Red Dog, an original Allman Brother roadie for the last 30-plus years and celebrated in the movie Almost Famous by writer and director Cameron Crowe, is now trying his luck as author of The Legendary Red Dog: a Book of Tails.
Almost Famous is based on Crowe’s experiences as a Rolling Stone journalist in the 1970s. The band in the film, Stillwater, is a fictional amalgam of Led Zepplin, the Eagles and the Allman Brothers.
The character Red Dog, however, is as genuine as a 100-pound golden retriever.
“I helped Cameron pick his spots to get his interview, and he threw me a bone 30 years later,” Red Dog said. “At the end of the movie, (Crowe’s character) is leaving the arena, and he is telling people ‘Bye,’ and he yells, ‘Red Dog’ and gives a little hand gesture. That was our little hand gesture.”
Guitarist Dickey Betts told Red Dog not to see the movie because he would cry.
“And I did; I cried,” he said.
At Red Dog’s Tampa home is a behemoth golden retriever guarding the door with the diligence of a well-trained soldier.Now, nearly 60, Red Dog’s once crimson tresses are silver and white, but his eyes still glow with the energy of a man half his age. On the coffee table, there is a copy of the magazine High Times, and on the wall rests a collection of Allman Brothers memorabilia that would make the people in Cleveland’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame a little envious.
The highlight of the collection is an original gold record commemorating 500,000 sales (it has now sold millions) of the 1971 Allman Brother’s album, Live at Fillmore East. The inscription on the gold record reads: “To Red Dog.”
“I remember standing in Duane (Allmans’) house on Burton Avenue in Macon when the Fillmore East album went gold,” said Red Dog. “I asked (Duane) if the roadies were gonna get a gold album too, and he said, ‘I don’t know what they do. I never got one before, so I don’t know who all gets one. But if you don’t get one, you can have mine.'”
Before Red Dog became a roadie, he was a decorated Vietnam Veteran going to college and imbibing doses of codeine on a daily basis.
“Music just took up space then,” he said.
After hearing the striking slide-guitar piece that Duane Allman added to Aretha Franklin’s recording of “The Weight,” Red Dog was enticed to see Allman perform solo. After the show, Red Dog was so impressed he felt compelled to pay Allman his respects.Red Dog’s first impression of Duane, the founding member of the Allman Brothers who was killed in a motorcycle accident in 1972, lasted. He still speaks of Duane with intense reverence.
“Two words: pied piper. Duane just stood out. I heard him, and he was like nothing my ears had heard before,” Red Dog said.Soon after their initial meeting, Duane called on his brother, Gregg Allman, and assembled the original Allman Brothers band for a cross-country tour. Red Dog, who at the time had no musical background, was plucked as a roadie.
“I always thought Duane could sense I was a team player,” he said.
In the early days, Red Dog would contribute his disability checks from the government to the band, who considered its road crew a part of the Brotherhood.
“One time, the manager, Phil Walden, called a band meeting and said, ‘Do I have to meet with the damn roadies?’ and Duane said, ‘You called a band meeting, and this is the Allmans: six musicians and four roadies,'” Red Dog said as he puffed on a Marlboro.
After being on the road, Red Dog said the mental part of being a roadie is the hardest.
(Since the deaths of Duane Allman and Berry Oakley, the band has endured numerous changes and spats between Dickey Betts and Gregg Allman, resulting in several splits.)
“A lot of times, it’s not what you know, it’s how much abuse you can take,” he said. “I’ve had Gregg grab my arm, and Dickey hit me with his hat.”
Being a roadie can be as fun as Crowe depicts the profession in Almost Famous, but it can also be back-breaking, Red Dog said.
“(A roadie’s) day starts before anybody’s. For a 7 p.m. show, you start setting up at 9 in the morning, finish by 3 p.m. and then come back to tune the instruments,” said Red Dog.
He said after Duane died, the band did 278 shows in one year, 300 to 400 miles apart.
“That’s why you’re a drug addict. There’s no way the human body can endure that,” he said.
These days, Red Dog does not indulge in alcohol. He said “medicinal” marijuana is the only foreign substance he uses to help put him at ease.
By “paying attention,” Red Dog has learned to not only do everything on stage, but he can now also play acoustic guitar, drums and even dabbles in songwriting.
Red Dog’s book reflects the same integrity and sense of humor that permeates his speech. On the back cover of the book, beneath a picture of Red Dog in all his silver-haired glory, there is a humble notation from the author.
“I wrote this book as if I were standing on the corner busting some tails with my partners.”
The book is not heavily edited; there is no co-writer. It reads like the journal of a man that has truly lived a fascinating life. A Book of Tails carries the reader back through a magical era of rock that no longer exists.
A review by Crowe of Red Dog’s book is posted on the Legendary Red Dog Web site:
“I just have to say that I am extremely jealous of the Great Dog, because I’ve just finished reading A Book of Tails. True rock, the kind that lasts forever, is about honesty and humor and love and chasing the elusive buzz of greatness. Red Dog’s book captures all this and more … this book and a copy of Fillmore East belong in a time capsule.”
- To order copies of A Book of Tails and read about the book, visit Red Dog’s Web site at
n Contact Wade Tatangelo at email@example.com