My Cross To Bear by Greg Allmann

Book Review
Title: My Cross to Bear
Author:  Gregg Allman
Publisher: William Morrow
Released: May 1, 2012
Pages: 320
ISBN-10: 0062112031
ISBN-13: 978-0062112033
Stars:  5.0

It’s no secret that I love music so it goes without saying that I really enjoy reading autobiographies of musicians, and I’ve read quite a few.  But none has been as worthy of note, so brutally honest, poignant and impressive as Gregg Allman’s, who with the help of Alan Light, writes about his remarkable life in My Cross to Bear.

“No, I’m no angel
No I’m not stranger to the streets
I’ve got my label
So I won’t crumble at your feet
And I know baby
So I’ve got scars upon my cheek
And I’m half crazy
Come on and love me baby

No I’m no angel
No I’m no stranger to the dark
Let me rock your cradle
Let me start a fire with your spark
Oh come on baby
Come and let me show you my tattoo
Let me drive you crazy
Come on and love me baby”

The legendary front man for The Allman Brothers Band has lived a very hard yet rewarding life, filled with ecstasies and tragedies, and in My Cross to Bear he doesn’t sugar coat one single bit of it.  He allows us to see who Gregory really is, flaws and all, and I was so impressed by that.  Reading this book is like sitting down and listening to the man talk directly to you, leading you to believe that he considers you a friend.  I was so captivated by Gregory’s voice and humour that I have been experiencing a re-appreciation of his music that has left me with a little crush on this 64-year-old, long blonde-haired, tattooed man.

Gregory LeNoir Allman hails from Nashville, TN where he was born on December 8, 1947.  Since then he’s spent a large part of his life in Georgia which he calls home.  He’s a true southern gentleman and he writes with his own distinctive southern voice.  You can feel the heat in it, the whiskey, the cigarettes, along with sadness, joy, and hope that he’s still got time left to continue to work at being a better man and a better artist.

Gregory, as he’s known by his friends, is a rock and blues singer, keyboardist, guitarist and songwriter, and one of the founding members of The Allman Brothers Band – the band who founded Southern Rock.  Inducted with the band into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995, Gregory has received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Georgia Music Hall of Fame (2006), a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Americana Awards, and his idiosyncratic voice landed him at No. 70 of Rolling Stone’s “100 Greatest Singers of All Time”.  And he truly is.  His latest album, Low Country Blues, produced by T-Bone Burnett, is a masterpiece.

Gregory explores his fatherless youth (his dad was murdered by a hitchhiker), his stint in military school, the birth of his first bands, and the subsequent evolution of the revolving cast of players in The Allman Brothers.  He revisits the untimely and tragic motorcycle deaths of both his older brother, guitarist Duane Allman in 1971 and band mate, bassist Berry Oakley, a year later.  He is forthcoming about his alcohol and drug addictions including his many unsuccessful attempts at rehab – although he’s been sober since the mid-1990s – the band’s excessive drug use, his reputation for being a “pussy hound”, and his unabashed love for the Hammond B-3 organ.

The Ramblin’ Man also discusses the challenge of working with guitarist Dickey Betts, the highs and lows of touring, skirmishes with the law, and his critically acclaimed solo work.  He professes his love for his mother, his five children (Michael Sean Allman – whom he never met until Michael was a grown man – Devon Lane Allman, Elijah Blue Allman – who he confesses that he doesn’t know very well – Delilah Island Allman – who he describes as the light of his life, and Layla Brooklyn Allman), all of whom have a different mother, his friends, his dogs and Harley Davidson motorcycles.  The man has been married six times, most famously to Cher (1975-79) whom he still respects and gets along with.  Although he’s been tied to the whipping post many times, he doesn’t like to be alone.  He is now engaged to 24-year-old Shannon Williams, who he says will be his first wife.

Gregory, who doesn’t pretend to be anyone other than himself in his autobiography, has dabbled in acting and most notably appeared in the 1991 film Rush directed by Lili Fini Zanuck, starring Jason Patric, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Sam Elliott.  Although he had very little dialogue in the film, his presence made a huge impact on the story as he was absolutely perfect for the role of the drug dealing, criminal heavyweight, Gaines.  I love this movie and have watched it many times, enjoying all of the cast’s performances as well as its memorable soundtrack by Eric Clapton.

Allman has been battling a number of health issues in recent years and was diagnosed with Hepatitis C in late 2007, the result of an infection from a dirty tattoo needle.  In 2010 he had a liver transplant.  Through it all, he continues to make music and to tour, both as a solo artist and with The Allman Brothers.

