Macon Georgia

THIS HUGE OLD Southern mansion has seen much better days. The dozen giant columns which surrounded it are flecked by peeling paint, grimly revealing the grey tin beneath. The verandahs are littered by clumps of leaves and fading newspapers. The gardens are spoiled by weeds. Everything man-made is parched of paint.

A red and white sign hammered in the front lawn says ‘Lease or Improve’. The house has been deserted for years, my colleague informs me. We snap a few shots then flash a look around to determine if our presence has been noticed. The occasional car glides by on College Avenue but there isn’t a soul in sight. The only sound is the breeze brushing through the hundreds of massive trees which flourish in this stately old Southern street.

We cautiously stroll up the drive to the marble steps and ascend to the foot of the columns. Still not a human sound. We proceed around the verandah to a side entrance, past the boarded windows. There is a broken window next to the door; a welcome opportunity to explore an antebellum mansion, these Gargantuan Grecian-styled palaces of the Southern monied aristocracy in times gone by.

It takes a few seconds to adjust to the lack of light in this small side hall. Everywhere there is dirt and debris, glass and old clothes. Certainly the owners do not live here, but they would appear to have more than their share of uninvited lodgers.

A door leads towards the front of the house and one of the four stairways, a marble and wood construction of remarkable beauty. Beneath the stairs is an exquisite marble fireplace, filled with litter. The ceiling is out of vision. Our eyes are drawn to a large hole in the wall over the stairs. At one time the hole was an 18-feet by six-feet window filled with hundreds of panels of apricot milk glass.

All that remains is somewhat less than half of the original glass. The rest has been shattered by sticks and stones. The late afternoon sun streams through the gaping hole lighting the floor around our feet.

We must have stood for five minutes absorbing the vibrant feelings of the room, which survive despite its deplorable condition. It was a memorable experience. Suddenly our tranquility was broken by the sound of an agitated male voice.

‘Alright ya’ll, come right on outa there right now. Ah know you’re in there so you better come out quick now before Ah call the police.’

Reluctantly we climbed back through the hall window and were greeted by a middle-aged man in a dark suit and hat. He escorted us to the front of the property and enquired after our motives for trespassing in his house.

It turned out that he not only owned the mansion, but the one next door (a charming old brick cottage with a swing and rocking chair on its verandah and a monstrous magnolia tree in the yard) and another antebellum house up the road.

Upon learning that my colleague worked with the Allman Brothers Band and that I was a writer from the far north, the man provided us with considerable background on the property. It had been built by a Macon banker midway through the last century. Nobody had lived in it for almost a decade and its condition was admittedly on the rapid decline. The owner did not want to invest its restoration. He would be happy to sell the mansion at the same price he paid. Which, he said, was $54,000.

‘Why don’t ya get the Allman Brothers to buy this house and fix it up into what it should be,’ he asked my colleague, extending an invitation for us to explore further if we wished.

There were a dozen bedrooms and bathrooms, almost all with individual fireplaces. What stunning testimony to the grandness of the old South. Even the piles of rags and other remnants of tramp occupation could not take away the grace and charm which this mansion possessed.

A tiny brick outhouse, at one time the slaves’ living quarters, nestled at the back of the yard amid vines and overgrown shrubs.

As we put our cameras back in the car, the man gave us a reminder to rap about the house with the Allman Brothers.

In Macon, everyone knows the Allman’s and their manager/mentor Phil Walden. The city’s mayor, Ronnie Thompson, went as far as to observe recently that Walden and his associates have ‘literally put Macon, Georgia on the map.’

A few weeks earlier, the Allman Brothers Band on the occasion of their 4th anniversary, had played a benefit concert for Macon charities (including the Salvation Army and the Drug Centre) drawing 11,103 people (one 70-year-old man made a four-hour drive from Tuscaloosa, Ala.) and raising more than $55,000. Despite the length of their hair and the volume of their music, the members of the A.B.B. are regarded locally as damn solid citizens.

