I had this idea that I could arrive in Macon, Georgia, via rental sedan, nose around for a day or two, and figure something out about the South, and rock music in the South, and men in the South, and men, and death, and guitars, and the Allman Brothers Band, who, in the late 1960s, engineered a new style of rock music that was deeply and earnestly influenced by rhythm & blues but also by something else—some wildness I couldn’t isolate or define or deny.
Last winter, the metal band Black Tusk went on a six-week tour of Europe, where they’ve established a strong following over the past decade. As most any band would today, they shared a candid visual diary on social media. But the trio’s followers on Facebook and Instagram (there are more than 54,000 of them) weren’t just seeing the expected performance photos, landscape shots, party pics, and show promos. Black Tusk had a mission abroad, which they christened #ripathon.
Little Richard, now eighty-two years old, has reportedly been living the last several years in a penthouse suite at the Hilton hotel in downtown Nashville (the Hilton will neither confirm nor deny that they have a guest named Mr. Penniman). I knew someone who knew someone who had his cell phone number, and in June, I cold-called him.
In 1913, the murder of Little Mary Phagan rocked the people of Atlanta, Georgia, setting in motion a series of events that involved a botched and terribly obfuscated trial; a tinder box of xenophobia, anti-Semitism, racism, and “white rights”; and another murder. “Fiddlin’ John” Carson set it all to music.
From the beginning of Sam & Dave’s career, Sam’s otherworldly high tenor overshadowed Dave’s low harmony, and for a variety of reasons—some personal, some practical, some musical—the history of the duo has been rewritten in the nearly thirty years since Prater’s death so as to diminish Dave’s contributions.
Everybody I met in Augusta had a James Brown story: the Godfather of Soul roaming around town in his baby-blue Rolls-Royce, showing up unbidden at parties and concerts, hanging around like he was anyone while making sure everyone remembered exactly who he was. Many people also had a Sharon Jones story.
She is insignificant in the universe, God a sublime, untouchable peak. On the stereo is a song by her new favorite band, the Indigo Girls: Georgia nights softer than a whisper, peach trees stitched across the land, farmland like a tapestry.