Gregg Allman bares, shares in autobiography

MY CROSS TO BEAR. By Gregg Allman. William Morrow. 390 pages. $27.99.

In “My Cross to Bear,” Gregg Allman’s autobiography written with music journalist Alan Light, Allman looks back to his earliest days in Daytona, Fla., when racism was prevalent and he and brother Duane learned their first guitar licks, and to last fall, when he played at the Country Music Association Awards with the Zac Brown Band.

The pages in between are filled with breezy anecdotes.

There is much for Georgians to relish, and tidbits such as Allman’s mention of Atlanta promoter Toby Gunn, who booked the band’s first tour (when they were known as the Allman Joys) for $440 a week, to reminiscing about the Allman Brothers’ first gig at Piedmont Park in spring 1969.

“From the very beginning, we were too loud. I was always saying, ‘Guys, it’s just too ... loud,’ but the only one who would pay any attention was (drummer) Jaimoe (Johanson),” Allman writes about the concert.

As for the mythical guitar hero of the band, he is always, seemingly, at the forefront of Allman’s thoughts. How did Allman deal with his grief after Duane’s fatal motorcycle accident? For the first 10 years, by reliving his death every day. Allman still carries the guilt of his last conversation with Duane: a lie he told his brother about stealing some of his cocaine. But, as he is apt to do, Allman wades through the muck to find the glint of hope.

Duane stories aside, there are also finally answers to trivia that has been subject to years of rumors and incorrectly repeated stories.

Where did the title of “Melissa” come from? When Allman, needing a three-syllable name for the song, overheard a woman in a grocery store calling to her granddaughter, “No, wait, Melissa.”

What was it like being married to Cher? It wasn’t the worst thing in the world, Allman decides. “We had our good times, we had our bad times. We were just different in a whole bunch of ways,” he says in a chapter that traces their fast, passionate union and its equally abrupt dissolution.

Allman spends a bit of time explaining the discovery of his liver condition, which he blames primarily on the unsanitary conditions of needles used for his first tattoos, and his eventual transplant.

It’s a startling brush with mortality that leads to him pondering his good fortunes over the years as well as the turmoil. But, he determines in the closing paragraphs, if he died today, “I have had me a blast.”

Reviewer Melissa Ruggieri writes for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.