If the walls of Tic Toc Room could talk, the chatter last weekend would have been deafening when James Brown, also known as Jim Montgomery, bowed his head with the slow moan of “Please, Please, Please,” Brown’s first hit in 1956. True to Brown’s exhausting performances, Montgomery pleaded “please don’t go” until he collapsed on his knees, begging, while a cape was draped around his shoulders.
“Macon Music Live,” a one act play written by Jessica Walden, debuted upstairs in Tic Toc’s special events space on March 9, with sold out performances each day through March 11. As Walden, the daughter of Alan Walden and niece of the late Phil Walden, stated in her program notes, Macon’s music story is continually adding new chapters so “the story isn’t over yet.”
The production of the play was made possible with a Downtown Challenge grant from the Community Foundation of Central Georgia, which was funded by the Peyton Anderson Foundation and by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. Walden secured the talents of Jim Crisp, founding artistic director of Theatre Macon, to direct the play and to mesh the attributes of amateurs and of professional performers to bring to life the “pioneers” of the new beat in the 1950s and ‘60s in Macon.
Brad Evans, publisher of Macon’s alternative news and entertainment paper, the 11th Hours, and co-owner of the Creek radio station, was the producer for the play, keeping the cast of characters on task and within budget for the weeks of rehearsal before opening night.
The venue for the play was formerly known as Ann’s Tic Toc, a bar on Broadway that catered to Macon’s gay population and provided a stage for fledgling artists to perform before an appreciative live audience with little inhibitions. The owner, Ann Howard, played by local restaurateur Saralyn Collins, indulged the idiosyncrasies of her diverse patrons.
Little Richard Penniman was a frequent performer and sometimes employee who took advantage of the owner’s good nature with his outlandish behavior, and often tried out new lyrics on the friendly audience. Kimberly Kelsey Epps, who opened the play in the role of Lucille Hegamin, singing “Hardhearted Hannah, the Vamp from Savannah,” also was cast as Little Richard, belting out the hard driving “Tutti Frutti.” When he recorded the song in 1955, he accompanied himself on piano, banging the keys with both hands, emphasizing the frenzied rhythm with staccato soprano notes.
WATCHING HISTORY UNFOLD
Attending the Sunday performance was local legend Hamp Swain, known as the deejay King Bee on WIBB radio, who watched Mitchell Brinkley enact his role as emcee at the Douglass Theater for the on-air, weekly talent shows, where many area vocalists launched their careers with his help. Swain’s influence among promoters of the new rock music and of the resurgence of the blues reverberated throughout the South; in 2008, his contributions to the careers of numerous musicians were recognized with his induction into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame.
Sitting with Swain was Alan Walden, another Georgia Music Hall of Fame inductee and brother of the late Phil Walden with whom he was a partner in Phil Walden Artists and Promotions and, later, in Capricorn Records, founded in 1969, a year after the death of Otis Redding. With Walden was his wife, Tosha. The playwright cast Christian Walden, her half brother, in the role of father Alan, with Anthony Ennis cast as a college age Phil Walden, when he finally gets an audience with Redding to convince him to sign a contract with his agency, still in its infancy.
Charles Davis, who was cast as Redding, is comfortable on stage, having performed in local theater under the tutelage of director Crisp, and deftly delivered the yearning lyrics of “These Arms of Mine.”
With the death of Redding in 1968, the management agency took a new direction, auditioning the little known Allman Brothers Band, which launched a new era for the company as they ventured into recording. At the end of the performance the audience was invited to tour the old studio, to see the scene of the “Final Act,” before it closed. With the wealth of music history yet to be documented, new chapters will be written.
Katherine Walden is a freelance writer and interior designer in Macon. Contact her at 478-742-2224 or firstname.lastname@example.org.