THE BIG HOUSE HISTORY
By Kirsten West
Macon, Georgia is a place of history – old houses, big churches,
shaded streets, a downtown that is a reflection of the past rather
than the future. That sentence is how I started my first Big House
Update column for Hittin’ the Note in the summer of 1993. I wrote
a long piece on the history of the house and our dream of creating
a permanent place to house the growing Allman Brothers Band Archives
that was the passion of my husband, Kirk West.
Macon is a charming place. There are moments when I am struck
with wonder at the beauty of this small southern town. The people
of Macon have a reverence for history and protect it voraciously.
There are several historic districts in Macon established to preserve
the fine architecture and neighbor hoods. The Big House is in
the Vineville Historic District and has a prominent position as
a gateway to this wonderful area of beautiful homes.
We bought the house in the summer of 1993 and have lived in it
and opened our doors, our lives and our hearts to the fans of
this great band. We have added to the history of the house but
it was the history of the Allman Brothers Band and their impact
on the music of their time that has captured the imagination and
attention of legions of fans over the years and brought them to
The Big House is at 2321 Vineville Avenue, Macon, GA 31204. For
ten years it has been our home and home to the Allman Brothers
Band Archives. In 1969 it was for rent and by January 1970 it
became the house where many of the band, their roadies, friends
and families lived in Macon until 1973. It was the focal point
of gathering in those early years when the magic that is the Allman
Brothers Band was just taking shape and radiating from this sleepy
In January of 1970 Linda Oakley rented the house for Berry and
her to live in while the band worked and recorded in Macon at
Capricorn Records. The first to live there were Berry, Linda,
and their daughter Brittany, Duane Allman, his lady Donna and
their daughter Galladrielle, Berry’s sister Candy Oakley and Gregg
Allman. Others came and went but eventually the “Big House” was
a place that was touched by all those who were part of the extended
family of the Allman Brothers Band.
I interviewed Linda Oakley for that first piece that I wrote
in 1993. She was so eloquent in describing the years spent in
this house. Her words were like brush strokes lovingly applied
to a precious picture and she took me back with her to this special
time and place. Linda remembers the house well and saw it still
in her dreams as she walked the hallways and wandered the rooms
that were a magical part of her life then and her memories now.
Linda and Berry and their baby daughter were living in Macon
in a one-bedroom apartment over the apartment of Butch Trucks.
Candy was living with them, using the couch in the living room
as a bed. It was obvious they needed more space. The band was
on their first road trip out West when Linda began looking for
a place. Berry had given his OK and there was a little money coming
in, so they could afford to move into something bigger.
Linda, Candy, and Donna saw the ad for the house on Vineville
and went over there to check it out. They were dazzled and enchanted
by this large three-story Grand Tudor house with its double lot
surrounded by gardens filled with blooming wisteria, and fountains
and fishponds in the backyard. It was an elegant majestic home
with big sunny rooms filled with light, high ceilings, stained
glass windows, fireplaces galore, a crystal chandelier and French
doors. It captured their imagination and the three women saw their
future in this place and plotted to make it theirs. Linda said
that it conjured up three princesses in a castle for them all.
Candy was seeing Gregg Allman at the time, so with three couples
chipping in on the rent they figured they could afford the $225
a month that Day Realty was asking for this glorious estate.
In December of 1969 Linda went down to Day Realty and put on
her best “little homemaker with child” persona. She painted a
picture of domestic bliss and they bought it. So she paid the
deposit and the house was to be theirs in January. Before moving
in, she and Berry went to Florida to meet the band and visit friends
and family. While they were gone, Duane and Donna went ahead and
moved in. Day Realty got wind of another couple sharing the house
and increased the rent a whopping $10. because more than one family
would be living in it! So the price tag was $235 for their dream
Candy got the biggest bedroom in the front of the house for her
and Gregg complete with fireplace and private bath. Duane and
Donna took the bedroom at the opposite end of the house with the
small adjoining room in between used as a nursery for Galladrielle.
Berry and Linda took the rooms in the back of the house with a
separate room for Brittany, a bathroom and a back room that they
turned into a music room.
Linda said she loved this place with its wonderful view of the
sunsets and the lush green of the overgrown backyard. She and
Berry created the music room and Linda remembered that she hitchhiked
to Atlanta to get the stereo. She put Indian prints on the walls
and made it a warm and comfortable haven. The three stained glass
windows along with Linda’s loving touches made this a special
spot for her and Berry. They had a private bathroom between this
room and their bedroom and one of the unique features was a huge
walk-in shower perfect for a couple or a couple of couples which
she mentioned did occur from time to time.
