In the first part of this feature series, we had just begun to grasp the overall “lay of the land” of Macon, Ga., a boutique town of approximately 90,000 residents situated a little more than an hour northwest of Atlanta.
One of the most significant aspects of Macon is its rich music heritage. It is a bit unusual to find a U.S. city of this size that has churned out such a large number of legends across a vast array of genres. Nonetheless, Macon proudly boasts an admirable A-list of iconic entertainers encompassing gospel, rock, country, classical, blues and, perhaps one of its most distinctive sounds, Southern rock. Think of names such as Little Richard, the Marshall Tucker Band, Lena Horne, Eddie Kirkland, Joey Stuckey, Young Jeezy, Robert McDuffie and Johnny Jenkins, among others.
It’s important to note that many of these performers forged a name for themselves during a very turbulent time in our history against the backdrop of the tail end of the Jim Crow era in the 1960s. Yet their music slowly but surely helped to break down those racial barriers, bringing audiences together under the universal beats, melodies and messages of life.
What’s different about the Macon music scene back in the day is that those racial barriers were more like cultural lines painted on the street that some people naturally crossed over to embrace all that Macon had to offer. Consequently, it’s no wonder that today the city’s moniker is “The Song and Soul of the South.”
GONE TOO SOON
Among those who was lovingly embraced by Blacks and whites alike and forever changed the course of music history was Otis Redding.
Born in Dawson, Ga., but raised in Macon, Redding’s life and legacy is the focus of the Otis Redding Foundation and Otis Redding Mini-Museum. Started by Redding’s wife, Selma, in 2007 in honor of Redding’s 70th birthday, the foundation is run by Redding’s daughter Karla Redding Anderson, who was 5 years old when her father died, and her two sons. Their mission is to maintain the integrity of his legacy in print, music, rights and TV, in addition to spearheading several collaborative philanthropic projects, including providing music scholarships for young musicians and their annual Singer-Songwriter Camp.
“Otis always had a very philanthropic nature, even before he became famous and was lucky to have great support from the Macon community,” says Redding Anderson. “Now there are so many young, up-and-coming artists that we want to help them make names for themselves and give them an opportunity for employment, particularly if choosing to stay here in Macon.”
The foundation exhibits provide great insight into Redding’s songwriting, producing and singing talents and career, which yielded 13 albums and 15 top 10 hits.
Oddly enough, his biggest hit, “(Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay,” skyrocketed to No. 1 on the music charts the year after his untimely death in a plane crash in 1967. But today, both residents and visitors alike can sway to the tune at the Otis Redding Statue at Ocmulgee Heritage Trail Gateway Park. There stands a poignant, life-size bronze statue of Redding crooning with his guitar, pen sheet music at his side, near the banks of the Ocmulgee River as well as the bridge named in his honor.
Folks in Macon are also fiercely proud of hometown heroes the Allman Brothers Band. Although formed in Jacksonville, Fla., in 1969, their band’s first major foray into the music industry took place in Macon. The band originally comprised brothers Gregg and Duane Allman, Butch Trucks, Berry Oakley, Dickey Betts and African-American drummer and percussionist Jai Johanny Johanson (known as Jaimoe), who is said to have played an integral role in integrating rock and roll. Together, their unique fusion of blues, jazz and country became known as Southern rock, which many music historians say changed the course of popular American music.
The beautiful three-story, Grand Tudor home where several band members and their families lived from 1970 to 1973 is now the Big House: The Allman Brothers Band Museum. Home to the largest collection of Allman Brothers memorabilia in the world, the Big House is the second most visited destination in Macon, attracting thousands of visitors each year from around the world.
The exhibit artifacts here are impressive, encompassing nearly every aspect of the band members’ personal and professional lives, from family photographs to clothing, magazine and album covers, hotel keys, handwritten lyrics, posters, instruments, sound equipment, gold records and a great deal more.
Each room of the house—the living room, old dining room, “Casbah” music room, Duane Allman’s bedroom, parlor, Fillmore east room, kitchen, Britney Oakley’s bedroom, Candace Oakley and Gregg Allman’s room, and roadie room—encompasses a different theme. And to better guide the visitor, exhibit signage not only names the items but also details the story behind the music relative to that point in the band’s history.
Other Allman Brothers band sites in Macon (which the museum points out on a historical map) include the former Capricorn Records studio, where they recorded many of their hits; the location of their first album cover; the Macon Auditorium; Macon Coliseum; and the opera house, where they once performed, as well as the accident sites where Duane Allman and Berry Oakley died in separate motorcycle accidents in 1971 and 1972, respectively, as well as the memorial Duane Allman Boulevard and Raymond Berry Oakley II Bridge. Fans can also pay their respects at Duane and Berry’s graves at Historic Rose Hill Cemetery.
One of the best ways to delve into more of Macon’s wealth of music history is through Rock Candy Tours, whose founders believed that this history “already existed on its sidewalks, street corners and historic structures, and if the walls could talk, they would sing.”
The company offers two different tours, the Rock n’ Roll Stroll, an extensive, “off the beaten path” tour encompassing the favorite haunts, office spaces, homes and crash pads of these now legendary artists, as well as the eclectic behind-the-scenes personalities who propelled Macon into the national and international music consciousness, and the Free Birds and Night Owls, highlighting some of the various artists’ favorite hangouts, nightclubs where they played and downtown landmarks where they made history. Private tours and customized tours for large groups, and step-on motor coach tours can also be arranged by appointment.
In our last Macon excursion, we’ll explore its African-American history and enterprises, plus several knife and fork adventures that are sure to feed your mind, body and soul.
Lysa Allman Baldwin is the publisher and editor of Amazing Escapades, offering “Adventures for the Mind Bod and Belly” (www.amazingescapades.com).