Welcome To The Big House

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 over 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.

Photo: AP Photo
Allman Brothers Band Museum is seen in Macon, Ga.

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 over 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.

Photo: AP Photo
Road cases from the Allman Brothers Band’s 1971 live recording at the Fillmore East concert hall in New York.

“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.

For now, renovations are going, but a big sign in the front yard declares what it will be: “Allman Brothers Band Museum.”

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. The majority of the renovations to the house have been donated – free windows, free roof, free paint, free landscaping – by companies from across the country who employ Allman Brothers Band fans.

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 history and one of the best live recordings of its time.

Photo: AP Photo
Vest hand-painted by an Allman Brothers Band fan which will hang in the Macon,. Ga., museum.

The band had moved to Macon in the late 1960s at the request of Phil Walden, former manager for soul singer Otis Redding and the brains behind the Macon-based Capricorn Records, the core of the Southern rock movement. 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. The band eventually reunited in 1989 with some new members and has been touring and recording ever since.

“It was right after we left the Big House that everything kind of started drifting away from music and we started focusing more on being rock stars,” said drummer Butch Trucks, who never lived in the house but spent enough time there to call it home. “Little by little, it led to 1976 when we finally said, ‘This is silly. It’s time to stop.’ I think leaving the Big House was part of that.”

The house changed hands over 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.

Photo: AP Photo / Las Vegas News Bureau
Red Rock Station, Las Vegas, Nev.

“There were several places we made our base, but nothing was like the Big House,” Trucks said. “A lot of incredible things happened there. 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.’”

If You Go…
BIG HOUSE: Renovations ongoing with museum to open in December in house where Allman Brothers band members lived from 1971-73 at 2321 Vineville Ave., Macon. Click here for the Web site.