The Allman Brothers Band

Ever have an Allman Brothers poster tacked up on your wall? Keep your prized vinyl in Peaches Records and Tape crates? Belt out a cheer when your favorite Southern Rock band took the stage?

Well then, you must visit Macon in middle Georgia to both relive those days and perhaps get acquainted with more recent tunes. So, pull on that fringed leather jacket or peasant blouse, grab the Zig-Zag papers, and head about 90 minutes south of Atlanta to Macon, a town that has been home to rockers as varied as the original Allman Brothers Band, Chuck Leavell, Little Richard and Otis Redding.

Macon’s musical attractions are small and understated–nothing like say, the glass pyramid-like Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland–but highly entertaining just the same.

“Welcome to 1972,“ said Rob Evans as he lead a visitor into a small connecting room adjacent to historic Studio A at the reborn Capricorn Studios, where a generation or two ago, the Allmans, Charlie Daniels, Sea Level, The Marshall Tucker Band and a host of other Southern rockers recorded what amounted to 70s anthems. And the studio captured the sound of more than just Southern Rock. Musicians James Taylor and Joni Mitchell recorded there back in the day. Even Paul McCartney is reputed to have stood in the room.

Now known as Mercer Music at Capricorn, the studio displays an amazing selection of guitars on its walls: Gibson, Fenders, Les Pauls. There’s a custom-built amplifier and other audio gear. “This is all a part of the experience when you come here,” said Evans, the chief engineer at the studio and a master architect of recorded sound.

Stepping into the control room, he gestured toward the impressive array of slide volume controls and VU meters. “This is an API console,” he said “It has the same preamps and EQs as the original board that was in here.”

The 40-channel array looks like looks like something from the bridge of the Starship Enterprise, and it blends analog and digital technology to recreate the punchy feel of many of the Southern Rock classics recorded at Capricorn.

Even more of an original is the adjacent studio A. It’s acoustic perfection, with rock and shingles hung on the wall to create a pure-reverb-free environment for recording songs.

“It’s as clean and untouched a signal as possible,” Evans said. “You don’t get slap back and flutter echoes off the walls. Drums sound particularly good in here.”

And very little has been altered from the control room’s original incarnation from the late 60s to the late 70s.

“When we had the grand re-opening in December of 2019,” said Larry Brumley, a spokesman for the studio’s owner Mercer University, “we had some Capricorn alumni come in here and fall to their knees. They said the room looks the same, has the same sounds, that even the carpet was the same.”

As Evans puts it, “we try to keep the studio ready so that if someone on the fly says, for example, they want to add some organ to this (recording), we’re ready.”

The nearby Studio B control room takes you straight into the 21st century. The adjacent studio is more suitable for larger performances such as a live show with an audience that’s being captured, as well as ensembles and choirs.

Since reopening, Capricorn has been a hotbed of recording activity with the likes of Blackberry Smoke coming to lay down tracks, and the folks who operate the studio hope more bands will make their way to Macon to record once COVID subsides.

There’s more to see: the building includes music practice rooms for rent and a 1,200-foot museum. You can see posters for folks like Otis Redding (a native) or a vintage Volunteer Jam poster with Charlie Daniels listed as the headliner.

You’ll also find similar vintage posters at the Big House Allman Brothers Museum, a tidy home with an arched entryway and Tudor accents just a 10-minute drive away. To wit: a concert poster advertising the Allman Brothers Band (ABB), the Marshall Tucker Band, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Grinderswitch, at Atlanta Braves Stadium for $7-and tagged with the phrase “Summer Campaign, 74.”

The Big House is crammed, but well-organized, as it displays a variety of artifacts from the period when the band lived there in the early 70s.

Richard Brent heads the museum and foundation. The Virginia native is in his late 40s, so he missed the first incarnation of the Allmans, but has followed them closely since the band got back together in the late 1980s. “We put a book out last year and I wrote a paragraph for it and the title was ‘The luckiest man on Earth’ and that’s truly the way I feel.”

He gets the appeal of the band that went from Macon to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. “You hear Duane Allman play the guitar, it kind of changes your life,” he says with a grin.

Duane Allman’s “Layla” guitar can be found here (although it wasn’t in residence in December), along with Butch Trucks’ drum set, a wealth of guitars including an 18-string bass called “Thor,” clothing that band members donned for performances, even a pool table that Gregg Allman and Cher shot pool on when they were married.

Take away the artifacts and the place looks period-accurate, as if any minute now, a group of wild-eyed, long-haired Southern boys will come through the door, looking to relax after a stint on the road.

It’s a space that Kirk West knows intimately. West served as the Allman Brothers Band’s tour manager for a number of years before retiring from the road in 2010. “It was the ride of my life,” he says today. “A remarkable thing.”

West, a music photographer, bought and lived in the Big House from 1993 to around 2007. The place was dilapidated, and extensive renovation work had to be done.

West says he and his wife bought the home with the idea of doing a rock ‘n’ roll bed and breakfast, but the city wouldn’t allow it. So, they settled for setting aside a couple of rooms with an Allman Brothers theme.

That earned them some knocks at the door over the years-sometimes at odd hours.  “I remember one night there were these four drunk Polish guys who showed up at the door about midnight on a Saturday night. They were on their way to a World Cup Soccer Match in Chicago, and they wanted to come check out the Brothers’ place.”

They were politely turned away, says West. He says he and his wife had a policy that anybody could knock anytime, as long as they could take no for an answer.

While the Allman Brothers lived at the Big House as young adults, contrast that to the nearby Little Richard House. That’s where Richard Penniman lived as a child before his frenetic piano pounding, flamboyant costumes, and solid backbeat helped guide the birth of rock ‘n’ roll.

Like the other two spots (Capricorn was actually in danger of partial collapse before Mercer University took it over) Little Richard’s 800-square-foot home needed some attention. The building was falling apart until Penniman himself asked that it be saved. The community responded. The modest wooden home with brick features was moved to its current location in 2017 and brought back up to snuff.

Administrator of the home Robert Banks is quick and enthusiastic as he spells out what artifacts they have: a piano that Penniman played, an on-stage jacket, a microphone, a book he used while evangelizing in later years. He’s on a mission to preserve Penniman’s legacy, which he describes as one of “love and compassion and caring for one another.”

Penniman, who died in 2020, wanted to give back. That’s why the bulk of the house is a community resource center for Macon residents to seek help in getting a job, buying a home or getting food, clothing and shelter.

Banks thinks in coming years another building could be put up to house the resource center, with the original house becoming strictly a museum. “We are working to get more of his things,” he said, adding that some of what they’d like to lay hands on is tied up with estates, attorneys and legal issues. “We are working hard to upgrade every year.”

“Upgrade” could describe the progress of the overall Macon music scene, including venues such as the Douglass Theater, the Capitol Theater and Grant’s Lounge.

Or maybe explosion is a better word.

“It’s really coming back,” Brent said. “It’s all about people being comfortable” in the face of COVID, which led to closures of Big House and other attractions, as well as some eateries and nightspots. All are taking precautions. At the Allman Brothers museum, for example, visitors are asked to wear a mask if they’re not double-vaccinated.

Mark Woolsey

Mark Woolsey is a freelance writer based in Atlanta.