Gregg Allman: The Chronicles of Life (From The Archives)
We recently published an exclusive excerpt from Gregg Allman’s autobiography My Cross To Bear. Shortly after its publication, Gregg Allman spoke with us about the book and his “beautiful life.”
You mention that you have been working on My Cross to Bear for decades. When did you initially decide to write a memoir?
The book never even crossed my mind. In the early ‘80s, there was that big onslaught of electronic music and disco. It was the first time the Allman Brothers found themselves in a place where there wasn’t really a big calling for us. So we split up in ‘82, got back together in ‘89. And during that time, that’s when I really got in to it – the nucleus of this whole thing. I realized that I had lived such a beautiful life, and I thought, “You know, one of these days I’m going to be an old codger in a rocking chair and I might like to read this over and have it be just like reliving it, right?”
So I started writing and I’d take one happening at a time – I had a bunch of happenings, like beads on a string. And then this guy [Kirk West] came to work for us, on the road crew, and he had the strangest little thing that he did: If you asked him where did the Allman Brothers play on September 10, 1970, he would spit it right out. And of course, in later years, he started carrying this little book with him. He’s also a gadget freak and he says, “I got this new recorder, why don’t I come over to your place, once a week, and see if we can’t get an hour’s worth on tape or 90 minutes – we’re using those 90 minute tapes.” He came over every Thursday and, in no time, we had 67 pounds of cassette tapes.
Then my manager, Michael Lehman said, “Do you mind if I read a couple of chapters?” And I said, “No,” so he did and he came back and said, “Man, would it be alright if I showed this to a couple of guys?” And I said, “Yeah, it’s OK, just bring it all back to me – don’t let them copy it.” When he came back, he said, “Gregory, you got you a book here,” and man, I laughed. And sure enough, looks like I did.
Once you knew that these stories were going to be part of well-publicized memoir, were there aspects of your personal life or career that were off limits?
I didn’t really think about it that way, you know? I mean, there’s a lot of stuff in there that’s in there solely for the reason that I’m trying to help some up-and-coming musician, up-and-coming kid. Maybe they’ll steer clear of some of the things I did. And then [my mistakes] won’t be in vain.
One person who seemed to mean a great deal to you was the late Allen Woody, who played bass in the Allman Brothers from 1989-1997. How closely did you keep in touch with him after he left the band?
I kept in touch with him, closely, every day. We had a very, very, very fine relationship – we really did. He was very funny, very talented, and we wrote a lot of songs together.
[I remember we] we had to hold auditions [when the Allmans reunited in 1989] – that’s always fun. [Laughter.] We played the same three songs for every single one of those bass players, and I’ve never been so sick of “One Way Out.” We played “Elizabeth Reed” and “Whipping Post,” too. Anyway, Woody just sat there – didn’t even get in line. There were bass players everywhere. And they were all good – they were all real good. ‘Cept he kind of stood out, and, hell, we came together as a team so fast, that actually the next day, me, him and Haynes wrote a song – “End of the Line,” the one that was in that Perfect Storm movie. Woody started it and we were all sitting in the kitchen. Wrote the damn thing in the kitchen. He was a lot of fun that man. I think about him and miss him every single day.
In describing Warren Haynes, another latter day member of The Allman Brothers Band, you mention that he encouraged you to solo more when performing live. How persuasive was he?
I’ve gotten a lot more into [improvising] since he’s come in to the band. Dickey had brought Haynes with him [from his band Great Southern]. [Warren] came right in [as] a full-on member when the Brothers got back together in ‘89.
Warren and Woody’s personalities definitely spurred on the band.
We all got a little get-up-and-go in us, but it was a mutual admiration society.
Another person you talk about in your book is Jimmy Carter. You played benefits for him in the mid-‘70s when he was first running for President. Do you still have a close friendship with him?
Well, probably not as close, but I saw him not all that long ago. He’s a nice guy. We did that [benefit] out of just knowing him and knowing what a great person he was.
When you began thinking back on your musical career as you wrote this memoir, was there a period of time you are most proud of besides the original Allman Brothers Band’s three-year run?
It’s like asking which one of your kids do you love the most, you know? I love all of them. I liked my last solo record. I think [my favorite song on it] would have to be “Floating Bridge.”
Did the memoir process spark the decision to bring back any of your older material at this year’s Beacon run?
“Dark End of the Street,” we started playing that a lot. A lot of changes happen like that.
The only time you mention Jerry Garcia by name in My Cross to Bear is when you say he called you a “narc” after the Shooter Herring trial. Do you have another memory of Garica that’s stuck with you over the years, either musically or as a peer?
Not really, no. I mean, dig it man, listen to me : We weren’t enemies or anything like that. So don’t go blowing that all up, alright?