Macon, a slow’n easy town of some 120,000 people, is less than half an hour by air from Atlanta yet it has retained many of its authentic Southern traditions. If Atlanta is the gateway to the South, Macon is the first step into the real South. An admirable sense of the past pervades these parts.

Unlike Atlanta and most other Southern centres, Macon was not razed to the ground in the dying days of the Civil War. Almost all of the mansions built by wealthy planters and businessmen escaped the torch. The city resisted two attacks by Union troops but was eventually occupied by the Federals in 1865. By some miracle it was left standing, a serene little city serving as one of the few surviving sites of old Southern style, that same style which has captured the finest emotions of so many sensitive writers over the years. The purest essence of the old South has somehow been maintained in Macon even against the enormous pressures of what our parents called progress.

It is this jaunty juxtaposition of the old plantation tradition and the new rock identity of Macon which immediately captivates one undergoing even the most cursory inspection. If only those founding fathers who in 1823 settled the area on the site of prehistoric Indian tribe camp and burial grounds dating to 8000 B.C. could have known that rock music would be the vehicle by which the name of Macon would rebound around the 20th century global village.

Beside the Allman Brothers, Macon can boast several other claims to international artistic fame. The late and literally great Otis Redding made his home here and Phil Walden was his personal manager. Soul man extraordinary, James Brown, was born in Macon. So was Lena Horne. The city was also the birthplace of the outstanding 19th century Southern poet, Sidney Lanier, Tennessee Williams finished off his Glass Menagerie in Macon while wooing a local young lovely.

Another Macon visitor was Richard Penniman. In true rock’n’roll style this Negro youth composed a striking piece of American pop cultural history while washing dishes at the restaurant of the local Greyhound bus station. The song was ‘Tutti Frutti’ and the writer later became world famous as Little Richard. Another of his lesser-known tunes ‘Miss Anne’ was penned about a nearby club called Anne’s Tick Tock. Quite clearly, Macon is an important part of rock history. Rock’n’roll was born in Southern cities like Macon, Memphis and New Orleans. The feeling lingers on. And I strongly suspect that Macon is going to occupy a significant role in the future evolution of this music of ours.

The home of rock music in modern day Macon is Capricorn Records, located on Cotton Avenue, a fascinating assortment of tiny restaurants, a barbers and stores catering to the whims of a mixed population. ‘Cotton Avenue, street of dreams’ is how Capricorn’s executive vice president, Frank Fenter, describes the company’s business address.

In an era when vast communications complexes (such as Columbia, RCA and Warner Bros) control almost all of the music industry, Capricorn is a welcome return to the old days of rock when independent organisations were the lifeblood of the scene.

Not only does Capricorn produce records – the company is also involved in artist management, booking, promotion, the operation of a studio (one of the finest in the country) and publishing.

Its records are distributed internationally through the vast resources of the Warner Bros organisation. Capricorn has recently had chart success with Wet Willie, Martin Mull, the Marshall Tucker Band and the Allman Brothers Band. Its track record is among the best in rock music, from both quantitative and qualitative standpoints.

Prior to setting up Capricorn, Walden had been closely involved with the Southern music scene since organising a booking agency while still in college. One of the bands he booked was Johnny Jenkins and the Pinetoppers, a group whose line-up included a vocalist who doubled as a roadie. At the end of a recording session in Memphis early one morning, the singer asked if he could cut a couple of tunes of his own. As glib as it may sound, that is exactly how Otis Redding’s magnificent recording career started.

Redding ultimately recorded some of the finest all-time classics of R&B (including, in brief, ‘I’ve Been Loving You Too Long (To Stop Now)’, ‘Try A Little Tenderness’, ‘Respect’, ‘Pain In My Heart’, and ‘I Can’t Turn You Loose’). His career blossomed like no R&B singer before him and the combination of Redding’s superb recordings and Walden’s astute career direction led him to unprecedented heights, particularly in foreign markets.

