Classic Rock Review

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My Cross to Bear by Gregg Allman (2013)

Gregg-Allman_cross-to-bearFrom amazon.com

This memoir written by Allman with the help of Alan Light, takes in all the important periods and changes, both good and bad, in Allman’s life.

The many photographs (mostly b&w some color) are both interesting and add depth to Allman’s writing. The end papers are pretty cool too. Reading portions of this book brought back some good memories of seeing the ABB live, when both Duane Allman and Berry Oakley were alive. Once the band started a tune, they were an unstoppable juggernaut, capable of taking a song anywhere-and they did. They were a true band-everyone was an equal-and they played their a*#es off. I wish someone would collect all the tracks by the Allman Joys, Hourglass (both albums) and the 31/st of February, into one neat box set. That would be pretty cool.

The death of Gregg Allman’s brother, Duane, and it’s effect on Allman, runs all through this book. Basically, after writing about early family life (he doesn’t like to be called Gregg-rather Gregory) and their early bands, the story really begins in Los Angeles, after the brother’s bands Allman Joys (there’s a photograph of that band which is a good example of the intensity of Duane’s playing, at the head of Chapter Three) and the later Hourglass, has come apart, Allman learns that Duane is back in Florida, putting together (“Two drummers? Sounds like a train wreck”. G.A.) a band. Needing a songwriter/vocalist, Gregg hitchhikes back to Florida to meet, and subsequently jam with the boys. Something clicks, and soon Duane surprises Gregg with a new Hammond B3 organ-along with a few very fat “cigarettes”.

From that point Allman writes about their search for a band name (Gregg wanted Beelzebub), with the majority of the band settling on the Allman Brothers Band. Allman also writes about the band’s use of magic mushrooms (which is how a mushroom ended up as part of the band’s logo), and the ensuing jams that took place. In the early days the band would play anywhere and anytime, and Allman notes that they had a limited number of songs, so they began to stretch them out into long jams in order to fill out a set-much to people’s delight. In a short time the band began playing larger indoor venues and large festivals.

Allman describes the backstage/between concerts happenings, especially with the many available women-so many that their road manger would hand out lists of “consent of age” laws for each state to every band member. He also writes about the band’s continuing drug use-marijuana, mushrooms, cocaine, and heroin-and alcohol-among others. The brothers exploits with the Selective Service are interesting too. Luckily (for him) they lost Duane’s paperwork-so he didn’t “exist”, and Gregg took more drastic measures-which brought back memories of those times.

Some of the low points Allman writes about are the brothers growing up without their father (who was killed by a hitchhiker he picked up), the profound effect his brother Duane’s death had (and still has) on him, the stabbing/killing of a promoter by a band associate, and the difficulties of being away from home. But one of the major points is Allman’s testimony (for full immunity) against Scooter Herring, a friend who scored Allman’s drugs, which sent Herring to jail for 75 years (which he didn’t serve), and how his actions broke up the band. But he also writes that after Duane’s death (and Berry Oakley’s) the band was floundering, with no real direction, but the other band members saw Allman’s testimony against a “brother” too much to handle, and it shattered the band for a number of years.

A portion of the book is devoted to his meeting and marrying Cher. He writes about Cher giving him her phone number (while she was on a date with someone else), her need for attention, and her lack of vocal (“…if you don’t like it, f*#% you”. Cher) ability. Starting out producing a record for Cher, it soon became an album by the both of them (“That record sucked, man”. G.A.) under the moniker Allman and Woman-which was panned by almost everyone. And it’s nice (and telling) to hear Allman write about, and own up to that less than stellar recording. But differences in personality, and Allman’s continued drug use brought the marriage to an end in 1979.

Allman also writes candidly about his attempts to become drug free, and when he was finally free of various substances-his heavy drinking. Along the way he fights his alcohol usage (finally freeing himself), contracts Hepatitis C, has a liver transplant, and continues to make music. But he also talks about some of the good things that have happened to him (and the band)-their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, his participation in the on-going reunion of the Allman Brothers Band, his well received latest solo album, and (most importantly) his family and sobriety.

Not being an autobiography (in the truest sense), Allman is free to zero in on certain events and periods of time that are the most important (to him) and fascinating to fans. His conversational style of writing is easy to digest, but there are obscenities throughout the book when Allman talks about particular points. This memoir is written from the vantage point of someone who has lived through both the highs and lows in life, and if not totally triumphant, Allman has come out the other side alive to talk about it. This is a good, penetrating, look inside the life of a fine musician and a basically shy person-who has shared a number of both good and bad periods in his life. After reading this book, you’ll be thankful (as Allman is) that he is alive, and that we can still listen to that world weary, soulful, bluesy voice. “My Cross To Bear”. Indeed.

June 4, 2013 Posted by | Book My Cross to Bear by Gregg Allman | , | Leave a comment