Visiting Macon, Georgia is an important stop for any music lovers traveling through the region. The seemingly small town played a large role in Southern rock, soul, and other genres from the 1950s to today. In order to teach visitors about the music scene in Macon, a husband and wife duo formed Rock Candy Tours. The name is a nod to Jamie Weatherford’s family-owned candy business and Jessica Walden’s connection to record labels through her father and uncle. After the Georgia Music Hall of Fame closed in 2011, the couple wanted another way for visitors to learn about the significance of Macon to popular music. The company now runs tours on Friday nights and Saturday mornings, each with something different for guests to experience.
The story of Macon music starts in the 1950s with Little Richard, an eccentric local musician who got his start singing in church. Fellow Georgia native James Brown also lived in the city for a few years, but it was Otis Redding that perhaps is still the most recognized here. He found his start at local talent shows before meeting a friend that would change his life. In 1958, Phil Walden and Bobby Wallace opened a booking agency and the next year Phil became Otis’ manager. The relationship would continue until Redding’s untimely death in a plane crash in 1967. Over the years, they booked acts that included Redding, Ike and Tina, Percy Sledge, and Al Greene. Redding and Walden were partners, which was almost unheard of during that time for white and black men in Macon.
Phil’s brother Alan got a taste for the industry when he ran the business while Phil was in the army. The Walden Brothers and Frank Fenter joined forces in 1969 to create Capricorn Records. After hearing his work, Phil bought Duane Allman out of his FAME recording contract to make him a star. The Allman Brothers Band became just one of many bands signed to the label, which also handled studio, booking, music publishing, merchandise, travel arrangements and, of course, liquor sales. Capricorn’s roster also included The Marshall Tucker Band, but Alan left the label soon after its creation to create Hustlers Inc. and manage Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Outlaws.
Still reeling from Redding’s death in 1967, tragedy struck Phil again in 1971 when Duane Allman died in a motorcycle accident. Berry Oakley soon followed in another crash. In 1979, the company went bankrupt and many of its belongings went up for public auction. The buildings that housed the offices and recording studios were sold or sat vacant. The 1980s saw a change in the styles of music that were popular, so Phil moved to Nashville and managed the career of Jim Varney. In 1991, Phil launched a second wave of Capricorn Records, signing Athens-based Widespread Panic. The roster grew to include Cake, 311, and Gov’t Mule, but the label all but ended in 1996 with much of the catalog being sold in 2000.
Despite the change of the sound in Macon from Southern rock to NuWave, the 1980s brought acts like The Police, Debbie Harry, Flock of Seagulls, and Ian Copeland to the city. Macon residents Mike Mills and Bill Berry lived here before moving to Athens, where they met Peter Buck and Michael Stipe to form R.E.M.
Today, you can see the Robert McDuffie School of Music, named for the violinist who grew up with Mike Mills, where both were church choir members. You can see where country music artist Jason Aldean filmed a music video. See live music at Grant’s Lounge and the Cox Capitol Theatre, both of which have hosted famous performers.
Among the landmarks you’ll see between Friday and Saturday tours, which you can do both if you like, are below:
- The corner where a Jason Aldean music video was filmed
- Otis Redding Foundation
- H&H Restaurant
- Macon Auditorium
- Houses where members of the Allman Brothers Band lived
The Free Birds and Night Owls tour runs on Friday nights and leaves from The Rookery and end at Grant’s Lounge. Saturday’s Intown Rock N’ Stroll tours start and end at H&H Restaurant. Tours cost $10-15 for standard tours and extra for private tours, bus tours, and add-ons to Rose Hill.
I was hosted on both my Friday and Saturday tours with Rock Candy Tours.