Otis Redding was just breaking the pop market wide open in December 1967 with ‘(Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay’ when he was killed in an air crash in Wisconsin. Elaborations on Redding’s potential at that early stage are nebulous at best; suffice it to say that he was unquestionably the most significant male vocal star to have emerged from the R&B scene in the South.

Although Walden was by this time also managing a flock of soul superstars (such as Sam and Dave, Percy Sledge, Arthur Conley, Clarence Carter, Eddie Floyd and Johnnie Taylor), the tragedy of Redding’s death was a bitter blow. It is the sort of experience which provides a man with a completely new perspective on life. Few can handle it. Walden, to his eternal credit, gained new wisdom and hope as the months went by, learning to live with what would turn out to be the first of two enormous tragedies in his life.

The nature of Redding’s contribution can perhaps be best summed up in the opening lines from his highly emotional rendition of the late Sam Cooke’s ‘A Change Is Gonna Come.’

‘I was born by a river
In this little old tent,
Oh and just like this river,
I been running ever since.
It’s been a long time comin’,
But I know a change is gonna come.’
(lyrics by Sam Cooke, copyright Kags Music, BMI).

‘I swore I’d never get so involved with another artist – until Duane Allman came along,’ Walden once said.

Capricorn Records was formed in 1969 on the advice of Jerry Wexler, one of the founders of Atlantic Records, which was bought by the Warner Bros group three years ago for $18 million. Walden was proceeding with a plan to build a major studio in Macon and Wexler urged him to start a label. Walden was none too keen to get into a label situation but Wexler – a staunch believer in the talents of Southern stock – worked on him, even to the point of offering a distribution deal for the product.

They called the label Capricorn because both Walden and Wexler (along with singer Arthur Conley, one of the first signings) were born under that sign. The original intention was to release soul singles, a market with which Atlantic had close rapport.

The concept was to change radically a few weeks later when Walden received a call from Wexler and heard Wilson Pickett’s stinging version of ‘Hey Jude’ for the first time. The next day Walden found himself headed for Muscle Shoals, Ala. to meet with a young studio guitarist named Duane Allman. By any account, it was a historic occasion.

Like Phil Walden, I too was introduced to Duane Allman’s impeccable guitar playing by Jerry Wexler. A real go-getter when it comes to turning others on to startling new discoveries, Wexler called me one afternoon at the Toronto Globe and Mail and played a copy of Pickett’s ‘Hey Jude’ on his new phone phonograph. I would be understating the case if I said I was knocked on my arse by the sensational slide guitar playing on the record.

I was convinced that Wexler had uncovered a new B.B. King during his scouring of the South. Jerry took measured pride in informing me that Duane Allman was a white boy with streaming blond hair living in Jacksonville, Fla.

My first meeting with Duane took place in Muscle Shoals in the summer of ’69 when Ronnie Hawkins was recording his first album with Jerry Wexler for Atlantic – that LP contains for the discerning collector, two incredible jam tracks with Allman and harmonica master, the King Biscuit Boy, entitled ‘Down In The Alley’ and ‘Who Do You Love?’

The second occasion was a session at Miami’s Criteria studios where Wexler and Duane Allman were working on Aretha’s ‘This Girl’s In Love With You’ (if you want absolute proof of Duane’s unique ability on slide guitar check out ‘Dark End Of The Street’ on that album).

But it was Phil Walden who had the vision of Duane Allman’s limitless potential as a leader and member of his own rock group. While in Muscle Shoals, they cut an album of Duane and musician-friends at Rick Hall’s studios but eventually decided it was too R&B-oriented.

Walden persuaded Allman to return to Macon where they began to put a band together. Summer was spent in several months of rehearsals and then the Allman Brothers Band went to New York to cut their first album at the Atlantic studios. Believing that the only way to break any new act in the U.S. is by personal appearances, Walden sent the group out on a gruelling and relentless tour. It paid off handsomely.