The third floor of the house is a large wide-open space with
dormers and window benches and a vaulted ceiling. This was originally
used as a ballroom when the house was constructed in 1900. Off
of this big room are several small rooms that were locked when
everyone first moved in. Shortly after arriving some of the roadies
broke into these rooms and found them filled with wonderful antique
treasures collected by the owners of the house. Linda mentioned
a vintage upright piano and a big claw-foot table as well as many
items from the Orient and Middle East. It was learned that the
owner was a military man who had done a lot of traveling. He had
two daughters who had made this third floor their bedroom and
playroom. Many of these pieces found their way into the Allman
Brothers Band household and added greatly to the grace of this
stately mansion. They also had some wicker furniture that was
given to them by Berry’s grandmother along with an old Victorian
sofa with heavy brocade upholstery.
The three women and two children were the real permanent residents
of this house. Any notions that this was a big hippie crash pad
are obviously mistaken. Brittany and Galladrielle had the run
of the place. Their tiny footsteps would echo down through the
hallways. There was always music in the house. Linda remembered
getting up in the morning and putting on Miles Davis and gathering
the women and children in the kitchen for a quiet breakfast. It
was very idyllic. The band was gone most of the time and the women
created a place of beauty and a retreat for their men to return
to after their rough times on the road. Linda remarked that the
tranquillity of the house and how clean it was always surprised
Other people came and stayed as guests. Donna’s sister Joan stayed
for awhile, and she was visiting when Willie Perkins was hired
by the band to replace Twiggs Lyndon as road manager in June of
1970. I talked briefly to Willie and he recalled that Joan was
the only one home when he first arrived that day in June. She
greeted him and took him to the kitchen for some iced tea. He
remembers her opening the refrigerator seeing two large mason
jars filled with tea. One of the jars had silver duct tape around
the top. This was to signify that it contained “electric tea.”
The idea for the mason jars was no doubt taken from Mama Louise
at the H & H who was serving tea in mason jars to the Allman
Brothers Band in 1970 and still does today. The idea for the duct
tape is an original one that may have been Berry’s as, according
to Linda, he was in charge of the “electric tea.”
Willie slept in the living room for the first few months until
he and his future wife Sandy found their own apartment a few blocks
away. Kim Payne, a roadie for the band, moved in with Candy after
she and Gregg ended their relationship. Donna’s sister Joan married
Mike Callahan, another Allman Brothers Band roadie, and they stayed
there together for awhile.
Willie remembers the first time there was any semblance of a
royalty check for the band. He said everyone gathered in the music
room to celebrate and decide how to split the check. This sharing
was a part of this philosophy. There was always the family and
it was a pivotal element to the essence of the band.
The idyllic life was suspended when the band came off the road
and the men returned. Linda said it was like a big reunion, a
honeymoon for the couples and the party time would start and the
band would jam.
On the first floor, past the parlor, through the French doors,
what was originally the sunroom suited the purpose perfectly.
This was transformed into the music room – Duane put batting on
the walls to muffle the sound, and they set up their instruments
and equipment and played, practiced and jammed into the night,
night after night.
This was the time they would all get together and “hit the note.”
Linda used these words. This was Berry’s term. He was the one
who organized these parties and gatherings. Berry and Duane shared
a vision. Berry called it “hittin’ the note,” but it was a philosophy
that transcended the music. It reflected a way of being. And it
was this way of being, the great music that was being created
and this beautiful place with these earnest young men, their lovely
women and children that Linda captured for me in our conversation.
I wasn’t there then, but I am now. I can sense it and feel it
and have those moments of tranquility myself when I can almost
hear the echoes of the guitars resounding through the house. That
way of being is what Kirk and I have attempted to maintain here
as residents of this place thirty years after the band walked
The kitchen was large enough so the Brothers could gather there
to write, share dreams and talk about their future. Dickey remembers
the kitchen and the quiet backyard as places where he would work
on his songs. Dickey wrote “Blue Sky” in the living room and “Ramblin’
Man” in the kitchen. The guys bought a pool table with a red felt
top and put it on the third floor where they would play and talk
for hours. Linda remembers learning to cook in the kitchen. She
laughed as she recalled cooking for twenty and said she had a
hard time adjusting to cooking for two or three when these days
were over. And they were over all too soon.
You know the rest of the story. They were planning a birthday
party for Linda. She said it was supposed to be a surprise. Duane
came over to the house (he was now living elsewhere with his new
lady Dixie) with a big bouquet of flowers for the party. Linda
said everyone was busy fixing Jack O’Lanterns for Halloween and
Duane said, “Let me do the eyes, the nose and the mouth.” It was
the day he died. He left the house on his motorcycle and never
Dixie came to the house and stayed for a while after Duane died,
and in February of 1972, Dixie, Candy, and Linda all went to Jamaica
together. When they returned Dixie went back to Atlanta.
Berry tried to keep the vibe going but according to Linda, something
died in him with Duane’s death. He told Linda that the hellhounds
were on his trail. He began having nightmares and was drawn more
and more to the dark blues of Robert Johnson and Elmore James.
Then sadly, Berry followed Duane to his grave a little over a
year later on a motorcycle on the streets of Macon.
Linda went away to Florida for Christmas to be with friends and
family and to try to heal. When she returned in January of 1973,
there was an eviction notice waiting for her and she was forced
to move out of the Big House. Apparently the publicity surrounding
the band led to the eviction. Linda moved out to the farm, to
Idlewild, and tried to pick up the pieces of her life.