Gregory Allman is a firm believer in everything happening for a reason.  It’s obvious that he’s done a lot of soul-searching since he’s been sober, even finding God in the Episcopal Church.  He lives every day with the grief of the loss of his big brother Duane, someone who continues to inspire the enlightened rogue, and yet just gets on with living his life.  He is truly inspirational.

 Music is my life’s blood.  I love music.  I love to play good music, and I love to play music for people who appreciate it.  And when it’s all said and done, I’ll go to my grave and my brother will greet me, saying, “Nice work, little brother – you did all right.

My Cross to Bear is everything that a rock’n’roll memoir should be: well-written, interesting, entertaining, emotive, chock full of stimulating music references, filled with great photos, rated R, and above all, unforgettable.  This is a must read for all music lovers!

Watch Gregg Allman talk about his memoir on CBS This Morning here.

Trevor Finlay’s Bootleg: Above Average, Southern Fried Roots Rock & Blues

CD Review
Title: Bootleg
Artist: Trevor Finlay
Label: BKSA Records
Released: 2010
Stars: 3.5

Bootleg, by Winnipeg-born, Nashville-based, Trevor Finlay was recorded live on March 12, 2010 at Norm’s River Roadhouse in Nashville, TN. It falls somewhere between an EP and an album, sporting 7 kick-ass rock and blues tracks meant for a great bar party that’s being rewarded with some serious rug-cuttin’.

Finlay is one of those artists that I’d heard of by reputation but hadn’t experienced his music until now. I was missing out. After listening to Bootleg several times, I can’t wait to see him and his band play live!

Trevor Finlay’s a distinguished guitarist who has been playing since he was 9 years old and whose voice is comparable to Kim Wilson (The Fabulous Thunderbirds) and Gregg Allman. His lyrics are clever and catchy and while his music may not be terribly original, Bootleg is damn good for what it is: above average, electric guitar & keyboard-laden southern fried roots rock and blues. One can visualize these songs on a movie soundtrack for a hard-luck story set in the South.

Bootleg presents Trevor Finlay on vocals, guitar & VioLap (a unique acoustic & electric instrument that’s part violin and lap steel guitar created by Cole Clark Guitars), Warren Beck on keys, Dan Seymour on bass, Mike Catone on drums and Jennifer Friend on backing vocals and opens with a tribute to some memorable three-chord classics (Louie, Louie; Hang On Sloopy; Get Off My Cloud) complete with a honky tonk piano solo in “Three-Chord RocknRoll.” “Burning It In,” a song about love and temporary insanity, offers a memorable melody & guitar hook that you’d expect to hear from the likes of John Hiatt (whom Finlay happens to have opened for on tour). A Joan Jett-style guitar riff introduces “Last Minute Romance” which “ain’t no one night stand,” but rather blues rock highlighted with a wailing guitar solo and a Fabulous Thunderbird sound.

A standout on the EP is the powerful and haunting, up-tempo ballad “What I was Dying For”: a story about drug abuse and a deal gone bad. “Send My Mail To Nashville” is another rollicking, tongue-in-cheek, electric guitar scorcher about the opportunities that await a band in Music City. Another noticeable winner is “Ain’t Gonna Make It To The Dance” which features an exceptionally fine vocal performance from Finlay. Warren Beck’s keys are prominent on this N’awlins dance number that will have your cowboy boot-covered feet shuffling and your hips swaying all over that dusty clapboard floor. It also features an interesting VioLap solo from Finlay that goes on just a bit too long (song is 5:41) for my liking but overall doesn’t hinder the piece.

Bootleg closes with “That’s Gonna Leave A Mark”, another funky butt shaker with playful lyrics that features more fine ivory tinkling from Beck.

Trevor Finlay has released four critically acclaimed CDs prior to Bootleg and in early 2008, he decided to move from Canada to Nashville “to focus on his songwriting and performing in a town famous for its down-home Southern roots and musical creativity.”

“I can’t be easily pegged as a bluesman, a country artist or a rocker. There’s way too much music out there to have tunnel vision.” says Finlay. “I’m fascinated by people. As a songwriter I inevitably write about the multifarious ways in which people try to relate to each other. There are all sorts of different angles that you can look at all this. That’s the stuff I really enjoy writing about.”

Finlay’s Bootleg has been a choice discovery for me, and according to his website, Bootleg 2 has already been recorded live at Tucson’s in Ottawa, Ontario in October of 2010. There’s also a 5-track Unplugged EP available, so you can get all 3 for the bargain price of $18.99 (plus shipping & handling).

Don’t just trust my judgment, listen to Trevor Finlay for yourself and see if you can sit still while you’re at it!