[10 May 2012]
Atlanta Journal-Constitution (MCT)
ATLANTA — It’s fitting that Gregg Allman had to alter some dates on his book signing tour because of a health scare.
After experiencing arrhythmia, he was cleared recently by the Mayo Clinic to embark on the book outing and a summer Allman Brothers tour.
But it was just another sigh-inducing experience in Allman’s extraordinary life, a journey fraught with deaths, drugs, divorces and health disorders, but also one spiked with tremendous musical accomplishments and a persistent air of hopefulness.
In the just-released “My Cross to Bear” (William Morrow/HarperCollins, $27.99), Allman’s autobiography written with music journalist Alan Light, Allman digs back to his earliest days in Daytona, Fla., when racism was prevalent and he and brother Duane learned their first guitar licks, to the recent years with a new liver and, last fall, playing at the Country Music Association Awards with the Zac Brown Band.
The pages in between are filled with breezy anecdotes recounted with surprising clarity for someone who ingested massive amounts of drugs and alcohol, as Allman, 64, admits to not so much with shame, but with the wisdom of someone who now knows better.
There is much for Georgians to relish — Macon natives especially — but there are other tidbits such as Allman’s mention of Atlanta promoter Toby Gunn, who booked the band’s first tour (when they were known as the Allman Joys) for $440 a week, to reminiscing about the Allman Brothers’ first gig at Piedmont Park in the spring of 1969.
“From the very beginning, we were too loud. I was always saying, ‘Guys, it’s just too damn loud,’ but the only one who would pay any attention was (drummer) Jaimoe (Johanson),” Allman writes about the concert.
Allman shows much affection for Johanson, even stating that he loves the drummer as much as he did brother Duane.
As for the mythical guitar hero of the band, he is always, seemingly, at the forefront of Allman’s thoughts.
How did Allman deal with his grief after Duane’s fatal motorcycle accident?
For the first 10 years, by reliving his death every day.
Allman still carries the guilt of his last conversation with Duane: a lie he told his brother about stealing some of his cocaine.
But, as he is apt to do, Allman wades through the muck to find the glint of hope.
“Do I believe in reincarnation? After seeing Derek Trucks, how could I not?” he asks rhetorically, talking about the young ace guitarist nephew of original Allman Brothers drummer Butch Trucks.
Duane stories aside, there are also finally answers to trivia that has been subject to years of rumors and incorrectly repeated stories.
Where did the title of “Melissa” come from? When Allman, needing a three-syllable name for the song, overheard a woman in a grocery store calling to her granddaughter, “No, wait, Melissa.”
What was it like being married to Cher? It wasn’t the worst thing in the world, Allman decides.
“We had our good times, we had our bad times. We were just different in a whole bunch of ways,” he says in a chapter that traces their fast, passionate union and its equally abrupt dissolution.
Allman spends a bit of time explaining the discovery of his liver condition, which he blames primarily on the unsanitary conditions of needles used for his first tattoos, inked when he was 20, and his eventual transplant.
It’s a startling brush with mortality that leads to him pondering his good fortunes over the years as well as the turmoil.
But, he determines in the closing paragraphs, if he died today, “I have had me a blast.” However, his decision as to whether he’d like to relive those experiences just might come as a surprise.