By Christine Tibbetts
CNHI News Service
MACON, Ga. —
Macon, Ga., opens doors to multiple opportunities; immerse yourself in music you know for some of them.
Rock Candy Tours is one way, and the Big House Museum the other. Stay overnight in Macon and add in more music with a performance at the Grand Opera House.
Here’s why Rock Candy Tours is special: Jessica Walden leads the walks and knows the musicians.
She grew up in the midst of musical legends — the niece of the founder of Capricorn Records, Phil Walden, and the daughter of Alan Walden, 2003 inductee in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Rhythm and blues is her language, along with southern rock. When Jessica tells Otis Redding stories, everything’s first person. Her childhood. Her relatives.
“Uncle Phil and Otis,” she recalls, “ the white guy and the black guy trusting each other and working together.” Think late 1950s.
Phil Walden was booking music for fraternity parties and Otis Redding was winning every contest at “Teenage Party” live on the stage of Macon’s Douglass Theater.
Business partners they became. Start your tour in front of the Douglass where the sidewalk is a wall of fame. Long abandoned buildings spring to life with Jessica’s stories of what went on within.
Duane Allman. Little Richard. Pearly Brown. Chuck Leavell. James Brown. Expect personal memory stories about these legends and more on a walking or, as she says, rolling tour.
Expect historical stories too because Jessica’s husband Jamie Weatherford delights in Macon music scholarly research. Ask for his six-page list of musicians with strong ties to Macon.
He’s also the “candy” part of the tour’s name – a third generation candy manufacturing family.
My memory’s sketchy on facts, but I know the sounds and listening to “Dock of the Bay” at Grant’s Lounge, yearning to be on the dance floor and then visiting Hutchings Funeral Home where 10,000 people signed the guest book when Otis Redding died in 1967 – that’s powerful.
The Big House
Follow the billboards on I-75 declaring the Big House in Macon. You might live in one bigger, but this house was enormously wonderful to the Allman brothers and their talented friends in the early 1970s.
Several upstairs rooms are restored to their original look, and the rest are filled with gold records, nostalgic posters, history galore, guitars and drums the band members played, plus the Hammond B-3 organ Greg Allman played.
Notebooks with song lyrics felt even more personal to me, a privilege to see the handwriting and muse about the thought process.
Keep your eye out for Gregg Allman’s 1975 lyrics to the Muddy Water’s song, “Can’t Lose What You Never Had.” There’s a mushroom cup next to it.
Dickey Betts’ handwritten lyrics to “Blue Sky” are here too, noting the bay window in The Big House where he wrote them.
Allman Brothers fans know their brilliance, melding musical genres. Seeing actual handwritten lyrics in the specific room or space where they were written takes pleasure to a new level.
Guess pleasure was also the point of the seven-head shower upstairs next to the music listening and jamming room.
Tie the tours together in your own mind knowing Phil Walden, founder of Capricorn Records and uncle to Jessica Walden of Rock Candy Tours, was also manager of the Allman Brothers Band. Peek at Walden’s mid-1970s phone book in the Big House.
Christine Tibbetts is a travel columnist for The Tifton (Ga.) Gazette and Tifton Scene magazine. Follow her at www.TibbettsTravel.com