Humor me here. I’d like to assign some homework. Then, I’ll close with some creative liberty.
First, the assignment: If you haven’t already, check out these three music documentaries in this order:
“Tom Dowd & the Language of Music” has been around since 2003, but I didn’t catch it until a few years ago during the “Rock ’n’ Roll Picture Show” rock doc series at the Cox Capitol Theatre. The documentary about the late, legendary studio engineer is a fascinating glimpse “behind the board” at some of the greatest music albums of all time.
But the reason for my recommendation is because of a key clip. Dowd, no stranger to our city because of Capricorn Records, refers to the “Five Ms” of the music industry during his time -- Manhattan, Miami, Memphis, Muscle Shoals and ... you guessed it, Macon.
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Now, head over to one of those nearby Ms with the more recent documentary “Muscle Shoals.” I also caught this one at the Cox, thanks to the Macon Film Festival, when it premiered in 2013. It’s now widely available through Netflix, Amazon and others.
It’s a spell-binding journey to the sleepy Southern town that awoke to music’s biggest names recording in its backyard. Even with its own cast of characters and unique landmarks, listen closely and you’ll quickly see that many of those Muscle Shoals roads led right back to Macon.
Finally, put this one in your queue. “Take Me to the River” is currently making the film festival and theater rounds across the country. This documentary about Memphis music deftly connects its own storybook past with its unique music scene today. I witnessed this inspiring, heart-thudding documentary at this year’s Macon Film Festival and couldn’t contain my tears.
Not only does “Take Me to the River” remind us that music is one of life’s greatest redeemers, but we need to give back to music just as much as it has given to us -- by preserving and by passing along the tradition.
If you can’t find the film at a theater, at least start by watching the trailer online. Even that short clip will, in the voice of Mavis Staples, take you there.
Once you watch all three of these films, test yourself: What’s missing in this equation?
We already know the answer: Macon.
It was recently announced that Johnny Depp is developing a TV series based on “Muscle Shoals.” In other words, there is enough real-life drama in this Alabama town’s music business to warrant a Hollywood spin.
And why does music history matter to Macon? Because if we aren’t telling our story -- loudly, proudly, poignantly -- then those other cities will. And eventually, Macon’s leading roles in soul and Southern rock will be buried at the bottom of the closing credits. We were home to too many legendary stars for that.
So, let’s imagine an opening scene. There he is, the Architect of Rock ’n’ Roll, Little Richard. But nobody knows that yet because he’s busy washing dishes in the back of Macon’s Greyhound Bus Station -- hooting, hollering and humming to the train in the distance like it’s his very own house band.
He’s just a kid, that strange Richard Penniman, born on the wrong side of the tracks and on the other side of color lines that gut the South of this time. It’s early 1950 and music is neat and tidy. It’s mainly white guys in bow ties with tightly choreographed harmonies.
But all that’s about to change ... Little Richard’s dishrag days are numbered.
I’ll continue the story next week ...
Jessica Walden is the co-owner of Rock Candy Tours, a Macon music history tour company. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.