with, so we made the change."

Replacing Betts could have been the band's death knell. After all, Betts had evolved into the Allman Brothers' frontman, penning many of their most popular hits, including "Rambling Man," "Jessica" and "Blue Sky." But the gamble paid off when former band member Warren Haynes, whose sizzling guitar play energized the Allman Brothers from the late '80s through most of the '90s, agreed to rejoin the fold. Ironically, it was Betts who originally introduced Haynes to the Allmans. "Dickie brought Warren from his band," Trucks says. "Warren was playing with him with the Dickie Betts Band before we reformed the Allman Brothers. I guess that was '89. Basically Dickie said, 'This is my choice for the guy I'm that gonna play with.' And to tell you the truth, I'm really, really glad to have him back."

Along with former Allman Brothers bassist Allen Woody, Haynes left the band in '97 to devote his full attention to their side project, Gov't Mule, a hard-rockin' power trio with drummer Matt Abts. The Mule packed quite a kick.

Haynes took centerstage, blowing away crowds night after night with his jaw-dropping fret mastery. Gov't Mule was rapidly becoming one of the hottest bands in the country when Woody was found dead at age 44 last August in a New York City hotel room. And although Gov't Mule eventually continued with Widespread Panic bassist David Schools, Haynes was receptive when the Allmans came calling.

Haynes returned to a different band. A clean and sober Gregg Allman was playing and singing with renewed intensity. In addition to the absence of Betts, the retooled Allman Brothers featured a new bass player, Oteil Burbridge, as well as a young guitar phenom named Derek Trucks. Both had been playing in Butch Trucks' sideband Frogwings. "I put together Frogwings to go out and have an excuse to do something with Derek," says the elder Trucks of his celebrated 22-year-old nephew. "Derek is the consummate pro. He's got the feel, he's got the touch, and when we're playin', I'm just proud to be playing with the kid because he's great, not just because he's my nephew!"

Pairing the young lion with an old tiger of Haynes' stripes sparked some of the Allman Brothers' best jamming in years. "Young Derek is just burning it up," exclaims Campbell, who continues to serve as roadie on the current tour. "It's kind of a throwback to the early '70s with the Allman Brothers. You look at Derek and say, 'What a mature musician,' and then you think of the Allman Brothers when they were 20 or 21, and you listen to the first album, you just hear that wild, electric energy, and they were so mature in their playing."

"There's no doubt that Derek uses what Duane did as a beginning point," Trucks says. "But then he's taken that point and added himself. You listen to him to play and you'll hear a little bit of Duane, there's no doubt about it, but you're going to hear a hell of a lot more of Derek."

Not only are the Allmans ripping it up onstage with a lineup that also includes the group's other founding drummer, Jaimoe Johanny, and percussionist Marc Quiñones, they also plan to capture the current magic on a new album. "We've already written about three or four new songs," Trucks notes.

"The new songs that we have basically came out of a three- or four-day session with Warren and Gregg at Gregg's house, so they're getting together after we finish this tour, and by the end of October, first of November, we're planning on recording."

The fact that the Allman Brothers are still playing together after so many years and so much adversity demonstrates their impressive survival skills. But more impressive is the way the Allman Brothers are playing. "What I'm loving right now, and what is so much fun, is we've gotten back to playing as a group, you know?" Trucks remarks. "There's seven guys onstage that are listening to each other. Nobody's trying to dominate the show and telling everybody what to do, when to do and how to do it. Everybody's paying attention to what's going on, and we're able to experiment a lot more and take chances and go places and do things differently night after night, more so than we have in years."

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