By the time the band’s third album (At Fillmore East) gave them their first gold disc award (the first two releases – The Allman Brothers Band and Idlewild South were ultimately certified gold), they were being widely acclaimed in the underground press as America’s best-ever white blues band.

They had just begun work on the Eat A Peach album when Phil Walden was struck by the second tragedy of his lifetime.

Duane Allman was killed in a motorcycle accident on a Macon street on October 29, ’71, aged 24. Like Otis Redding before him, Duane had only just begun to receive a measure of the success due to him. Both died before their prime and we can only ponder on just how much they would have given us if time had been on their side.

Perhaps you can get some indication of Duane’s potential from the following comments by Eric Clapton, on being asked by this reporter how he rated his contemporaries:

‘Duane Allman is just incredible. When I first heard him playing on Wilson Pickett’s ‘Hey Jude’, it scared the pants off me. He’s so good it’s ridiculous.’

Clapton and Allman later collaborated on the Derek and the Dominoes’ rendition of ‘Layla’, a modern rock classic.

Most bands would have capitulated at the loss of such a talented leader, but Greg Allman and the rest of the band decided the only way to ease the pain was to keep on playing. Eat A Peach (so named, according to Frank Fenter, after Duane told a reporter in the north: ‘When I come back to the state of Georgia, I eat a peach for peace’) was completed and released, the new band hit the road and returned to Macon at the end of the following summer, to rest and rehearse their fifth album.

One year and 13 days after the Duane Allman tragedy, bass guitarist Barry Oakley died in a traffic accident that was almost an exact replica of the first death. But still the band kept working, almost as though driven by a sense of new responsibility to their two departed brothers. You don’t hear rumours anymore about internal dissension or personal hassles in the A.B.B.

Phil Walden, now a youthful 33, lives with his second wife and two kids in a modern, architect-designed mansion filled with tastefully-collected antiques and the rural Georgian oils. Located simplistically in a woodland setting, Walden’s home includes a conservatory in which he grows giant lemons, a projection room (his hobby is collecting old movies) and a charming living room with authentic French chateau furniture. A Rolls Royce rests in the spacious driveway.

It is very late at night and we are sitting around rapping about rock music in general. It is by no means an interview and many of Walden’s observations are clearly not intended for publication. We’re just rapping off the top, so to speak.

Walden does admit that Duane Allman’s death did not come as a total shock. ‘Duane was a genius at what he did, but he was the sort of guy who liked to live life to the fullest. He wasn’t happy unless he was getting the maximum enjoyment out of everything. He pushed himself to incredible horizons.

‘Duane had incredible drive. He would push himself to the limit in everything he did, his personal life, live gigs, recording, everything.’

Walden paused and gazed into the trees outside. ‘I mean, the band continuing and all that. Duane always said that he had it made as a guitar player. Every time he’d play something nice he’d get credit for it, and every time Dickie Betts would play something exceptionally good, Duane would still get credit for it. ‘Shit,’ he’d say, ‘I got it coming from both ends.’ Duane would always say that Dickie Betts was as good as he was.

Betts, it’s worth noting, recently married an Ojibway Indian girl from Canada, one Sandy Bluesky. There’s a song about her on Eat A Peach.

At the present time, the A.B.B. are one of the top groups in America and Capricorn executive VP, Frank Fenter, goes into considerable detail to prove the point, as well he might.

Fenter came to Macon from London early in ’70, after Walden had been favourably impressed by the former’s efforts as U.K. label manager for Atlantic. He and Walden were already firm friends, a relationship which has grown into one of the most effective executive unions in the U.S. music industry.

A native South African, Fenter is a tireless man with vast resources of energy and expertise. He is the sort of guy who can be an artist’s best friend; with his dedication behind even a glimmer of talent, success is just a matter of time and luck.

