Rocker owns up to tragedies and triumphs alike

The last words Gregg Allman spoke to his older brother and bandmate Duane Allman before the latter perished in a motorcycle accident in 1971 was a lie about stealing a few grams of cocaine.

It’s the titular “cross” the rock legend bears in a new autobiography — written with former Rolling Stone rock critic Alan Light. But as it turns out Allman best known as the bluesy voiced Hammond-playing frontman for the Allman Brothers Band has more crosses than the Vatican.

There’s his six failed marriages including four years with Cher many neglected offspring and decades of alcohol and drug addiction issues. His boozy induction at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995 was the tipping point he recalls in the opening chapter.

Although the Allman Brothers Band progenitors of “southern rock” are closely associated with the state of Georgia the Allmans were actually raised in Florida by their single mother — their father was killed in a botched robbery when Gregg was two. He got his first guitar at 13 and he fled military school to play music soon after.

The Escorts the brothers’ first band became the Allman Joys then the Hour Glass — a failed psych pop venture — before they finally hooked up with the inaugural Allman Brothers Band lineup around ’69 — guitarist Dickey Betts bassist Berry Oakley and drummers Jaimoe and Butch Trucks. Success eluded the six-piece until Live at the Fillmore East — a double LP that can be considered a blueprint for the jam band phenomenon — shot the group to stardom. It was released just weeks after Duane’s death.

To call the relationship between Gregg Allman and Betts acrimonious understates the issue. After Betts wrote their smash “Ramblin’ Man” in 1973 he asserted himself as the band’s leader and had according to Allman an ego of maniacal proportions. “You have to give the devil his due” is the most flattering passage Allman writes about his former bandmate (Betts was fired in 2000).

Band tensions were fuelled by Allman’s relocation to L.A. and his very public relationship with Cher who ended it soon after the release of their disastrous duet album Two the Hard Way . Allman’s marriages could fill a separate book. He recalls a story of an unnamed wife who had him drugged abducted and committed to a mental hospital so she could run off with another man.

Allman tells these stories with candour and an easy southern charm — many sentences begin and end with the word “man.” His ownership of his failures as well as his triumphs is a welcome addition to the rock bio genre which is too often whitewashed to protect an image.

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