Monday, June 25, 2012

Gregg Allman Has A Cross To Bear

Gregg Allman has lived a full life. But he’s the first to admit that he wouldn’t do it again if given the chance. My Cross To Bear is his autobiography, written with an assist by journalist Alan Light, and it reveals the pain, regrets and joys that the legendary singer/songwriter/organist has experienced throughout his 60+ years.

Allman, who prefers to be called Gregory and not Gregg, recounts his formative years growing up in Tennessee and Florida with his brother Duane (older by 18 months), whom Gregg idolized. While toddlers, the boys’ father, a World War II veteran, was senselessly murdered after stopping to give a ride to a hitchhiker.

As a result, their mother, Gerry, struggled to raise Duane and Gregg on her own and at one point sent the two to military school. Since Gerry worked, the boys spent a lot of time on their own and eventually taught themselves how to play guitar on a Silvertone Gregg had bought. That, it seemed, marked a new beginning.

In high school, Duane dropped out to hone his musical chops and the brothers formed a series of local bands. Eventually, the Allman Brothers Band would propel the brothers into musical history.

The Allman Brothers find their break into the big leagues. 

Like many bands of the era, the brothers indulged in drink, drugs and sex while on the road, particularly Gregg. Some of it is depicted in Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous (which is mostly based on the band). But Gregg recounts it all as matter of fact. He is unfazed.

Yet, his greatest regret revolves around cocaine. He swiped Duane’s coke and when Duane accused him of taking it, Gregg denied it and Duane apologized. Those were the last words the brothers would ever exchange because Duane died shortly after in a motorcycle crash in Macon. All those magical moments, like the classic Whipping Post played Live At Fillmore East in 1970, were over.

The tragic irony: their third album, Live At Fillmore East, had just achieved gold status but Duane would never get to enjoy the success he rightly earned. Consumed by grief, the band’s bassist Berry Oakley would also spiral into a depression that he could never break.

Gregg wishes he would have done more to help Oakley. But a year later, Oakley was dead too. It happened in a motorcycle crash just miles from the site of Duane’s death in 1971.

Gregg and the band would soldier on but things would never be the same. Rather than a band of “brothers,” they would become the object of a bitter power struggle between Gregg and guitarist Dickey Betts. It caused the band to be torn apart and reunited more than once.

His professional problems and drug addiction only scratched the surface.

Gregg hates to be alone. So it’s no surprise that he would seek out companionship. He’s been married and divorced six times and for the most part doesn’t maintain relationships with any of his exes, save for wife number 3, Cher. Gregg recounts how the two met, fell in love and married, and how his drug abuse was the catalyst that broke them apart.

He and Cher were perhaps the first celebrity couple to send the tabloid media into a veritable frenzy. People magazine all but stalked the couple. And this constant intense media scrutiny also played a factor in the couple’s inevitable divorce. Check out a clip of them performing “Move Me” in 1977 on the Old Gray Whistle Test. Or not. Of their joint album, Gregg unapologetically says “The record sucked, man.”

He also regrets all his recording, cavorting, and touring while his five kids (with various women) were growing up. He was rarely present and wonders if not growing up with his own father made it hard for him to know how to be a dad. Nowadays, though, he is proud of his children and does enjoy relationships with them, especially daughter Island.

Gregg got clean in the 1990s, but years of hard living has taken a toll. He has battled hepatitis C for many years (which he attributes to a dirty tattoo needle) and underwent a liver transplant in 2010. Recently, he had a hernia operation.

My Cross To Bear by Gregg Allman Wails 8.1 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

Although Gregg Allman's life has been marked by phenomenal success and public tragedy, he still soldiers on. Unfortunately, it isn't getting easier. He recently postponed a tour to promote the book due to cardiac testing.

Not one to seek the spotlight, he still retains his white blues wail, belting out songs like Whipping Post and Melissa. Rolling Stone ranked him #70 among the top 100 singers of all time. You can find out why from the book, which is available at Barnes & Noble. My Cross to Bear by Gregg Allman is also on Amazon and you can download the book for iBooks. The audiobook is read by Will Patton. If anybody but Allman is going to read it, Patton is the perfect fit for such conversational prose.

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