‘The Brothers are now making millions of dollars a year,’ he notes. Fenter always refers to the A.B.B. as ‘The Brothers’. ‘On a pro-rata basis, I would think they are the highest-grossing band in the U.S. They sold out an April date at the Boston Gardens – 18,000 people bought tickets in two hours. It took the Stones 12 hours to do the same thing.

‘They hold the record for the largest-grossing day in New York at Gaelic Park – 24,000 people last year. They’ll be doing three nights at Madison Square Garden this summer. They earned $60,000 at a recent gig in Charlotte, NC.’

The Brothers’ biggest album was Eat A Peach which is now a platinum record with sales of more than 1,000,000 units of a double LP. Their new one, Brothers And Sisters came along and topped them all.

The fact that a band which can sell 18,000 tickets in two hours could not get play on AM radio raised many perplexing questions about the state of the music media scene in general, but in the dutiful interests of keeping this article to the subject in hand, we shall avoid drawing any of the rather obvious conclusions.

Fenter sits back and puts his blue-jeaned legs on the office desk. ‘There it is man – four years, two tragedies and there it is. They’re still together and bigger than ever. That says something.

‘There’s no good bullshitting. This has been no easy trip, especially for the Brothers themselves. It ain’t no fashion show when they get up on stage. If you step up there, you’d better be able to play. The trip is making great music. The Brothers are motivated by a lot of things and it goes deep down inside them.’

That fact should be obvious to even a tin ear. The Brothers’ music comes from a rich and uncompromising heritage.

Quality of music is an essential detail to each of Capricorn’s 40 staff members. Naturally every record company pays lip service to its own artist roster but at Capricorn there is rare recognition of what really is good. The label has already gained an industry-wide reputation as a prime producer of valuable and noteworthy new talent. Along with Geffen and Roberts’ Asylum Records and Britain’s Charisma and Chrysalis labels, Capricorn is one of the big three of independent rock music-making organisations.

Like his colleagues at Asylum and Chrysalis, Walden is a staunch believer in the new-wave philosophy that putting an act in front of the public is the key to the rock highway. Then if the act has the necessary talent and the timing is right, it will all come together. Walden is not interested in one-shot quickie hit single acts, here today and golden oldie tomorrow. He and Fenter want to develop things that will last.

‘I’ve always felt that you should let the public decide about an artist for itself. You should not have to depend on a single hit. Records and concerts should not depend on one another for survival – they should supplement each other,’ Walden notes shrewdly.

This policy reflects the new attitudes of visionary people in the music industry – stop trying to please the radio programme directors and play what you think the people want, to the people. Plenty of superstars have made it without radio play, the Allman Brothers being one of the more topical examples. Don’t filter your energy to fit the abominable standards of the average Top 40 station, just lay your music out like it is and people will accept it or reject it for what it is. In any case, records produced to suit the taste (or lack of taste) of KHJ in Los Angeles or WLS in Chicago are bound to be a dishonest and frustrating effort.

‘We’ve never considered the competition,’ Frank Fenter notes, ‘We only think about our own acts.’

And in a wordy piece of PR handout prose, Phil Walden is reported to have once said: ‘Whereas Capricorn Records maintains an autonomous and aesthetic structure within today’s world of record conglomerates, the label prefers to maintain a low profile with the emphasis on the music of its artists.’ Honesty in art. Real pure stuff.

Frank Fenter has a fairly strong viewpoint on almost any subject you care to name (in the manner of almost all forceful people) and the issue of people who decry the state of the music industry is definitely one of them.

‘There’s a set of rules in the music business,’ he claims, ‘and if you don’t like it, don’t go out on the tennis court. It’s like Harry Truman said: “If the heat gets to you, stay out of the kitchen”.

