Telling stories

The Music of the Big House

Posted by southwrite on August 13, 2014

The Filmore East painting of the Allman Brothers Band by  Steve Penley.

The Filmore East painting of the Allman Brothers Band by Steve Penley.

It’s really kind of amazing when you think about it. How did the little city of Macon, stuck in the rural center of Georgia, produce so much great musical talent? Start first with the legends – Little Richard, Otis Redding, and the Allman Brothers. Then consider all the other musicians who have called it home and the list just gets longer and longer.

Music seemed to be everywhere on these hot Middle Georgia streets. There’s the Douglass Theatre where Otis Redding was discovered and on whose stage Ma Rainey, Cab Calloway, and a host of other African American talent performed. A few blocks away is Grant’s Lounge, whose wonderfully seedy interior boasts a photo crowded “wall of fame” filled with now legendary artists who came through its back doors on the way to worldwide fame. You can see a lot of younger (and some not so young) performers at the many concerts that fill Macon such as the annual Bragg Jam.

Macon is truly a Mecca for music fans from around the world and no attraction is more visited and revered than the Big House out on Vineville Avenue. In late 1969 this rambling Tudor style home with its lush gardens became home to members of the Allman Brothers Band and assorted roadies, friends and family. Until 1973, it was the place where the band gathered for tours and returned after months on the road.

Linda Oakley originally rented the house while husband Berry was recording with the band at Capricorn Records. Duane Allman and his family moved in, as did Gregg Allman and other extended family members. After longs weeks on the road, it was this house to which they all returned. It was here that music was written and for a short time some of them enjoyed a form of domestic bliss.

Duane Allman's famous guitar.

Duane Allman’s famous guitar.

All that ended with the deaths of Duane Allman in 1971 and a year later Barry Oakley. Both were killed in motorcycle accidents on the streets of Macon. Band and family members went elsewhere and for a time it looked as if this place would be forgotten.

With the breakup of the Band and the closing of Capricorn Records, which had nurtured and promoted the Allmans  and so many other southern talents, the era of Southern Rock music with Macon as its epicenter seemed to have passed. For a time you could ride through the city and never know that so much great music had taken place here.

Yet, thanks to the love and dedication of Allman fans the Big House and its history was preserved.

Today, The Allman Brothers Band Museum at the Big House is open with one of the most extensive and intriguing collections of musical artifacts you are likely to find anywhere. If you want to understand and appreciate the Allman Brother and their place in music and cultural history this is the place to start. Here you can see carefully curated exhibits that tell the story of their impact on music, their concert and gold record successes and the popular culture that sprang up around here.

Front entrance to The Big House.

Front entrance to The Big House.

Here you’ll also find living spaces lovingly preserved much as they would have been while the band and their families lived here.

Come inside the Big House and walk past the front desk into the parlor and the first thing that grabs your attention is Macon native Steve Penley’s large scale painting of the Allman’s Fillmore East album cover. It’s flanked by chronologically arranged posters from all eras of the Allman Brothers Band’s history, as well as their many Gold Records. You can see Duane Allman’s famed gold top guitar that produced those amazing slide guitar riffs on Derek and the Dominos’ classic Layla. Founding guitarist Dickey Betts often slept on the pull out coach here.

Among the other areas is the Old Dining Room with the pool table once owned by Gregg Allman and Cher – they married briefly. Surrounding it are display cases filled with items such as the jacket Lamar Williams wore while performing at a benefit for Jimmy Carter’s presidential campaign in 1975. There’s the Living Room with its display cases with instruments, hand written song lyrics and other items. The windows face the church across the highway that inspired Dickey Betts’ classic Blue Sky.

Upstairs the bedrooms have been recreated much as they were when the band lived there and provide an intimate glimpse of how they lived.

Everywhere you look are the personal items and artifacts that form an impressive collection that tells the story of music’s legendary groups.





Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: