Any one of Gregg Allman's stories about his life could lure a reader into his new memoir, but the 64-year-old begins My Cross to Bear with his biggest moment of shame, the induction of the Allman Brothers Band into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995.
"It should have been the greatest week of my life, but instead I hit an all-time low," he writes. "The Allman Brothers Band, the band my brother started, the band with our name on it, was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and I flat-out missed it. I was physically there, but otherwise I was out of it — mentally, emotionally and spiritually. I was drunk, man, just s--- -faced drunk, the entire time. Welcome to the story of my life."
Allman has no trouble hooking readers with the unflinching details of his highs, musical and otherwise, and lows. He writes in a charming, Southern gentlemanly first-person voice with help from Rolling Stone scribe Alan Light and contributing author John Lynskey.
Lead singer, songwriter and keyboardist for the band since its formation in 1969, Allman never knew his father; he was only 2 when his dad was murdered by a hitchhiker. He lost his brother and bandmate Duane Allman, one of rock's most revered guitarists, to a motorcycle accident in 1971 just as their band was ascending to the A-list.
His five marriages failed, and one of them, to pop culture fixture Cher, made him People magazine fodder in the 1970s. (Allman recently announced plans to get married again, to Shannon Williams, 24.) He has struggled with drug and alcohol addictions, battled hepatitis C and had a liver transplant.
Allman doesn't spend too much time explaining why his marriages failed and gives only cursory mentions to his five children. But the book's detail-rich examination of key events in his music career gives Cross its dramatic momentum and value.
The musician doesn't skimp on dishing on the final acrimonious departure of founding member Dickey Betts from the band in 2000 or on his conflicted relationship as "baybrah" of Duane Allman. The book's most indelible moments focus on the relationship between the two.
Its tone is so open and engaging, My Cross to Bear could appeal even to readers whose knowledge of the band begins and ends with Ramblin' Man. The book's unfussy style also increases its value in helping readers understand how these major league musicians persevere despite the pitfalls. Simple: "A player has got to play," Allman writes after doctors warn him to take it easy post-transplant. "(I)f traveling and making music is what takes me, I can't think of a better way to go."