‘Some people have put us down for being distributed by Warner Bros. That’s bullshit. We couldn’t operate without a company like Warner’s. Some say they already have too much product. If Warner’s had 55 albums on the bestselling chart, I couldn’t give a shit. They believe in our artists and their strength in the marketplace gives us access to places we could not get by ourselves.

‘Also, independents traditionally cannot collect money owing to them by retailers. To collect from big rack jobbers, you’ve got to take them to court in every state, every one of them. I mean, there’s just no way.’

It’s late in the afternoon and Fenter is taking a hit from his first scotch and water of the day. ‘Coming to the American record market from Britain three years ago was like stepping out of kindergarten and into university. I always felt that the English music scene was wide open for innovation because of the general lack of enthusiasm. They used to treat music like the banking business. Then you come to America and face the sheer awesomeness of this business. The sheer volume of it is staggering. It’s like being in front of a bulldozer all the time. But I dig it man, I really do.’

I asked Fenter if he felt there was any business formula which could be applied to making a new record company a going concern in America.

‘Nuh, not really,’ he says. ‘I’d say that 10 percent on hard work and 80 percent on good luck. No matter what anybody says, that’s the way it is. Bands come and go like the wind.

‘The big advantage we have here in Macon is access to talent. The South is full of top-rate rock talent. Phil Walden got the whole thing moving in Georgia and now all the majors seem to be opening up offices in Atlanta.

‘There is a deluge of talent down here,’ he continues, pointing to a foot-high stack of tapes on his desk. ‘That’s a week’s load of new Southern talent. Southern bands cannot afford to go to New York or Los Angeles to check out the scene.’

Therein lies most of the reason for the recent emergence of hot new acts from both the South and strangely enough, the far north (viz, main centres of the music monolith, N.Y. and L.A.). The talent had to stay where it was and just keep on playing. The bands may have thought it was a terrible drag at the time but it now turns out to be a blessing in disguise.

If there’s one common denominator about the artistic growth of rock musicians anywhere in the world, it is the fact they invariably get better the longer they stick at it. The Band and the Allman Brothers Band (from the north and south, respectively) spent considerable time staying home improving their instrumental skills. By the time they hit the centre of the music scene they were so accomplished that they made their competitors look lame.

‘I think that’s a fair theory to apply to the success of Southern musicians. If you’re a band based in New York or L.A., you usually make a record within six months of starting out. But down here, musicians have time to mature a little. They start out copying other people’s material, then they move into part originals and finally all originals.

‘I really do think we have a distinct advantage down here. Of course it took a while for the major labels to pick up on it but they’re really getting into it now. Muscle Shoals and Memphis have a great reputation for singles and R&B product, but we’re leading the way in the rock album field.

‘When we started out, there was tremendous concentration on making it with what we had. And what we had was rock album artists so that’s the route we went. First things first. Now I think you’ll see us getting back into some things like R&B. It’s our greatest love and we’ll be back there again soon.

‘Phil and I aren’t worried about the major labels moving into Atlanta or Macon. They’re welcome to join us. I still think that we’ll continue to be the frontrunner in this part of the country.’

Unless you have been given the totally incorrect impression that Capricorn and Macon is the Allman Brothers full stop, allow me to provide you with short profiles of the company’s current artist line-up.

Greg Allman has recently completed a brilliant solo album which is a positive sensation. When Phil Walden plays the tapes for you he looks as pleased as punch. The first two tracks more than account for his enthusiasm.

Maxayn, a funky band from the West Coast, includes a former Ikette, Paulette Parker, in its line-up.

White Witch is a five-man band from Tampa, Fla. gaining ground rapidly.

Wet Willie are already established as one of the hottest new names on the American rock scene. Their recent tour with Jeff Beck did much to boost their national following.

Captain Beyond may be the next California-bred super group. The group’s personnel includes two former members of Iron Butterfly, an expatriate from Deep Purple and a player from the Johnny Winter ensemble.

