Last week, I began a journey down Macon’s music memory lane, a path that’s more romantic than any movie script, more dramatic than any television series and just as restless and raw as the other hit music documentaries out there.
It’s also a script primarily untold.
Let’s get back to imagining just how our cast of characters would play across the screen. We left off with Little Richard, washing dishes with the fever of a strange, falsetto singer at Macon’s Greyhound Bus Station.
Little Richard never could shut up. His urge to not just make music but BE music was with him before he was too young to remember. But he does remember that defining moment when the trailblazing Sister Rosetta Tharpe wielded her electric guitar in a church lady dress on the stage of the City Auditorium. She was compelled just enough by Jesus and this wide-eyed, God-fearing boy looking up at her to bring him up on stage. His divine fate was sealed -- an entertainer he’d always be.
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If he wasn’t weird enough, there was also his pedigree. One of 12 children born in the poorest part of Macon, his dad was a preacher and a bootlegger. To rise out of generational poverty in spite of the confining racial segregation would take gumption, courage and a whole lot of pizazz.
Like many misfits of Macon, he could be found at Ann Howard’s Tick-Tock Lounge, hitting the high notes and pounding on a piano like the devil was waiting outside the nightclub’s side door.
He walked the line of a good guy and a troublemaker. Little Richard was earning a name for himself -- with his singing audience and the law. He reeked of sexuality in almost everything, from his music that made hips dip while they were dancing, to an arrest record that involved a naked woman in the backseat of his car.
After all, if you’re later credited as the “Architect of Rock ’n’ Roll,” there has to be a healthy dose of taboo from the start.
Who knows what went through his pretty head to make “Wop-bop-a-loo-mop-alop-bam-boom!” come out, but Little Richard had a hit on his hands when he snuck off New Orleans to record it.
“Tutti Fruitti” wasn’t instant, but it was ferocious. Little Richard was getting regular gigs and radio airplay, the things that other black singers were itching to bring from the Chitlin’ Circuit to the mainstream.
One of those singers was another scrappy kid from the wrong side of the tracks. His young path was already so marred, he’d served hard time and was practically banished between the Barnwell, South Carolina, and Augusta areas where he came from.
So, he and his band, the Famous Flames, arrived in Macon. If Little Richard could come out of this city, maybe there was something for them here as well.
Just a couple of blocks from the Tick-Tock was downtown Macon’s Two-Spot. Little Richard was performing there one night when this early incarnation of James Brown waited for his chance encounter.
Brown looked at Little Richard square in the eye and humbled his rough and tumble self enough to ask for help. Little Richard grabbed a cocktail napkin and motioned for a pen. On it, he wrote three magical words: “Please, Please, Please.”
James Brown was determined to turn it into a song. He and the Famous Flames headed to the WIBB radio station on Macon’s Mulberry Street.
To be continued?
Do you want her to continue this Macon music saga in her monthly columns? Let her know! Jessica Walden is the co-owner of Rock Candy Tours, a Macon music history tour company. Contact her at email@example.com.