Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Ripple Library - Gregg Allman - My Cross To Bear

I had no intention of reading this book, let alone reviewing it, but a copy turned up at my local library. I started flipping through it and saw enough stuff that interested me to check it out. Off and on for about 30 years I've tried to get into the Allman Brothers, mainly the live album from the Fillmore East. It's a bonafide classic album with some great musicianship but, damn, I just can't get into those endless jams. It doesn't help that I once saw the Gregg Allman Band play a show with Stevie Ray Vaughan at The Pier in New York City around 1983 or 84. Gregg seemed totally burned out and hung over. There was some problem with the gear and he just stared at the crowd in a daze for a long time. Not exactly the kind of high energy show that I enjoy. But as a music fan with a love of history I figured I should give this a shot. Plus, I needed something to read that week while riding the exercise bike at the gym. I'm really glad I read Gregg's book. It was a lot more entertaining than I expected, and much more fun to read than Pete Townshend's recent autobiography.

Gregg's had a pretty insane life and it's a miracle that he's alive to tell the tale. His father was murdered when Gregg and Duane were young boys. Their mom sent them to military school but, not surprisingly, they hated it. Gregg says he was actually a good student but once he got into music it was all over. Gregg started out on guitar first and but Duane surpassed him pretty quickly. The story of their early bands is pretty typical  of the mid-60's. They played in cover bands doing Beatles, Motown and top 40 songs back when pop music was actually pretty good. Duane got heavily into the blues and Gregg became an R&B fanatic. Also typical of the 60's is that when their band Hourglass got a record deal in Hollywood they weren't allowed to write their own songs and not everyone in the band played on the record. Discouraged, Duane went back down south and put together a band while Gregg stayed behind in California and gave it another try. Eventually they re-connected and the Allman Brothers Band is born.

This is where the story starts to get really interesting. They're managed by Phil Walden, who got his start working with the great Otis Redding. Playing all over the deep south with an integrated band during the late 60's was unusual to say the least. Their mix of blues, soul and rock with a little bit of country was also pretty unusual. They played everywhere and all the time. Like a lot of bands in the 60's they'd play for free in a park on Sunday. Can't do that anymore!

But the real appeal of this book is Gregg's anecdotes and no bullshit attitude. There's some really funny stuff in here. He had me cracking up talking about the first time the Allmans played with the Grateful Dead. His opinion of the Dead is the same as mine - "ain't got no groove at all." He also disapproves of something he calls "the Grateful Dead waltz, which consisted of dancing around, twirling and jerking a whole lot." He also says that the one and only time he saw Hendrix "he could have done better." Another funny paragraph revolves around his opinion of British blues - "I don't want to hear that shit."

After the tragic deaths of both Duane Allman and bassist Berry Oakley, Gregg was in kind of a power struggle with Dickey Betts over just about everything. Gregg heavily medicated himself and somehow wound up marrying Cher. Also in the bizzaro world of the 70's he winds up hanging out with Jimmy Carter. Things were a LOT looser in the 70's. When you get into the 80's, Gregg's basically a basket case and there are a lot of break ups and reunions of the Allman Brothers Band. Gregg tried rehab many, many times and it's a miracle that it finally stuck with him. Ironically, once he's sober for a few years is when he needs a liver transplant. He manages to survive that, too and manages to keep on space truckin around the globe with his band. If he can endure all of that then I can endure "Mountain Jam." I'm gonna give it another shot right now.

Buy from Amazon

Gregg Allman interview with Howard Stern

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