The moving narration chronicles his long struggle with substance abuse, life in one of rock's legendary Allman Brothers band and the tragic deaths of his brother, Duane, and the group's bassist Berry Oakley.
Allman, a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member, sets the record straight about internal bickering in the band, surviving the abyss of cocaine, speed, heroin and alcohol abuse, multiple rehab stays and life with six wives -- including pop superstar Cher.
Allman tells of contracting hepatitis C and having to choose between a liver transplant or a painful and slow
Considering all the years of hard partying, you might wonder how he can remember such details of past events and put them in a memoir. But as he graciously tells us, the book has been in the works for a long time.
Q: What inspired you to write your book, and why do you call it "My Cross to Bear"?Gregg Allman:
I started in 1981, and as for the name of the book, well, it's difficult to name an old hound dog, you know what I mean?
When you have something as important to you as this, I bet I went through a couple of hundred names. Well not really, but seemed like it took that much time.
When I started out, I guess it was between 1974 and 1980. I was the big doubting Thomas in the band.
I never thought we would make enough to pay rent. So I guess I cleared my first million, and I thought "Man this is great. Who could have mail-ordered a better life than this?" So I figured one day I was looking through some old stuff that I had, and I thought, "One of these days I will be an old man in a rocking chair on a porch. Wouldn't it be nice to have my whole life there to read and kind of re-live it?"
So I started writing
Q: So he kept a journal for you, sort of?Gregg Allman:
No, no, no, it's changed now. He started coming over to my house every Thursday evening. And we would sit there, and the object of it was to get at least one hour on tape. He was also a real gadget freak, so he had this newfangled digital
An attorney could not have done it better. So long story short, I wound up with 67 pounds of cassette tapes, and they were 90 minutes, 45 on each side. So I had me a mess of stuff. I kind of put it down for awhile, and I got real busy and all.
When I met my new manager, Michael Leeman, I said, "I want to show you something" one day. They were for the most part labeled and everything. And as for the guy who brought the recorder and everything, I found he was stealing from the band, and I had to fire him. Anyway, not until I got all that information down. My manager listened to it and said, "Do you mind if I take a couple of these chapters-- a friend of mine will look at it." And he came back and he said, "Man, they loved it." So that's how it happened.
Q: When your brother Duane died, did you consider disbanding the Allman Brothers?Gregg Allman:
I didn't. Well at first when something like that happens, your brain, I don't know if their is some kind of watchdog circuit that kicks in or something. I don't know, it's just this weird place you go to. The only time we seemed to be happy is when we were all together. So I decided to take a certain amount of time, all of us, to grieve, and then by God, get back to work. And so it was, I said, "Listen, from my perspective if we don't start doing what we love and start picking up our passion, we're gonna lose it man." And if we lost that then we've lost everything.
I tried my damnedest. I didn't want to see it go. But we had to wait a certain amount of time before things even started to feel normal again, and I thought that would take forever. And then when I thought everything was getting OK, then we had another one right behind it (the death of bassist Berry Oakley) . It was rough -- it was a rough thing to get through, but it made us all better people.
Q: The Hammond B3 organ isn't thought of as a rock instrument, yet it has a big part in jazz and in church music. What drew you to the B3, and which players did you learn the most from?Gregg Allman:
It's not really a rock and roll instrument, huh? And everybody has to categorize everything. They have to be led around like a bunch of damn sheep, if they didn't have their little program.
I was a big fan of (jazz organ master) Jimmy Smith, I played piano before that, and it would just sit on the stage, and I remember people would come by and say, "Hey man, is your keyboard player sick tonight?" And I'd say, "He's not sick, he's standing over there. He just only knows about three or four songs".
But that's the way I started. But the thing with the piano is, the piano is like percussion almost -- well it is. You have to ... not beat on it, but there is more work involved than a Hammond. With a Hammond, you just lay your hands on the keys man, and you're gone.
Q: How many B3s do you think you own? How do you keep them from breaking down in the middle of a gig?Gregg Allman:
I take two of them to every gig, I've got eight. And they are all interchangeable. In other words, you can take the guts, the insides, the electronic part can be changed out.
When the (Rock and Roll) Hall of Fame called, I told my technician, "Man, switch out the guts of this other one." They stopped building them in 1971, and all mine, all six of them except one, are 1969. That's about the best year.
And they are hard to find now -- and expensive . Lord ... $10,000 is about the going price. And I keep them sounding so great -- many musicians who have sat in have come by (and say), "Man, I don't see how you do it. Every time I sit down at your rig it's a different one. But it's perfect."
And I say, "Well, my boy up in Jersey tweaks them out. If you look at the cabinet behind me, that speaker cabinet for the Hammond, that big piece of wood I'm leaning up against, that's called a Leslie cabinet.
On all of mine it has "GOFF" printed in gold letters. That's the name in the company in New Jersey that keeps them all just right on the spot, all perfect.Q: When the Allmans came to California in the early days, did you feel like fish out of water, being Southerners in what has always been a strange land? Gregg Allman:
A little bit -- only though when it came to music. Back then in the days of Golden Gate Park and Country Joe and the Fish and all them guys, the Airplane, the Dead and all that stuff -- we're going right into the heart of that. And we were brought in by Bill Graham. He managed the Grateful Dead. He heard of us and invited us to come up to the Fillmore East, and so we went up there.
Pretty soon we were just hopping back and forth, from the Fillmore East to the Fillmore West.
Q: The must have been fun.Gregg Allman:
Q: The gigs at the Fillmore East and West.Gregg Allman:
Oh yeah, it's was just all that damn traveling in between, that's the torture. That what we get paid for. You see, the music is free. We're paid to go over all them bumps in the road.
Q: The book is extremely confessional. Are there things you debated leaving out, and if you did leave anything out, can you give us an example of something that didn't make it between the covers?Gregg Allman:
I tried to not cuss too much because my mother now is 94. She is 34 years older than me. My mother is a CPA, or was rather.
Q: Will you be coming to Los Angeles with Santana?Gregg Allman:
I'm not sure -- I will have to check the schedule. Might be... Carlos is a good man.
Gregg Allman will have two book signings in Los Angeles:
- May 15 at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica for Live Talks Los Angeles, Allman will appear in conversation with Alan Light. This event will include a book signing. Ticket and location info: livetalksla.org
- May 17 at Book Soup in West Hollywood, Allman will sign books at a free event sponsored by 95.5 KLOS.
Find out more about Gregg Allman at his Web site.