Martin Mull is virtually indescribable. Suffice to say that he was the originator of that recent tongue-in-tuba take-off on ‘Duelling Banjos’.

Another fine Southern act is the Marshall Tucker Band, reminiscent of the A. B.B. only in their desire to play a fierce, pure brand of hard rock. You don’t need to be a genius to predict big things for this outfit.

Hydra is also a group of Southern musicians with a big following in Southern states and particularly their home town of Atlanta.

Capricorn’s newest signing is Eric Quincy Tate, a four man blues band originally from Corpus Christi, Texas, now based in Atlanta. The group recorded a debut album for Atlantic and then switched to Capricorn.

But despite such a heavy flow of talent, Capricorn’s great strength is in its diversification. The company looks after the booking and management of many of its acts. While other companies make records and hope for hits (or at least pray that the artists will agree to tour as an opening act with a superstar), Capricorn puts its acts to work right from the start. As a result, the artists continue to grow and improve as creative entities and their names are usually familiar by the time their albums are released. This concept of Walden and Fenter might be definitively described as taking the bull by the horns.

The Capricorn people are also open-minded enough to occasionally manage and book artists which they do not record. Dr John has been with Phil Walden for years. An incredibly-talented musician, Dr John has only in recent weeks begun to receive the true level of record (both single and album) that has long been his due. A few months ago, Walden observed that ‘nobody has ever made any money with Dr John but both Jerry Wexler and I believe in his talent and really dig him as a person too. He just has to be one of the world’s greatest personalities.’

Capricorn also manages and books England’s Hurricane Smith, who topped the charts earlier this year with ‘Oh Babe What Can You Say’. The fast-emerging new R&B star, Bobby Womack, is booked by Walden’s agency.

And as Frank Fenter likes to point out, this is just the start. In the record business there is one trusty old proverb. ‘When you’re hot, you’re hot.’ Right now Capricorn is hotter than the climate in which it has been reared. You don’t talk about the potential of Macon any more. That aspect has been realised beyond anyone’s wildest dreams. Now it’s simply onto bigger and hopefully better things.

A couple of hundred yards down the Hay House hill through the mist of scores of sturdy rose bushes exuding a melancholy fragrance, you come upon number 15 on the 88-point Macon Heritage Tour, the Old Cannonball House.

It too is a beautiful monument to the Old South but on a diminutive scale. There are only four Ionic columns but they enclose a quaint little porch and a small balcony over which is draped the Rebel flag.

The Old Cannonball House, as you may have guessed, is famous for its unusual survival through the Civil War.

Built in 1853 by Judge Asa Holt, the house gained its name after it was struck by a cannon ball from Union forces under General George Stoneman during the battle of Dunlap Hill in 1864. The shot was fired from three miles distant. According to official records, the cannon ball ‘struck the sand sidewalk, passed through the second column from the left on the gallery and entered the parlour over a window, landing unexploded in the hall. Its course may be traced by the mended column, a patch in the parlour plaster and a dent in the hall floor.’

Mrs Holt kept the cannon ball displayed on the parlour table until she presented it to the Macon Volunteers who participated in the city’s defence.

The irony of it all is almost too much for me.

Frank Fenter is shuffling through the papers on his desk, deciding which documents to take home with him for the weekend, He and Walden are linked by a special phone system and business continues night and day. Dedicated people prefer to operate like that. There isn’t a designated work-time period. There’s only time for living and loving and doing and changing.

‘This is about the longest period I’ve stayed in Macon without doing any travelling,’ Fenter is saying. ‘I’ve been down here for 28 days. My mother has been making her first ever visit with us from South Africa and I decided to stay off the road a while.

‘But now I can feel the slack out there. It’s time to go out and freeze a few noses.’ He chuckles at his summary of the state of the music scene in Los Angeles. Both Fenter and Walden clearly favour the environment of Macon over any of the glamour of Hollywood.

