Exclusive Excerpt: Gregg Allman My Cross To Bear (On Recording The Allman Brothers Band, Dickey Betts, Bill Graham…)
Gregg Allman has led a tumultuous and often tragic life. Following the murder of his father shortly after his second birthday, Gregg faced the losses of his brother Duane and later his bandmates Berry Oakley, Lamar Williams and Allen Woody. Along the way, he has suffered through addiction issues as well as six broken marriages. Allman doesn’t shy away from any of these topics in his forthright new autobiography written with Alan Light, My Cross to Bear. Of course, he has achieved a great measure of career success and what makes his story so gripping is the juxtaposition between the calamitous aspects and the majestic musical ones.
Here we present an excerpt from My Cross to Bear, a passage that looks back at a formative era for The Allman Brothers Band. Duane Allman assembled the group in March 1969, completing the lineup by inviting his younger brother to return to Jacksonville, Fla., from an extended Los Angeles sojourn. It was all fast and furious from there, with the band soon moving to Atlanta at the behest of manager Phil Walden, performing free shows in Atlanta’s Piedmont Park and soon making their initial foray into the Northeast where the group swiftly discovered an enthusiastic fanbase that remains supportive to the present. In September 1969, The Allman Brothers Band cut their debut, self-titled album at New York City’s Atlantic Studios, which featured five Gregg Allman original compositions, including “Dreams,” “Whipping Post” and “It’s Not My Cross to Bear.”
New York City became something of a second home to the group, after the ABB performed its first gigs that same year for legendary promoter Bill Graham at the Fillmore East. The relationship with Graham would not only yield a celebrated live album but also later an invitation from the promoter to deliver the final performance at the venue on June 27, 1971. My Cross to Bear includes an image of a signed letter from Graham that reproduces his brief speech before the ABB took the stage. We follow the excerpt from the book with a transcription of that band introduction from the last evening.
When you get down to it, I was, and probably still am, the least accomplished musician in the band. By accomplished, I mean as far as theory goes, and scoring and reading music—I do none of those. The other guys in the band know more than I do about that stuff, but most of them don’t know shit about singing. They’re better on their instruments than I am on the Hammond, but only if you don’t count my voice as an instrument.
Although I worshipped Jimmy Smith, God rest him, the way I play organ is much closer to Booker T. His style kind of rubbed off on me, because he pretty much puts the gravy on the meat, like I do in the Brothers. I just try to add texture and tone to the song. I try to put flowing notes behind the staccato notes, which is something I learned when we had the Allman Joys.
My brother was rarely critical of my playing, because he knew I was fragile about that sort of thing, and music is not something that I think needs any harsh words. If you want something from another musician, playing-wise, you sure as hell want to ask for it nicely.
Duane greatly respected the fact that I was a songwriter—he knew I was a songwriter before I knew it. When I would write something, and it would still be in its raw form, he could see all the other parts. That would help when we were rehearsing, because he would say, “You all listen to what my little brother has got here,” since he already knew what the song was all about.
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