My Cross To Bear opens with Allman recounting his band’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Drunk for five days straight at the time of the event, Allman shares the final hours in a downward spiral of alcohol and drug abuse that ended with his entering treatment shortly after the Rock Hall induction. Concerned for his well-being during the ceremony, Willie Nelson, who presented the Allman Brothers Band with their award, asked Gregg if he was alright, to which Allman replied, “I am not alright.” So begins the story of one of rock music’s hardest living musicians.
Co-authored by Allman and Alan Light, My Cross to Bear is written in a conversational tone. It’s easy to imagine Allman telling the story over a cup of coffee (okay, a dozen cups of coffee). Light appears to have let Allman talk and then connected the dots later. The personal touch gives the book a warmth that draws the reader in deeper as each chapter unfolds. From his father’s murder when he was three years-old, to his and brother Duane’s stint in military school, Allman touches (briefly) on his childhood before getting down to the meat of his story – the part longtime fans will be eager to read about – the music.
Brother Duane would become a virtuoso guitarist and, in Gregg’s own words, “play circles” around him, but it was Gregg who picked up the guitar first while visiting family in Tennessee one summer. After witnessing a live music revue for the first time – featuring Otis Redding (who had a huge impact on both Duane and Gregg) – a mentally challenged neighbour of Allman’s grandmother gave him a few lessons. Gregg in turn shared his guitar knowledge with Duane, who would, before his death in 1971, become one of the most revered slide guitarists in the world.
Allman doesn’t shy away from controversial topics, like the antics that helped him and Duane avoid the Vietnam draft (which included Gregg shooting himself in the foot with a pistol while intoxicated). Allman’s sexual exploits are scattered throughout the book (what would a rock autobiography be without the usual sex, drugs and rock and roll?), but the singer doesn’t waste a lot of space bragging about his conquests. Like his addictions, sex is simply part of the story. Allman’s short marriage to pop diva Cher gets the most attention, although he reveals very little about their relationship.
The rise and fall and eventual comeback of the Allman Brothers Band is laid out in great detail in My Cross To Bear, as is Allman’s battle with alcohol and drugs (and the health problems he suffered as a result). Surprisingly, Allman spends very little time talking about the motorcycle accident that killed his brother, offering up only a brief account which includes a short phone conversation he and Duane had hours before his death, a phone call that would haunt Gregg for most of his life. Gregg’s admiration for his older brother (by one year) is evident by the way he speaks of him throughout the book.
My Cross To Bear is a brutally honest look at rock and roll success and excess. Despite the mountains of cocaine, the truckloads of heroin and the oceans of liquor (not to mention a liver transplant), Allman is sober and healthy today and prepared to play music until they put him in the ground.