Walden told one writer recently that getting his gig done in Macon brings it down to ‘just you, the music and the people that create it. I think it really gives you a chance to cut all the bullshit away and gives you a chance to relax.’

It comes as no surprise to learn that there has been plenty of pressure for Capricorn to relocate in L.A. or New York.

‘How the hell can they hope to be part of the in crowd when they’re stuck down in the swamps?’ whisper some cynical observers, usually behind their backs.

The answer is that neither Walden nor Fenter have any great desire to be part of the nose-freezing Hollywood trip. ‘I don’t particularly care to be involved in the social aspects of the music industry,’ Walden notes caustically.

‘New York and L.A. are only a phone call away and we’ve now opened our own office in Hollywood,’ Walden says. ‘We’re also getting together a bunch of regional promotion men to work specifically on Capricorn. But we like making Macon our base because it puts you right next to what you’re making, the music. It removes you from all that superfluous crap surrounding the merchandising of the music. We know it exists and we have to deal with it but we prefer to do it from down here. Making the music is what we do best.’

Cynics might also snigger that Walden only digs it because he grew up there and it’s in his blood. Yet that surmisal is ruled out by the fact that most of his executive staff came from elsewhere, and have settled down comfortably and contentedly in Macon.

Frank Fenter came from London at a time when it was the capital of the hip world. Mike Hyland, director of publicity and artist relations, is an expatriate New Yorker. Dick Wooley, the national promotion director, is an Atlanta import. And the musicians come from all over the country.

‘Oh sure we’d like some more Chinese restaurants in Macon.’ Fenter allows with a wave of his arm. ‘But shit man, you can eat out a whole lot when you’re on the road. I think it’s right to say that we’re all damn happy to call Macon home. I just don’t see us leaving here ever.

‘Macon attracts people. And it’s different enough for people to want to get into it. Southern hospitality is the real thing man, not just the superficial bullshit that you get in the big cities.’

Nonetheless Fenter and Walden understand what grease makes the big wheels turn. When they come to Sunset Boulevard to check out progress on their product, they have the trip down pat…the limos, the Beverly Hills bungalows, all the accessories of the rock’n’roll big time.

They can speak the language of the harried and hustling record company executives. But they can also withdraw from that trip and strip off its frothy veneer. Down here in Macon, cricket bat in hand, having a few hits on the back-lawn with his son, Frank Fenter can get right down to it. Just as Phil Walden can, laughing at old Hollywood movies in his projection theatre. But the laugh really is on Hollywood.

As the Atlanta-bound Delta Airways 727 rips off the runway and Macon is gobbled up in its dense forest of trees, a thought flashes across my mind.

It really would be nice if the Allman Brothers Band or Capricorn or Phil Walden would acquire that beautiful old antebellum mansion on College Avenue and apply a few coats of paint and a weekend volunteer work force of caring young citizens to restore its magnificent memories.

Its rooms could then be turned into a museum of Macon’s tremendous contribution to the pop culture of the world. It would be audacious of me to suggest what items could be displayed therein but I would imagine there is a vast amount of available material from which to assemble a catalogue.

We voyagers in the rock spaceship have done far too little to document the course of the past 20 years in American pop culture. The Establishment has generally tended to ignore us and our achievements are too often restricted to filler fare on Top 40 radio stations.

The paradox of old and new in that grand home would also be fascinating. These Southern mansions are one of the few remaining monuments to the delightful literary image which I suspect will remain close to our hearts and those of our children and their children, just as long as there is an America.

The South has also given us rock’n’roll and that, I believe is a gift of uncharted proportions. Our destiny is allied to this music more than most of us care to believe.

The Macon Music Museum could be a valuable documentation of a lot of things. The music, after all, is Macon’s heritage of tomorrow. Many people believe it is America’s future heritage.

And that says a significant amount about the creative environment of a small city in the South where rock’n’roll and old mansions can live in perfect harmony.

© Ritchie YorkeZigZag, March 1974

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