Willie Perkins told me that his strongest memories of the Big
House were his first few moments there and then the last moments;
the funerals. He said that years later when the band had broken
up, the Big House was empty, Capricorn Records was defunct and
Great Southern, the T-shirt company, had folded, you could drive
around Macon and never know this band had existed, had ever been
Well, all that has certainly changed. The Allman Brothers Band
reformed as a group in 1989 and it has been a great ride for the
band and their fans ever since. Much of this revival has been
evident in Macon. Beginning with the four-night series of concerts
by the Brothers at the end of 1991and followed by the formation
of the Georgia Allman Brothers Band Association and its very successful
annual fan gatherings, there has been a resurgence of interest
in the band and its history in Macon, in Georgia and across the
country. The band’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
and the Georgia Music Hall of Fame has sealed their place in music
history for all time. The purchase and restoration of the Big
House has given the fans a permanent place to call their own where
they can relax and enjoy the vast array of memorabilia and just
relish the experience of being in the place where much of the
band lived and created their music.
We bought the Big House in the summer of 1993. The renovation
was extensive and expensive. We had hoped to open as a bed and
breakfast but we ran out of funds and I ran out of energy. We
have allowed all the fans to come and spend time here and view
Kirk’s amazing collection. We estimate that we have hosted almost
10,000 people in the ten years we have been here.
The historical significance of the Big House can not be overstated.
The body of music that was created here is vast. Gregg wrote “Please
Call Home” and “Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More” and “Leave My Blues
at Home” and “Midnight Rider” at the Big House. The band worked
up “Hot ‘Lanta” while rehearsing at the Big House. Dickey wrote
“Ramblin’ Man” and “Blue Sky” here.
The History of the Big House did not end when the Allman Brothers
Band vacated the premises. From the very first week after we moved
in we have had an amazing assortment of famous and interesting
guests and visitors. Col. Bruce Hampton was actually the first.
He drove down from Atlanta just a few days after we arrived and
sat at the fishpond and ruminated about his days in Macon and
his memories of Duane.
In mid-October Lee Roy Parnell and his band stopped by. At that
time we did not know Lee Roy at all and this was the first of
many days spent with Lee Roy over the years and the beginning
of a deep and wonderful friendship that we have had with him ever
since. Bruce came back to the house later that fall and brought
his critically acclaimed band, The Aquarium Rescue Unit. There
were a couple of younger guys in the band that we met for the
first time. You may have heard of them now, Oteil Burbridge and
Jimmy Herring. Little did we know what the future held for these
budding musical geniuses.
Over the years we had visits from Jack Pearson, Tinsley Ellis,
Jimmy Hall, Dave Grissom who came and spent the night and slept
in Duane’s room. Jack, Tinsley and Dave were inspired by their
time at the house and each of them felt moved to play their slide
guitars before they turned off the lights for the night. A couple
years ago the North Mississippi Allstars spent a few hours relaxing
in the living room before they headed on down the road.
In June of 1994, Warren Haynes, Matt Abts and Allen Woody took
up residence at the Big House. They took over the Archive rooms
and set up their instruments and equipment and rehearsed for 8
days before they headed out to do their first shows as Gov’t Mule.
Every night they played and I cooked. It was a wonderful time
and one that I will never forget. Just listening to this new music
pouring out of these rooms once again was so inspiring!
Most of the Allman Brothers Band has stayed at the house since
we moved in. Gregg came and spent a few days one December while
he was performing a solo concert in Macon. It was bittersweet
to be back in his old bedroom after over 25 years. Butch Trucks
came for an extended stay one fall and Jaimoe spent some time
here as well. Derek stayed here when he was just a lad and was
interviewed by E J Devokaitis in Duane’s room.
Kirk and I have talked about our time here so often and the one
event that stands out more than any other was the memorial service
we had for Joe Dan Petty. We thought that we would have about
75 people and over three hundred showed up. It wasn’t the number
but the individuals and the memories they shared that were so
touching to us. We have often said that this event became a reunion
for virtually all of the old friends and associates of the Allman
Brothers Band. They came from all over the country and were reunited
in this tragic hour. Our house, the Big House became the backdrop
for this poignant occasion. Sitting in my sun room were Dickey
Betts, Bonnie Bramlett, Chuck Leavell…all talking and sharing
stories like no time had separated them. It was very moving to
say the least. We have always felt so blessed to have provided
the setting for this to happen. It is a day we will never forget.
Our greatest desire is to leave this house to the safekeeping
of someone who will respect, cherish and nurture its history and
the music that was made here by the Allman Brothers Band. The
preservation will continue in the good hands of the Big House
Foundation and the Georgia Music Hall of Fame. We encourage the
fans of the Allman Brothers Band to help make this dream a reality
by participating in the Big House Foundation and securing the
Big House as a permanent place for everyone to visit and enjoy.