By Travis Fain
Telegraph Staff Writer
10 February 2005, The Macon Telegraph
Quite likely the most complete collection of Allman Brothers Band memorabilia and music sits largely packed away at the band’s old house here in Macon.
For years, Kirk and Kirsten West, who have lived in the three-story Vineville Avenue home since 1993, have had an informal arrangement with the world: Stop by and see some of it. They turned much of their downstairs into a small museum, its walls packed with posters, gold albums and photographs for just about anyone who knocked on their front door.
But that’s nothing compared to the couple’s dream.
Packed away in hundreds of boxes and stored in nearly countless compact discs is more information and music from the band than a person could reasonably digest in a lifetime.
The Wests hope to move away and leave their home – long known as the Big House – as the quintessential Allman Brothers Band museum.
“Without a doubt (it’s the biggest collection),” said Kirk West, the band’s former tour manager.
“There’s a couple of good-sized collections, but most of what they got they got from me,” he added.
Money and history To make it happen the Wests, former band members, including Gregg Allman, and Allman Brothers Band fans formed The Big House Foundation earlier this year.
Fund raising is getting into gear and Kirk West and foundation president Bob Johnson said the group hopes to make a fund-raiser announcement soon. They figure it will take $3 million to $3.5 million to endow the museum, as well as buy the house and the collection from the Wests.
“I think we’re well on track,” Johnson said. “We need a lot of local support.”
So far the group has raised about $150,000, Johnson said.
For Kirk West, the house at 2321 Vineville Ave. is full of history.
Every Sunday, he said, the bells from nine area churches ring through the home, much as they did when Dickey Betts wrote this line in “Blue Sky”: “Good ole Sunday mornin’, bells are ringin’ everywhere.”
” ‘Ramblin’ Man’ was written at the kitchen table,” West said this week.
Then he headed down Memory Lane, where only the well-informed can follow, speaking of a red-felt pool table that roadies carried upstairs to the home’s third floor, the pay phone that graced the kitchen (complete with a stack of dimes), a blue piano and “two jars of iced tea” in the refrigerator, one of them “electric.”
From 1970 to 1973, much of the band and many of their roadies and friends lived and played at the house.
Bassist Berry Oakley and his wife, Linda, rented the house shortly after the band released its first album, according to a history of the house that Kirsten West wrote for the foundation’s Web site, www.thebighousemuseum.org .
By the time they left the house, the Allman Brothers Band had gone from little-known to world famous.
In many ways the home was the focal point for the band and their circle of friends in those formative years, Kirsten West wrote. This is the house that guitarist Duane Allman left shortly before the motorcycle wreck that killed him in October 1971.
Oakley would follow him to the grave, also because of a Macon motorcycle accident, a little more than a year later.
Standing in Duane’s old bedroom, Kirk West said he often gets a sense of what happened in the house – the jam sessions, the classics that were written here. And when he sits up nights on the third floor, listening to music, there is the palpable feel of history.
“This is a castle,” Kirk West said.
“An amazingly spiritual spot; this house, this community.”
Chuck Leavell, who joined the band in 1972, said the house was “a wonderful hangout” for band members and their friends.
“If you ever got invited to the Big House, it was a big deal,” Leavell said. “You were hanging with the heavies.”
New dreams NewTown Macon is working with the foundation and hopes to package the new museum with a re-opening of Phil Walden’s former Capricorn Studios, NewTown CEO Mike Ford said.
The band recorded some of its early albums in the studio on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.
Museum plans are moving along, but for the moment, reopening the studio as a working recording studio and museum is “just a dream,” Ford said.
Kirk West said the museum plan has the blessings of his immediate neighbors.
Ron Lemon, former president and current board member of the Vineville Neighborhood Association, said the group supports the museum as long as it doesn’t lead to commercialization in the area.
How the foundation and the Macon-Bibb County Planning & Zoning Commission handle that issue will be key, Lemon said.
The property is zoned Historical Residential 3, which allows museums as a conditional use, according to the planning and zoning commission. That means the commission would have to approve a museum plan, but the zoning designation would not have to change.
Copyright (c) 2005 Macon Telegraph. All rights reserved.