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A few years back, Gregg Allman said in an interview that one thing was for sure, the book he was writing wouldn't have a song title. So when the publication of his memoir, My Cross To Bear (William Morrow, 2012) was announced, my initial reaction was somewhere between skepticism and ambivalence. Not only was the book a play on his song, "Not My Cross to Bear," but at least eight of the chapters were directly taken from song titles.
Beyond that, I wondered about the impact prolonged and excessive drug and alcohol abuse had on his long-term memory and on his capacity to have truly experienced reality as it happened. Still, there was room for optimism here, both Eric Clapton and Keith Richards, despite serious addictions, managed to pull off excellent memoirs. So notwithstanding my high regard of Allman's considerable musical legacy, my expectations for his memoir were tempered.
To my surprise, it is on par with both Clapton's and Richards' books. A great deal of credit is no doubt due to co-writer Alan Light for his editorial and organization skills in putting together such a smooth read. Equally important was the contribution of John Lynskey, editor of Hittin' The Note, the Allman Brothers Fan Club's quarterly magazine, who, according to Allman, supplied lots of information and jogged his memory about many career-related events. Even serious fans are apt to learn something from the details he flushed out.
For example, twenty years ago in an interview, Allman claimed to have hitchhiked from Los Angeles to Jacksonville, Florida to form Allman Brothers Band. In the memoir, he recounts paying gas money to a former bassist from the Allman Joys to drive him back, and even describes how Duane slammed the door in the guy's face after the cross country trip with Gregg.
A New York Times review seems to revel in Allman's sexploits:
"Women threw themselves at him, and he devoured them. He didn't have the heart to turn many away. One of the great virtues of My Cross to Bear, his slightly better-than-average rock memoir, is how frank Mr. Allman is about the perks of being a tall, blond, intricately bewhiskered white rock god in skinny jeans who can bellow the blues like a black man."
The review neglected two particularly important aspects of the book. First, is Allman's recounting of his musical back story. We get a lot of insight into what he was exposed to, and who he met along the way. For instance, in 1966 the virtually unknown Allman Joys were playing a club in New York City when Rolling Stones happened to come in. Duane Allman launched into "19th Nervous Breakdown," which, Gregg recalled, the Stones actually dug. In L.A. they hung out with Mike Bloomfield and the Electric Flag when they did gigs at the Cheetah Club. They also did gigs with Spirit, the Seeds, and Love, and opened for Buffalo Springfield at the Fillmore West. Gregg even hung out with Jim Morrisonthere is a lot more interesting musical trivia like that in the book.
Equally significant is the insight into Gregg and Duane's relationship. Over the years, from books, magazines, and interviews it seemed to me, and surely many other fans, that Duane Allman was a strong protective presence in Gregg Allman's life as they weathered the effects of a murdered father, years of military school, and the hard knocks of their early life on the road as struggling musicians. The book, however, reveals a complex sibling relationship and family dynamic. (In the book Allman breaks some exciting news about Galadrielle Allman, Daune's daughter. She is working on an extensive biography of her father.)
Gregg and Duane shared a deep dedication and drive to make music, and had an extremely close relationship, yet there were also unmistakable elements of abuse. Radio personality Howard Stern had some intriguing insights as he peppered Allman with questions for nearly an hour. He got Gregg to admit that Duane had intimidated and abused him (even punching him in the face) and that growing up he resented that his mother hadn't shielded him from the mistreatmentStern posited that his anger from that might have something to do with his history of substance abuse.
Stern also asked about the portion of the book when Gregg Allman recounts being less than impressed with seeing Jimi Hendrix live at the Atlanta Pop Festival: ..."in all honesty, I thought he could have done better. From what I've heard, he wasn't always all that much when he played live." Allman denied it and told Stern, "Not at all, you've got the wrong guy."
