The passing of Gregg Allman and his homegoing brought back a flood of memories. I didn’t live in Macon during the Allman Brothers Band’s heyday. I did play their music on the radio in California along with the Reddings and Sea Level, too, but at the time I didn’t have a clue where Macon was on the map.
When I moved here in 1982, I did get the opportunity to meet “Jaimoe,” drummer for the band and if there’s a nicer guy walking the earth, I’ve not met him. They say families get together during weddings and funerals. That’s true, and Gregg’s funeral brought people from all over who’ve been touched by the band’s music.
Saturday, before the funeral procession, I stopped at Grant’s Lounge where the band honed their craft. The night before, I was told, you couldn’t get in the place. As they say, it was pea packed. Ed Grant Jr., who continues to operate the club with his sister Cheryl, said he had never seen it so full. That’s saying something considering Grant’s has sat in the same spot on Poplar Street for 46 years. And if walls could talk. More on that later.
I used to frequent Grant’s Lounge regularly. As operations manager for WDDO, one of my duties was to select the songs played on the station. I would take a box of records (yes records), down to Grant’s and let the DJ play a few. If a song was going to move into heavy rotation — or get into rotation at all — it had to do well at Grant’s.
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Grant’s was the place — and still is — if you want to listen to real music. I used to go upstairs and just kick back. Jazz, blues, rock, you name it, and you never knew who might drop by and play a set.
But back to the talking walls.
I don’t go clubbing like I used to, so as I entered from bright Saturday sunlight to the dimly lit bar and stage area, it was like I was stepping back in time. Johnny Hollingshed was getting ready for that night’s jam session, and on the far wall, press clippings covered its length from bar height up of musicians that have graced this room, and a thought hit me. Not an original thought because people from all over the world have walked through the door at Grant’s for the same reason: Its authenticity.
This is no made-to-look-like bar where the soon-to-be legends of Southern Rock plied their craft. This “Wall of Fame” and the entire club, isn’t a Disney replica. And if you listen closely, the spirits inside the walls speak to you — some singing and others — as the bands get going —taking the jammin’ musicians to new levels. There are two places downtown where the walls talk — Grant’s and The Douglass Theatre.
There are a lot of people who would probably recommend otherwise, but I would keep Grant’s just as it is. Clean it up a little. Smoky bars are a bit passé now, but Grant’s holds a special place in downtown, Christmas lights and all. It holds the spirit of downtown and has held it for good or ill for more than four decades.
As downtown reinvents itself, Grant’s will do a little reinvention, too. Themed rooms upstairs representing certain musicians, but Ed Grant Jr., promised not to change the funk. I’m going to hold him and Cheryl to that promise.
Fans of Southern Rock and other genres are looking for the authentic. They want to see and experience on their pilgrimages where the Allman Brothers Band ate. They want to meet Mama Louise at H&H Restaurant. They want to pay their respects to Duane, Berry and now Gregg at Rose Hill. And they want to celebrate great music by walking into Grant’s or the Big House while “Sweet Melissa” plays the soundtrack of their sweet memories from that authentic period that cannot be replicated — or unfortunately — repeated.