By: Ed Grisamore
For: The Macon Telegraph
A pair of Elvis Presley’s sunglasses once sold for $23,000 at an auction. Just last week, a Spanish hairdresser paid $1,550 for a lock of Beatle George Harrison’s hair from 1964. So Macon’s Larry Brantley was convinced he was holding a valuable piece of music property.
For 30 years, he kept Duane Allman’s guitar strap sealed inside a coffee can. The 55-year-old local carpenter struggled with the decision to sell something that once hung from the slim shoulders of the renowned lead guitarist for the Allman Brothers. When he turned down an offer of $10,000 for the strap last year, it provided affirmation that he owned something of great value to music collectors.
But he also knew he could really use the money for renovation work at his historic home in Huguenin Heights. Three weeks ago, he posted the strap for sale on e-Bay.
For 10 days, the bids rolled in from across the country. He was astonished at the response. “It was like knowing you have a winning lottery ticket, but you just don’t know what the prize is going to be,” he said.
In the final seconds of the online auction, a man named Michael Pearce, who lives near San Francisco, placed the winning bid of $15,000. At Brantley’s request, Pearce agreed to offer the strap for future display at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Georgia Music Hall of Fame in Macon.
The strap has a haunting history. It was custom-made for Duane in 1969 by Zebo Starker of Zebo’s Leather in Sarasota, Fla. It is distinguished by its large brass ring, like a girth on a saddle. After Duane was killed in a motorcycle wreck on Hillcrest Avenue in October 1971, bass player Berry Oakley wore the strap as a tribute.
Brantley was introduced to Oakley in 1972 and joined the band as a roadie. He first helped with the sound system, then was responsible for handling the guitar and bass equipment. A few months after Brantley came aboard, Oakley was killed in a motorcycle accident. It happened on Napier Avenue, just a half-mile from where Duane was killed, and occurred one year and 13 days after Allman’s death.
They were both 24 years old. They are buried side by side in Macon’s Rose Hill cemetery. (A section of Forsyth Street is now Duane Allman Boulevard, and the bridge that crosses I-75 there is called the Raymond Berry Oakley III Bridge.)
After Oakley died, road manager Buffalo Evans distributed the musician’s possessions to family and friends. He kept the strap, however, and gave it to Brantley a year later. Evans now lives on Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts.
Brantley was a roadie for the band until 1976. He left Macon in 1978 and didn’t think much about the strap until he moved back four years ago with his wife, Cathy. He started his own business, Brantley Carpentry, and has done contract work with the Macon Heritage Foundation. He is now renovating The Palisades condominiums on Orange Street.
Before selling the strap, he made a trip to Sarasota to verify its authenticity with Zebo.
“When he saw it, he was speechless,” said Brantley. “And that’s something, because he is originally from Brooklyn. He also helped fill in all the blanks.”
Brantley transferred ownership of the strap March 3. Despite the nice chunk of change, it wasn’t easy. “Yeah, I cried a little,” he said. “It was like parting with a piece of history.”
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