May 30, 2017 | By Dan Weiss
This piece was originally published on a now-defunct blog in 2012.
With a new memoir out (My Cross to Bear, co-written with former SPIN editor-in-chief Alan Light) and a surprising new engagement (to 24-year-old girlfriend Shannon Williams, it will be his seventh marriage), legendary Allman Brothers Band singer/keyboardist Gregg Allman, 64, is in the spotlight again. The book is surprisingly candid early on about the problems with now-departed Allmans guitarist Dickey Betts and his admitted ambivalence towards the Grateful Dead, with whom his band shares a large jam-band/classic rock fanbase, as well as plenty of insight about his six former marriages.
But Allman doesn’t see what the big deal is; the man just wants to play music. I spoke to the perpetually earnest Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee over the phone about summing his extravagant life up in a book that he didn’t even know was a book.
How you doin’?
I’m good. How are you spending the [July 4] holiday?
Oooh, I’m down here at Jacksonville Beach. We’re just gonna have a good old time.
I know you’re getting asked about your engagement left and right, but after reading the book, it seems like the big difference between your current engagement and your previous marriages is that you’re sober now.
Is that part of why you want to give marriage another try?
That’s not the reason, no. She’s actually like my first wife.
In the book, you’re not shy about criticizing Dickey Betts’ destructiveness from the start. Did it never occur to fire him for so long because you felt responsible for so many of the band’s troubles?
You’re asking and answering the question at the same time. Is it because of what?
That you didn’t realize for so long that he was the destructive factor and maybe blamed yourself?
No, I’d say he was. Ahh, it got more than we could take, you know?
Dickey didn’t seem to fit in with your own modesty as a “frontman” and how the leadership role in the band was passed around, even to newer members like Warren Haynes. Do you think that’s the secret to the Allmans’ longevity that it was never meant to revolve around one person?
What are you talking about, “leader”? There is no leader in this. We all do our thing. I mean, as far as signing things, you know, I do that. But as far as a “leader?” The only time we’re led, so to speak, it goes on in the studio and the producer does that.
And do you think because there’s no actual leader is the reason you guys have lasted so long?
No, I think our passion toward music is the reason we’ve lasted for so long.
One of the most surprising things in the book was learning that you weren’t really a Grateful Dead fan. Has their music grown on you at all over time?
Um. A little bit. Little bit.
Considering how much of your career you were using drugs, did you have trouble recalling stories for the book, or have to rely on others’ accounts?
No, it didn’t affect my memory. I wrote this. [Pause.] I had to call on this guy. I was always thinking about writing a book, I just had to get it into chronological order, you know, what happened when. And I had a friend help me with that.
Was anyone surprised by how they were portrayed in the book?
Your mother is 94 years old now, right?
Yeah, and this Sunday she’ll be 95.
Has she read the book?
She read it twice.
What did she think?
She loved it.
What was the biggest realization for you, after you finished putting all your stories down?
What was the what? Realization?
Yeah, how did it feel to get all that out on the page?
Well, it was over a long period of time. I started in 1981. Actually I’d already finished it and just kind of put it away in the closet somewhere. A few years down the road, I changed managers. And I showed it to him just one day, for the hell of it. And he said let me show this around to HarperCollins. So it became that book.
Why didn’t you put the book out much earlier?
I don’t know. Not sure. I didn’t know I had a book until I showed it to my manager…I don’t know why I didn’t do it a lot earlier. I didn’t realize I had a book. I just wrote it down like as a journal. Because I had a very, very, very nice life. And I wrote all down so when I’m in this rocking chair in the porch… [Laughs.] I can pick it up and relive some of it.
Is there anything that you wish you wrote more about in the book?
Mmm… no. But I might write another one.
Is it disappointing that people are focusing so much on the chapter about Cher rather than the other stuff?
I don’t know, man. I really don’t know. You’re asking some strange questions.
I’m sorry. At the end of the day, what record are you most proud of making?
Oooh. I’d say the next one.