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Macon’s Big House Is All About Rock ‘n Roll

Post image for Macon’s Big House Is All About Rock ‘n Roll

Story and photos by Bobby L. Hickman

“My father was a gambler down in Georgia
He ended up on the wrong end of a gun
And I was born in the back seat of a Greyhound bus
Rolling down Highway 41…”
Ramblin’ Man (lyrics by Forrest Richard Betts)

For those of you too young to have been fortunate enough to see this song performed live, or hear it played on a turntable in its original vinyl form, well, your loss. Now a staple of every classic rock station in the country, there is finally a place to visit to learn all about the southern rock band that was responsible for this hit and many others. If you ramble on down to Macon, Georgia this small southern city has plenty of other sites to see, music-based and otherwise.

In the 1970s, the Allman Brothers Band merged blues, rock, country and jazz into a unique sound that made them icons around the world. They delivered hits like “Midnight Rider,” “Ramblin’ Man” and “Revival” that still stand as top Southern rock standards. But it was their long intricate live jams on songs like “Whipping Post” – immortalized in the At Fillmore East double album — that made them rock legends.

Duane Allman – ranked by Rolling Stone as the second greatest American guitarist behind only Jimi Hendrix – formed the Allman Brothers Band in early 1969. After the band signed with Macon-based Capricorn Records in 1970, they moved to Georgia and spent most of those early years living together in what was known as “The Big House”, a Tudor-style home on Vineville Avenue.

Now a museum, "The Big House" was the home of the Allman Brothers Band when they signed with Capricorn Records and moved to Georgia. Now a museum, “The Big House” was the home of the Allman Brothers Band when they signed with Capricorn Records and moved to Georgia.

“The Big House” was restored in 2009 and opened as the Allman Brothers Band Museum. It contains the expected artifacts and memorabilia: posters, musical instruments, photographs, stage costumes, personal items and other objects ranging from the Allman Brothers’ brief heyday. Not to be missed: a life-sized recreation of the iconic At Fillmore East album cover, including a black-and-white photographic mural of the band’s sound check, plus an amplifier and bass cabinet used on the cover. Other unique items include a guitar autographed by Eric Clapton and Duane Allman, who collaborated on such timeless classics as “Layla.” There’s even the pool table that belonged to Cher and Gregg Allman during their marriage.

But what really makes “The Big House” unique is the role the home itself played in the Allmans’ music. As we walked around the house, Greg Potter, the museum’s executive director, pointed out the spot where Dickey Betts wrote “Ramblin’ Man” in 1971. (Yes, the house is located on U.S. 41.) The handwritten lyrics to “Blue Sky” hang by the bay window where Betts composed that song. (The line “Good ole Sunday morning/bells are ringing everywhere” refers to the two churches across the street.) The Allman spin-off band Gov’t Mule formed in 1994 and held its first rehearsals in another room in the house.

The mural depicting the cover of the album At Fillmore East.The mural depicting the sound check for the album At Fillmore East.

Potter said the museum has more than 300,000 pieces in its collection, with only a small portion on display. A behind-the-scenes trip to the storage area revealed dozens of boxes of contracts, photographs, and other items that are being catalogued for future researchers. Many of the items on display come from band members or their families, who still drop in occasionally. Some have been purchased from collectors, while others are donated by fans. Potter points to one that was donated by an individual who found it squirreled away at his house: a reel-to-reel tape of Eat A Peach.

While “The Big House” should be your first stop in Macon, no Allman-themed visit is complete without eating at the historic H&H Restaurant on Forsyth Street, a short walk from the old Capricorn Records headquarters. There are plenty of stories in Macon about the band’s struggles before they became “THE” Allman Brothers. One day five members came into the H&H for lunch. When owner “Mama Louise” brought out their plates, she asked why they only ordered three meals. When they said they only had enough money for three lunches, she said, “I’ll bring five plates; you pay me when you can.” The band became regular diners and when they hit the big time, they didn’t just pay her back – they took Mama Louise on tour on their private jet as their personal chef. She still attends concerts by the band’s current members, Potter said.

Naturally, the walls in the H&H are covered with signed posters, gold records and other Allman memorabilia. The Southern soul food is simple, inexpensive and tasty, drawing more locals than tourists and the occasional celebrity. (When we lunched there, Greg Potter, the museum director, pointed out Joseph “Red Dog” Campbell, the legendary Allman roadie.) And the intervening fame and years have left few changes at the H&H. You still walk into the kitchen to pay your bill, where we saw Mama Louise perched on a stool planning the next day’s menu.

Die-hard Allman fans also make the pilgrimage to Rose Hill Cemetery on Riverside Drive to visit the side-by-side graves of Duane Allman and Berry Oakley. Allman was killed in a motorcycle crash in Macon in 1971 at the age of 25 just as the band was earning its greatest success. Ironically, Oakley died a year later in a motorcycle accident at a nearby intersection. The graves are fenced to keep vandals out, and can easily be found on the map at the cemetery entrance.

The Walk of Fame at Grant's Lounge.The Wall of Fame at Grant’s Lounge.

One of the favorite hangouts for Macon musicians during the Capricorn days was Grant’s Lounge. Ed Grant, whose father, Edward Sr., started the lounge in 1971, bills the lounge as the “original home of Southern rock.” Shortly after the lounge opened, Capricorn executive Phil Walden approached his father, looking for a place to book and audition acts the label might want to sign. The “Wall of Fame” at Grant’s Lounge bears testimony to the many bands showcased on the simple wooden stage: Lynyrd Skynyrd, Marshall Tucker, Wet Willie, the Charlie Daniels Band, Little River Band and dozens more. “Tom Petty played here for a week, but Capricorn executives didn’t have time to come by and hear him, so they didn’t sign him,” Grant recalled.

