USA Today review
Allman bares wounded soul in memoir ‘My Cross to Bear’
Gregg Allman has always seemed more archetype than real. Equal measures John Wayne, Hells Angel and Muddy Waters, a tattooed stoic you wouldn’t want to cross.
So it is both intriguing and perhaps not surprising to learn that behind the Allman Brothers lead singer’s steely exterior is a complex man who hates to be alone, crucifies himself daily over his last exchange with his late brother Duane and leaves room for the possibility of reincarnation.
My Cross to Bear, Allman’s autobiography written with Alan Light, is a soul-searching rumination on a hard-lived life, one that yielded multiple marriages, endless bouts with drugs and alcohol and health woes that include a liver transplant for hepatitis C. (Recent heart tests have delayed his book tour.) On the plus side of the ledger were the usual perks of fame and fortune as well as enduring music typified by the band’s iconic live album, 1971’s At Fillmore East.
The Allman Brothers are in the spotlight of late, having just received a Lifetime Achievement Grammy for their 43 years of soulful mirthmaking. For generations of fans, Allman’s book provides insights into the many turns in that long road.
Particularly poignant are the pictures Allman, 64, paints of the band’s fraternal nature pre-fame, times when fun meant shooting pool at their Macon, Ga., group house or grabbing “a watermelon and going down to the rock quarry.” That would give way to private jets to the Caribbean, often separately.
There’s no big dish in Cross. That’s not Allman’s style. He’s kind to ex-mates, including ex-wife Cher, with whom he remains in touch. Upon meeting her in Los Angeles at the dawn of the ’70s disco era, he recalls her “smelling like a mermaid.” Allman also takes is easy on guitarist Dickey Betts, who “isn’t the devil just mixed up.” Betts has been on the outs with the band for years.
But it is the ghost of Allman’s older brother and band founder Duane, the legendary slide guitarist who died in a motorcycle accident in 1971, who dominates this memoir. And it’s their final exchange — Gregg lied when asked if he’d stolen some of Duane’s cocaine — that haunts the writer. “He said, ‘Sorry, I sure do love you, baybrah’” — Duane’s nickname for Gregg, meaning “baby brother.”
“I have thought about that every single day of my life,” writes Allman, who reluctantly played at his brother’s funeral, getting through the grim event thanks to cocaine.
Later in life, Allman, having finally ditched drugs, found spirituality in the Episcopal Church. “There’s more to life here,” he says, adding that he believes in reincarnation. “After seeing Derek Trucks, how could I not?” he writes, referring to the band’s current slide guitarist, nephew of founding drummer Butch Trucks, whose lyrical playing is reminiscent of Duane’s.
In the end, Allman comes across as a simple man who knows what and who he likes, and can’t be bothered with the rest. Music is his “sextant, it keeps me on track.” His nonagenerian mother, Gerry, is “still alive I stay strong for her.” And if you’re his friend, please don’t call him Gregg. It’s Gregory.
If there is a surprise in this book, it’s delivered in the very last sentence. After acknowledging that his life has been “a blast,” he confesses that the low notes may in fact outnumber the high.
“If somebody offered me a second round, I think I’d have to pass on it,” Allman writes. Given the celebrity memoir genre often is rife with hyped revisionism, My Cross to Bear carries a welcome seal of honesty.
If you live too far from a hometown bookstore to go there and buy it, you can get it here.