William “Willie” Perkins left a promising career in the corporate world when he quit his job as a bank auditor in 1970 to become the tour manager of the Allman Brothers Band.
He was with the band during its peak years, often rooming with guitarist Duane Allman, and the highly caffeinated tour manager character in the movie Almost Famous was partly based on Perkins. After the Allman Brothers broke up for a second time at the end of the 1970s, Perkins stayed on the road with Gregg Allman and his solo band from 1983 to 1989, before the Allman Brothers Band reunited to become one of the most popular touring bands of the past 20 years.
These days, Perkins lives in Macon where he is president of Republic Artist Management and the independent label Atlas Records.
I met Perkins for the first time last month when I moderated a panel on the legacy of Southern rock at the AJC Decatur Book Festival. Back in the early ’90s, when my proposal on a book about the Allman Brothers was making the rounds in New York City, I didn’t realize that “Midnight Rider” was blazing a trail. At the time, there were no books on Southern rock and a common response I received from several publishing houses was “those people don’t read.”
Today, there is a library worth of books on Southern rock music, and Perkins has a prominent place in that club. He is the author of the memoir No Saints, No Saviors: My Years With The Allman Brothers Band (2005, Mercer University Press). He is also co-author of the new book The Allman Brothers Band Classic Memorabilia 1969-1976 (Mercer University Press) with Jack Weston.
Perkins and I recently had this email exchange about the Allman Brothers, and his new book.
ArtsATL: You first heard the Allman Brothers Band when they performed free concerts at Piedmont Park in the summer of 1969. What were those times like, and what was your first impressions of the Allman Brothers?
Willie Perkins: By 1968-69 the “Summer of Love” from California had finally arrived in Atlanta. There was definitely a feeling of love mixed with revolution in the air. My friend from Macon, Twiggs Lyndon, had told me about this phenomenal guitarist, Duane Allman. Twiggs was the tour manager for the newly formed band and invited me to hear them perform free at Piedmont Park on a Sunday afternoon. I was immediately mesmerized. I had heard nothing like that before or since. I was determined to become part of their operation and a year later, I was.
ArtsATL: You went from working in a bank to being the tour manager for the Allman Brothers before they attracted real national attention. How much of a culture shock was that for you?
Perkins: It was definitely a big culture shock for me. As a short-haired, coat- and tie-wearing bank auditor thrown into an integrated, hippie rock band, I certainly didn’t look the part. But we all thought alike and it all worked out.
ArtsATL: The second Atlanta International Pop Festival was a landmark show for both the band and for the South. What did that event mean for the culture of the South for your generation, and for the career arc of the Allman Brothers?
Perkins: I had been on the job for about a month, and this was a truly huge event. Duane had been stuck in traffic driving up from a recording session in Miami and barely made it in time to play. He abandoned his car on I-75 and commandeered a motorcycle to the back gate where I was frantically pacing (no cell phones then). Up until that time hippies and rock musicians were an often maligned and tiny minority in the deep South. But the sun, moon and stars all aligned and that weekend hippies, rednecks and college kids joined together to begin a new, progressive Southern experience.
ArtsATL: You often roomed with Duane Allman. What did you learn about him that surprised you, and what is his legacy 45 years after his death?
Perkins: Duane Allman was an incredibly powerful presence in any situation. He had little formal education, but was well-read, talented and amazingly engaging. He could spot a phony a mile away and took over any room he walked in to. He was one of those huge talents that seemed destined to have a short but glorious career similar to that of the great young actor James Dean. It is amazing what he accomplished in that tiny time frame; he probably has more fans now almost 50 years later.
ArtsATL: How did the book with Jack Weston come about? All these years later, does the strong interest in Allman Brothers information and memorabilia surprise you?
Perkins: I have known memorabilia collector Jack Weston since the 1990s and we periodically connected over the years. I had written a successful book, No Saints, No Saviors: My Years With The Allman Brothers Band, on my years with the original band and later with Gregg Allman. About a year ago, we discussed collaborating on a coffee table book highlighting Allman Brothers collectibles from the early years of the band. This new book is the result and the initial response has been excellent.
ArtsATL: Phil Walden once told me that Allman Brothers concerts were always great, greater, greatest. Does one performance stand out for you?
Perkins: It is impossible for me to pick one band performance as the standout. Some of the Fillmore East concerts certainly are among the best, but there could just as likely be a magic night in a small club or some college in the hinterlands. I truly cannot recall a less than stellar performance from the original band in the Duane era.