Ed Grant, Jr. runs the club his father opened father openedEd Grant, Jr. runs the club his father opened in 1971.

The jam sessions with members from different groups lasted for hours. Ed Grant, who himself has some success on keyboards with disco bands, recalls jamming with Duane Allman. In fact, Grant added, Duane was reportedly heading home from the lounge when he had his fatal motorcycle accident.

After Capricorn moved to Memphis in the mid-1970s (and faded into history soon afterwards), Grant’s Lounge became a disco venue and still relies heavily on dance music for its clientele. However, the “Wall of Fame” still bears witness to the lounge’s unique history, where visitors can walk on the same stage where Capricorn legends once jammed.

The sign still remains on the building that housed Capricorn Records. The sign still remains on the abandoned building that once housed Capricorn Records.

While Capricorn made Macon a Southern rock Mecca in the 1970s, the city has actually been churning out musical giants for decades. That’s why Macon is the home of the Georgia Music Hall of Fame, the state’s official music museum. The center in downtown Macon features permanent exhibits that honor the state’s contributions to rock, country, gospel, rap, R&B, swing, jazz, blues and pop music.

Detail of an untitled work by Atlanta artist Steve Penley which is on display at the Georgia Music Hall of Fame. The painting was done in the 90's and depicts the roster of artists who were signed with Capricorn Records at the time. Detail of an untitled work by Atlanta artist Steve Penley which is on display at the Georgia Music Hall of Fame. The painting was done in the mid-90’s and depicts the roster of artists who were signed with Capricorn Records at the time.

The rotating exhibit for much of 2010 was Music Lives in Macon, which spotlighted such Macon artists as Otis Redding, Little Richard and the Allmans. That was followed in late 2010 by Macon, Georgia: Cradle of American Music. The exhibit, which runs through July 2011, features more than 20 portraits of Macon-linked artists by Steve Penley.

Display sign at the Georgia Music Hall of FameDisplay sign at the Georgia Music Hall of Fame

Lisa Love, executive director of the museum, said Hall of Fame inductions began in 1979, with the museum opening in 1996. She said Macon is the ideal site for the state museum – not only because it is located in the heart of Georgia, but also because of its strong music heritage dating back many decades. The center draws visitors from across the country, and from as far away as Japan and the United Kingdom, she noted.

If you’re overwhelmed by all the music, Macon also offers plenty of other non-music attractions for visitors. The downtown area is home to the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame, the Georgia Children’s Museum and the Harriett Tubman African American Museum. Just outside of town is the Ocmulgee National Monument and Indian Mounds, with 683 acres of preserved archaeological remains.

On the other hand, if Macon leaves you hungry for more musical experiences in the Peach State, check out the Georgia Music Trail, which links important sites in Atlanta, Athens, Macon and Savannah. When it comes to Georgia music – as the Allmans put it – “The road goes on forever.”

If You Go

Where2Stay

1842 Inn
353 College Street
Macon, GA 31201
Phone: 478.741.1842
Toll free: 800.336.1842
www.1842inn.com

Hilton Garden Inn
1200 Stadium Drive
Macon, GA 31204
Phone: 478.741.5527
www.hiltongardeninn.hilton.com

Marriott City Center Hotel
240 Coliseum Drive
Macon, GA 31217
Phone: 478.621.5300
www.marriott.com/mcnfs

Ramada Plaza
108 First Street
Macon, GA 31201
Phone: 478.746.1461; 800.227.6963
www.ramada.com

Where2Eat

H&H Restaurant
807 Forsyth Street
Macon, GA 31201
Phone: 478.742.9810
http://mamalouise.com

Market City Café
502 Cherry Street
Macon, GA 31201
Phone: 478.257.6612

Michael’s on Mulberry
588 Mulberry Street
Macon, GA 31201
Phone: 478.743.3997

the downtown grille
562 Mulberry Street Lane
Macon, GA 31201
Phone: 478.742.5999
www.macondowntowngrill.com

What2Do

Allman Brothers Band Museum at the Big House
2321 Vineville Avenue
Macon, GA 31204
Phone: 478.741.5551
www.thebighousemuseum.org

Georgia Children’s Museum
382 Cherry Street
Macon, GA 31201
Phone: 478.755.9539
www.georgiachildrensmuseum.com

Georgia Music Hall of Fame
200 Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard
Macon, GA 31201
Phone: 478.751.3334; 888.GAROCKS
www.georgiamusic.org

Georgia Sports Hall of Fame
301 Cherry Street
Macon, GA 31201
Phone: 478.752.1585
www.gshf.org

Grant’s Lounge
576 Poplar Street
Macon, GA 31201
Phone: 478.746.9191
www.grantslounge.com

Ocmulgee National Monument and Indian Mounds
1207 Emery Highway
Macon, GA 31201
Phone: 478.752.8257
www.nps.gov/ocmu

Tubman African American Museum
340 Walnut Street
Macon, GA 31201
Phone: 478.743.8544
www.tubmanmuseum.com

4MoreInfo

Macon Convention & Visitors Bureau
450 Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard
Macon, GA 31201
Phone: 478.743.3401
www.maconga.org

Georgia Department of Tourism
Georgia Department of Economic Development
75 Fifth Street NW, Suite 1200
Atlanta, GA 30308
Phone: 1.800.847.4842 (VISITGEORGIA)
www.exploregeorgia.com

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