My Cross to Bear: Gregg Allman memoir details come and go blues of Allman Brothers Band, addictions, and marriage

Few can argue the fact that southern rocker and Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award recipient Gregg Allman has lived a hard 64 years, from losing his older brother and Allman Brothers Band co-founder Duane Allman in a motorcycle accident more than four decades ago to his numerous failed marriages and battles with first drugs and alcohol, then, more recently, hepatitis C. And Allman shys away from none of it in his recently published autobiography, My Cross to BearĀ (William Morrow/HarperCollins).

Written with music journalist Alan Light (SPIN, Vibe), the book is an open and honest account of the highs and lows experienced throughout the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer’s life and musical career, beginning with the Allman brothers’ growing up in Nashville and Daytona; then moving through the formation, break-ups, and reunions of the Allman Brothers Band – and the personalities who drove them; and his recent liver transplant, along the way also offering Allman’s candid thoughts on things like tattoos, God, and the people who’ve moved in and out of his life, from his own children to seeing Derek Trucks play guitar at only nine years old to Dickey Betts’ leaving the band in the early 2000s. Of course, much of My Cross to Bear also relates to the music, with Allman revealing “Midnight Rider” as the song of which he’s most proud in his career, the album Hittin’ the Note as “the best thing we’ve cut since my brother was around,” and his Low Country Blues as “a true highlight of my career.”

Dedicated to his mom and Duane, the book and many of its chapters reflect the titles of Allman works, among them, “Dreams,” “Come and Go Blues,” “No Angel,” “Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More,” “One Way Out,” “Low Country Blues,” and “Trouble No More.”

Here are a few of our favorite (mostly blues-related) reflections from Allman, but if you’re a fan of the Allman Brothers, classic rock, or the blues, you’re probably also going to want to check the book out yourself:

“We listened a lot to WLAC, the radio station out of Nashville that played all that old blues…When we were going from gig to gig and driving for hours, we would listen. We’d say, ‘Man, check out that guy blowing that harp,’ and they’d come on and say it was Sonny Boy Williamson. That’s when I first heard Jimmy Smith, Little Milton, Howlin’ Wolf…Muddy’s the first one we really got into, because if you’ll notice, there’s Muddy Waters songs all through the Allman Brothers records.”

“When we were able to play shows, we were playing a lot of R&B and some blues. We always stuck to our guns musically. We were determined to do what we did best and how it was most comfortable for us, so we did songs like ‘Leaving Trunk,’ ‘I’m Hanging Up My Heart for You,’ the Solomon Burke tune, and ‘Dimples,’ which took on a life of its own.”

“Our kind of music was so new that eventually they started calling it a whole different genre of music. I always thought we were just playing some blues with some jazz mixed in, and with Dickey we had a country boy in the band, so that accounted for stuff like ‘Lord, I was born a ramblin’ man’…”

“We played four nights at the Fillmore West, where we opened for B.B. King and Buddy Guy. My brother and I got to meet B.B. when we opened for him, and that was really something.”

“A lot of British guys you meet are real cocky, especially about the blues issue. They try to talk to me about the ‘British blues,’ and I don’t want to hear that shit. My brother hated that too. There was some Brits playing some blues, but there ain’t no such thing as British blues — that sounds like blues that was made in Great Britain. Rock and roll and blues is America at its finest. British blues is like a parrot that lives in Greenland, man.”

“‘Little Milton’ Campbell had the strongest set of pipes I ever heard on a human being.”

On learning the Hammond B3: “When we played at Pepe’s a Go Go, which was next door to the Whisky a Go Go, I was talking to a guy named Mike Finnigan [Phantom Blues Band] who played with a band called Mike Finnigan and the Serfs. I asked him what that big piece of wood was on the stage. He said, ‘Come on up here. I’ll show you.'”

“Do I believe in reincarnation? After seeing Derek Trucks, how could I not? People ask me about Derek and my brother all the time, and I usually give them a little generic answer, because it’s a pretty heavy question…sometimes I’ll catch him out of the corner of my eye, and the way he stands looks just like my brother.”

“When I was in Daytona, I would go down and check out the bar scene, and somebody told me about a band called the Nighthawks. They said this band was nothing but straight-on, hard-core blues, and they had a harp player with so many tattoos, that’s all you could see when he was playing…That night, the Nighthawks were blowing. They took a break and I met them, and then I sat in during the next set. They knew a lot of blues songs, and we sounded really good together.”

“About this time, someone had come up with the idea of ‘classic rock’ radio stations, and they started popping up everywhere. Man, they played us over and over.”

His last conversation with Duane: “I have thought about that every single day of my life since then. I told him that lie, and he told me that he was sorry and that he loved me…I have thought of that lie every day of my life, and I just keep recruficifying myself for it.”

“I’ve played with some real killers in my career, but there’s just something about playing with the Allman Brothers. It’s like a special fishing hole that you have–that one over there is good, but this one down here is a motherfucker. When the Brothers were on, and if Dickey was having a good night, no one could touch us.”

“During this time, we did some shows with Stevie Ray Vaughan, and good God almighty, what a player that man was. The people just loved him, and they gave me credit for bringing him, since he was opening for me, but I had nothing to do with the talents of Stevie Ray Vaughan.”

On Low Country Blues, which was recorded six months before Allman’s liver transplant: “It had yet to be released, but I knew I had this record in the can, as they say, and that was something to really look forward to. Actually, it was a lifesaver — when things got real bad, real painful, I would just think about this record and it was kind of a life support system.”

“Music is something to hold on to, and to judge everything else by…Music is a means to dig yourself out of the doldrums; it can earn you a living, and it’s a friend to have at all times. Whether you’re recording or trying to write something, or if you just want to sit and play and think about different things, music is always there.”

This entry was posted in Artists and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.