Big House opens re-creation of Oakley’s bedroom

pramati@macon.comAugust 13, 2013 

While guitarist Duane Allman is generally given the credit for assembling The Allman Brothers Band, it was Berry Oakley who helped everyone work together in the band’s early years.

That was what Big House Museum curator E.J. Devokaitis told those in attendance Tuesday as the museum opened a replica of the rooms where Oakley and his family lived with band members in the early 1970s.

“He wanted to procure a safe haven,” Devokaitis said.

Linda Miller, Oakley’s widow, spent a few weeks earlier this year at the Grand Tudor home with the couple’s daughter, Brittany, decorating the Oakleys’ bedroom as it looked then. Miller provided about 70 percent of the items in the bedroom, including clothing, pictures, furniture, letters, toys and other items the family owned. The rest of the items on display are close matches to their actual possessions and were acquired at yard sales, flea markets and estate auctions.

“There was a lot of treasure hunting,” Miller said in a phone interview Tuesday from her art studio in Florida. “It’s all pretty vivid in my memory. It was a pretty pivotal time in our lives.”

Miller said she kept nearly all of Oakley’s clothes and passed some along to others. His size 28 jeans were difficult to give away, and they’re now in the museum.

“Nobody could wear his skinny little jeans,” she said with a laugh.

Oakley, the band’s bassist, died in November 1972 in a motorcycle crash on Napier Avenue, about a year and a few blocks away from where Allman died when his own motorcycle crashed.

Miller said Brittany Oakley was 3 years old when her father died, but she still has memories of the time they all lived in the Big House.

“She remembers a lot,” Miller said. “She was quite an astute little wild thing. She feels the pain, too. She has a lot of golden little memories.”

Many of Brittany Oakley’s possessions from that time are prominently displayed in her room, including the same dollhouse that she played with, and a toy piano with a broken key that Berry Oakley used to play with her. Some children’s letter blocks in the room spell out “Bee Bop,” a nickname Oakley gave his daughter after the Gene Vincent song “Be Bop A Lula” that he used to sing to her.

One of the most notable items displayed is the dress Brittany Oakley wore on the cover of The Allman Brothers’ “Brothers and Sisters” album.

Miller said the family was living in a tiny apartment with Oakley’s sister Candice when the two of them, plus Donna Allman (Duane’s widow), went looking for a house to rent when they came upon the three-story Big House.

Devokaitis described the women as the “queens of the house,” keeping things going when the band was on the road.

Devokaitis also noted that the museum recently acquired two recorded interviews Oakley gave in 1970 and ’71 that aren’t available anywhere else. The interviews are set up to play in Oakley’s bedroom.

Willie Perkins, the band’s first road manager and author of “No Saints, No Saviors,” said Tuesday he stayed at the Big House for a few months, and he agrees the room accurately captures what it looked like about 40 years ago.

“It’s amazing,” he said. “There’s so much stuff (Miller) kept. She really reinvented (the look of) it all. ... This was always such a great home. It’s a blessing that they’ve been able to keep it and restore it.”

Big House Director Lisa McLendon said the museum draws about 12,000 people a year, and that it’s seen a recent upswing in attendance thanks in part to word of mouth about the room from fans, as well as events like the recent release of keyboardist Gregg Allman’s biography, “My Cross to Bear.”

“Our goal is to have the entire upstairs like it was back then,” she said.

McLendon that the house continues to draw people from all over the world, including fans from Japan, Germany, Holland and Brazil just in the past week.

Devokaitis said the museum plans to add other features, such as interactive displays and research memberships that grant members greater access to the museum’s resources.

Monica Smith, president and CEO of the Macon-Bibb County Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the house remains a draw thanks to the band’s international following.

“It really is on people’s radar,” she said. “People definitely do connect with The Allman Brothers Band. For a tourism experience, we’re really trying to promote Macon’s music heritage, and (the museum) helps promote that aspect of tourism.”

The museum is located at 2321 Vineville Ave. in Macon. For more information go to www.thebighousemuseum.com.

Information from Telegraph archives was used in this report. To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.

 

The Telegraph is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service