Allman's recollections of sound wizard Tom Dowd, music impresario Bill Graham, road crews, managers, and band mates are also important elements of the book. There's a great inside story of Duane and Clapton from Gregg, who was there for three days in the Miami studio at the Layla (Polydor, 1970) sessions.
I love jazz because when I was a kid pop music was bland, plain, uneventful until one day I heard a tune on a juke box entitled Jump Red Jump By Tenor Saxophonist Red Prysock brother of Arthur Prysock
I love jazz because when I was a kid pop music was bland, plain, uneventful until one day I heard a tune on a juke box entitled Jump Red Jump By Tenor Saxophonist Red Prysock brother of Arthur Prysock. It was love at first sight . This was when Blues, Soul / Gospel Style Music was becoming popular amongst kids as well as hip adults and featured Ray Charles, Big Joe Turner and The Payola era DJ's such as Alan Freed. Not many people remember that Freed's Rock n Roll Band of the 1950's was The Count Basie Orchestra featuring the Guy Singer Tony Bennett (Anthony DiBenedetto) who grew up in Astoria, NYNY right next to my Home Town Jackson Heights NYNY.
I was first exposed to jazz when I heard Red Prysock, Sam The Man Taylor & groups like the Chord Cats recording of Shaboom! It made the Crew Cuts look LAME! Now Jazz, Blues, Soul, Gospel was pretty much joined at the hip back then and I learned that the tasteful Music was featured on The African American Radio Stations which led me to DJ's Like The Bruce, Jocko Henderson, Tommy Dr. Jive Smalls and eventually Symphony Sid Torin, China Valles and Len Pace. This all took place during my high school years and the following years in NYNY and South Florida. I actually flew to Copenhagen Denmark in 1961 to see Stan Getz, (One of my top 3 heroes in the Music Bird, Pres & Getz not necessarily in that order). Sadly Getz had already left town and snuck back into NYNY where he played Birdland (Undoubtedly without a cabaret card due to smack addiction.) No problem for me as I worked for Pan American Airways at the time and enjoyed a 90% Employee Discount.
I met Thelonious Monk, Stan Kenton, Warne Marsh, Lenny Tristano, Art Farmer, Benny Golson, Frank Foster, Dr. Lonnie Smith, among many others over the years.
The best show I ever attended was The Randall's Island Jazz Festival NYNY 1960. Monk & Edward Ellington Kennedy AKA Duke, starred among numerous others. I can not recall the entire Line Up but Monk brought along his Hat Collection which at the time contained I believe he told me 33 or 35 international Hats which he periodically changed often during his Solos. I have been unable to find that roster for that particular festival and since it was long ago I remember mostly Monk & Duke. Paul Gonsalvas played his legendary trademark twenty something chorus solo in between Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue which was outstanding.
The first jazz record I bought was Firstly, my Bro George was / is a Marine and he sent home his wax collection of LP's from Camp Pendleton CA before deploying to Okinawa in 1956 I think. Bird, Getz, Mulligan & Baker, Erroll Garner, Blakey's Jazz Messengers, Jazz at Newport 1956 and many more. I fell in love with Bird, Getz and Jeru & Chet for openers. Pres to my mind takes the all time Tenor Award and Budo, Piano etc.! However I digress Getz Long Island Sound and every other Getz record that I could find that was 1957 by then and I snuck in to Birdland for the First of many times before I was 18 ( Legal drinking age back then) It wasn't until just after my 18th Birthday that I was carded much to the bouncers chagrin as he recognized me as having being an established customer by then.
My advice to new listeners: Listen to the Music and keep it in the forefront not the background. A Local Band Leader whose name escapes me once said to me Jerry you can make time for the chicks later the Music is in the now and is more important than chicks ever will be. He was correct!
Next see live performances and introduce yourself to the Players most of whom will be respectful. Some, however, are unapproachable such as when I saw Miles so many times but his obvious disdain for certain fans was evident and he always walked off the stage after soloing. (Eddie Jefferson sang words to So What that so indicated this)!