Macon, GA — It’s the place where the Allman Brothers Band founded their Southern rock sound, the place where the song “Ramblin’ Man” was penned and the last place Duane Allman visited before dying in a motorcycle crash in 1971.
The Big House in Macon, where the band lived when its fame took flight in the early 1970s, has been the place music lovers flocked during pilgrimages to the South during the last few decades looking to experience a small piece of the Allman Brothers Band. Now, the three-story Tudor house where the band got its start is set to become a museum with the help of dedicated fans who have spent years collecting memorabilia and doing renovations.
The project is a labor of love by a group of fans who wanted to commemorate the band’s early days when communal living — and sometimes bathing, based on the large seven-head shower on the second floor of the house — made them not just a musical group, but a family. Most of the renovations were donated — free windows, free roof, free paint, free landscaping — by companies from across the country who employ Allman Brothers Band fans.
The museum is scheduled to open in December with a fanfare expected to draw thousands from across the globe to this Georgia town to honor the band.
“We’re just a big family,” said Greg Potter, president of the Georgia Allman Brothers Band Association and one of the museum’s organizers, as he stood in the Big House on a recent muggy afternoon. “This band has touched so many people, not just here in the U.S., but all across the world. This band started a whole new outlook on music.”
The museum will feature more than 300,000 pieces of memorabilia collected by Kirk West, the band’s longtime photographer and tour manager — everything from Duane Allman’s jacket, which was draped over a guitar case next to his coffin during his funeral, to one of the Hammond Organs played by Gregg Allman. It will include posters, photographs and live recordings of the band with interactive computer terminals where guests can flip through digital photos and scan concert footage.
Duane Allman’s bedroom will be decorated the way he had it when he lived in the house. On the top floor, the museum will hold music classes for school children, and outside will be a bandstand where musicians can put on shows, said West’s wife, Kirsten West, the managing director of the Big House Foundation.
“It was never meant to be just a house with a number of things hanging on the walls but to be active in promoting music in the community,” she said.
The 6,000-square-foot house, built in the early 1900s, became the band’s home in 1970 after bassist Berry Oakley and his wife, Linda, rented it for the musicians and their families. They called it the Big House because it was larger than any other place any of them lived.
And it quickly became the center of the band’s world — where they practiced, wrote songs and met before going out on tour. It’s where the wives, girlfriends and children remained when the band was on the road.
Some of the band’s most famous songs were penned there, including “Blue Sky” and “Midnight Rider.” It’s where the band planned the famed 1971 show at the Fillmore East concert hall in New York City, a live recording that was later released as a double album — now considered one of the most influential records in rock.
They lived at the Big House until 1973 when they were evicted, another blow after the deaths of Duane Allman and Berry Oakley, who both died in motorcycle crashes a year apart in the same Macon neighborhood.
The group split up in 1976 after personality conflicts and drug abuse damaged the family-like atmosphere they’d developed at the Big House. They eventually reunited in 1989 with some new members and have been touring and recording ever since.
The house changed hands through the years — from a beauty parlor to a lawyer’s home — and eventually fell into disrepair until it was bought in 1990 by the Wests, who dreamed of creating a shrine to the band. The couple lived there 15 years, entertaining more than 20,000 fans from Japan, Germany and Finland who wandered by to get a glimpse of Duane’s bedroom or sit where the band held jam sessions.
Members of the Allman Brothers Band would stop by, too, when they were in town, looking for a jaunt down memory lane or to jam one more time in the place that provided so much inspiration.
“A lot of incredible things happened there,” said drummer Butch Trucks, who never lived in the house but spent enough time there to call it home. “I remember walking around one morning and (band member) Dickey (Betts) was sitting there at the kitchen table. I could hear him humming this sound, and it turned out to be ‘Ramblin’ Man.'”