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The Macon Jacksonville Music Connection
Wednesday, January 09, 2002   By: J.E. Simmons

The cities of Macon and Jacksonville linked to create a musical genre - Southern Rock.

Macon’s place in the history of Rock ‘n Roll music is solid. After all, the city fathers (and mothers) could get away with promoting it as the birthplace of rock. Little Richard has traveled the world claiming to be the inventor of Rock ‘n Roll, and whatever he invented, he did it in Macon.

The State recognized Macon’s importance when it located the Georgia Music Hall of Fame in the city. But another southeastern city looks at the Hall and sees a lot of familiar faces. Jacksonville, Florida is beginning to see itself as the birthplace of Southern Rock.

"Half the folks in the Georgia Music Hall of Fame are from Jacksonville," says Dru Lombar. It may be a bit of an exaggeration, but Dru would know about those musicians. He’s one of them.

Dru lived in Macon during the heyday of Capricorn Records. He sang and played guitar with Grinderswitch, the band that was the opening act for The Allman Brothers Band.

Dru now tours the US, Europe and Japan with his blues oriented rock ‘n roll band, Dr. Hector and the Groove Injectors. The number of world famous musicians who’ve made their way from Jacksonville to Macon and Atlanta is almost endless. And thanks to the hard work of one Jacksonville musician, you can learn about many of these musicians from the comfort of your home. (Update - Dru passed away from heart disease on September 5, 2005.)

Mike Fitzgerald arrived in Jacksonville as Southern Rock was beginning, and he met and performed with a number of the rising stars. He’s researched the history of music in Jacksonville, and through the North Florida Music Association, has put a summary on-line (now hosted here.) Just click the link at the top of the page to the Hall of Fame.

At the Hall of Fame site, you’ll learn how a Jacksonville school teacher, Mae Axton, introduced a then little-known Elvis Presley to Col. Tom Parker. Mae then went on to co-write Elvis’ first hit, "Heartbreak Hotel." Of course, Elvis sang one of his last concerts at The Macon Coliseum.

Duane Allman gained international fame on Macon’s Capricorn Records, but he began The Allman Brothers Band in north Florida. Duane first attracted attention as a session guitar player at the hot soul recording studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. He dared singer Wilson Pickett to record a cover of The Beatles’ "Hey, Jude." Wilson accepted the dare, and Allman played a superb accompaniment on guitar. Macon’s Phil Walden heard Allman play and pushed him to form a band to record on Walden’s new label.

Duane headed back to Jacksonville and put his band together. The Allman Brothers Band played its first concert in the old Jacksonville Beach Auditorium. You can trace the careers of the members, and the various incarnations of their bands on the Hall of Fame website.

Before the Allman Brothers, another Jacksonville band headed to Atlanta to gain worldwide fame. Dennis Yost and The Classics Four put together their classic sound in Florida before hitting the Top Ten in the late 1960s. In the seventies, band members Robert Nix and J. R. Cobb formed The Atlanta Rhythm Section.

The band that’s probably most associated with Jacksonville is Lynyrd Skynyrd. It was put together by the man who created the image of the redneck-hippie, Ronnie Van Zant. Van Zant gathered other teenagers from his Westside Jacksonville neighborhood and hit the road with his band. They settled on the band name as a corruption of the name of a Jacksonville high school teacher Leonard Skinner, who still lives in Jacksonville.

Lynyrd Skynyrd headed for Macon in search of fame. They met Alan Walden, Phil’s brother, and signed with Walden’s Hustlers, Inc. Walden says he promoted the group into their first record deal.

Skynyrd went to Atlanta for their producer. Al Kooper had moved to the suburb of Roswell from his native New York in 1972. Legend says Kooper recognized that Van Zant’s voice was perfect for reproduction on the car radios of the time. The first album was a huge hit.

Van Zant and several other members of the band were killed in a plane crash on October 20, 1977. The surviving band members formed various bands in the intervening years, and many of them are touring again as Lynyrd Skynyrd.

At the Hall of Fame site, you can learn much more about Jacksonville musicians – Pat Boone is a Jacksonville native, Ray Charles grew up in the city’s LaVilla neighborhood, Graham Parsons, who went on to invent alternative country with The Byrds, attended Jacksonville’s exclusive prep school, The Bolles Academy. And, of course, there’s Limp Bizkit.

Music continues in Jacksonville, and the North Florida Music Association says it’s working to help the world learn about newer area musicians. The association is hosting its annual talent showcase "A1A North" on January 11, 2002. It will be at The Marquee Theatre in the Riverside area of town, not far from where Ronnie Van Zant put Lynyrd Skynyrd together.

News and Opinion  

(c)1968- today j.e. simmons or michael warren