What motivates a man to open his heart to the world, to unburden himself of private thoughts? In his excellent new autobiography, ‘The Gospel According to Abraham’, Paul Abraham pours out his soul.
As one might expect, it is crammed with stories from his time as Lynyrd Skynyrd’s road manager. He also reminisces about the dozen years spent working for country star Billy Ray Cyrus and stints with bands such as Bad Company and the Marshall Tucker Band.
Paul was raised in the Mississippi Delta in a small town called Leland. He says his formative years were idyllic, shared with many friends and a loving family. It was a joyous, carefree period in his life:
“I had a wonderful childhood with awesome parents and brothers, although looking back, I wish I had studied a lot harder in school to make them more proud of me. My mother was the absolute sweetest, most caring person on my planet.”
Despite racial tensions in the South, Leland was a melting pot of ethnic and cultural diversity: black people, Chinese, Jews, Irish, Italians and Lebanese. Paul’s father emerges as shining light, raising a family that held liberal, progressive views on race. As it turns out, he could also spot a winning business idea:
“My father and some other businessmen opened an easy listening radio station called WESY. This place was where my love for music was born. A few years into the venture, my dad decided he would like to change the format from easy listening to soul. During this time in the late 50’s, racial strife was rearing its ugly head throughout the South, and to make such a change was a little controversial, to say the least. WESY became the staple radio station for the ever-increasing black population in our part of the Mississippi Delta and success came quickly to the thriving business.”
Throughout the book, Paul is refreshingly honest. There is no sugar-coating. By his own admission, he went off the rails in the mid-seventies and ended up in prison for three and half years. He claims he got in with a bad crowd:
“It was just the influence around me, getting involved with people who I should probably not have been involved with”
His brother Carl visited him in jail with a special gift from Skynyrd. Paul had promoted a Skynyrd show in 1974 and stayed friends with the band. He remembers the moment vividly:
“Carl came to see me shortly after I got to Tallahassee and brought a note written on Holiday Inn Starkville, MS stationary by Ronnie Van Zant and signed by the some of the band members with a note from each of them. That little slip of paper carried me through some hard times during those dark days. It’s worn and barely readable from all the times I took it out, but it meant an awful lot to me in the hard times.”
The chapters charting Paul’s 10 years with Skynyrd are eye-popping. He saw it all. He was the guy that mopped up the splatter. In 1987, as the Tribute Tour hit the road, it had started out so well. Genuine camaraderie, the whole band in great shape and loving being back in the spotlight. Paul describes the great guests that joined Skynyrd onstage, the fantastic support bands, the sold out arenas, the millions of loyal fans.
Fast forward a few years, the nineties, and the vibe becomes darker. Disarray, chaos and alcohol-fuelled mayhem about sums it up. There are painful stories involving Billy and Leon. Alcohol is as a contributory factor. Paul loved those two men and he does not disguise his sadness at having to intervene, to pick up the pieces after they hit the bottle. To see them hurting, fighting a losing battle against their addiction, caused him immeasurable heartache. He cared about them deeply.
There are lighter moments. Paul’s confrontation, as a bemused Leon looked on, in a hotel bar with Motorhead’s Lemmy conjured an image of two rutting stags squaring up on a Scottish hillside. The Skynyrd road manager came out on top that day, the English bassist retreating into the shadows. Lemmy was cocky, recalls Paul:
“The greasy guy sitting with him said in an English accent, “Leon is talking to me and he will go when we’re done. Don’t you know who I am?” I said “I don’t really care who you are. Leon is holding up the whole band, and we don’t play that around here, and if you have a problem with that, we can talk more about that, but right now, I need Leon. He was shocked that I did know who he was and even when Leon told me, I still didn’t know who he was. Motorhead was not exactly a band that I listened to.”
Paul feels aggrieved at the manner of his dismissal from Skynyrd’s payroll in 1997. As he tells it, he was a loyal employee jettisoned for no good reason. He is particularly scathing about Skynyrd founding member Gary Rossington:
“They let me go and I never heard a word from them again. A friendship turned to mud, more or less. I absolutely felt betrayed. It was a situation where I thought our friendship would overcome anything, but it didn’t. Gary has done that to a lot of people. He did that to Big Lou(Michael Lewis, former Skynyrd employee), every band member that came and went, it was the same situation. Randall Hall, for example. It was all Gary’s doing. What he said, went.
“He would always have someone to do his dirty work. Gary is not the person that I thought he was. I figured I would be with them until the wheels fell off, till it was all over. I feel that I should still be out there. Artimus should be there, Randall should be there, Ed King should be there.”
Paul’s time with Billy Ray Cyrus was a happier experience, as he remembers: “The guys in the band were just incredible friends, and still are. they are genuine, really good people. Billy Ray was the same way. He was a great person too.”
Paul’s life story is an engrossing read. Uplifting and inspirational in parts, writing the book has obviously been a cathartic experience for him. Growing up in the Delta, all the amazing musicians that lived in the area. His encyclopaedic knowledge of the blues is worth a book in its own right. Skynyrd fans will feel more than satisfied. Paul had a lot to get of his chest. This memoir provides a ringside seat, it is an intriguing glimpse into Skynyrd’s world. The book offers up more explosive revelations than a Donald Trump press conference.
I sense, through this book, that this Mississippi Kid has made his peace with the world. His mother and father would be proud of the man who their son became.
Order a copy of ‘The Gospel According to Abraham’ here.
The book is also available from Amazon UK here
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