To celebrate their 50th Anniversary, this installment of the “Your Story” series shares how the music of the Allman Brothers Band formed– and continues to form– enduring friendships and memories.
Macon is a long way from Minnesota. Growing up in South Minneapolis, I had barely an inkling of Georgia– and I certainly had no idea where Macon was. This is a story about two guys growing up in Minneapolis and how the music helped to form their connection.
John Reed Evanson and I were pretty typical middle-class boys who were usually looking for excitement, adventure, and a little bit of lawlessness. We weren’t criminals by any stretch, but we weren’t much bothered by whether it was against the law or not. During our high school years, we would attend Friday night dances at a local church after consuming a few .032% beers. Ahh, the good old days!
We made skiing trips to Colorado and Montana. We skied Aspen, Vail, Bridger Bowl outside Bozeman, Montana, and Jackson Hole. The day we skied Jackson Hole– while eating lunch– we realized we had about $30 apiece in our pockets, and we had an 1100 mile drive home. Remember, gas was about 35 cents a gallon back then. We drove straight through but the road got very challenging in South Dakota when we drove smack into a blizzard. And we had no heat in the car as the heater core was leaking coolant. I will never forget warming up in a Husky truck stop in Winner, South Dakota. Since the first time I heard “Turn the Page” by Bob Seger, I’ve always had a strong affinity: “Well you walk into a restaurant, strung out from the road, and you feel the eyes upon you as you’re shaking off the cold…” I think John would have loved that song too, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
It was during the trip to Bozeman in the late winter of 1973 that I found an opportunity to pursue the lofty goal of endeavoring to “find myself”. I took a job at a guest ranch just seven miles up the canyon road from what is today Big Sky, Montana and the Karst Guest Ranch. I packed up my belongings and headed west in a 1963 Plymouth Valiant. In July of 1973, I was still working and living in Montana, and my high school sweetie had joined me following her graduation. John had decided to marry his high school sweetheart, so my girlfriend and I drove back to Minneapolis to be maid of honor and best man for John and Patty. It was during that trip that I recall a moment on the eve of his wedding. He was sitting in the middle of a room in a south Minneapolis home playing air guitar and drums for his friends. We gathered to celebrate John’s last night as a bachelor. The music was by a band from Macon, Georgia– the Allman Brothers Band. He exclaimed to those of us present that if we ever heard this particular song again, we should always think of him. The song was “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed”.
John was my best friend during my teen years. He always seemed to have the inside track on cutting edge music. He introduced me to the Allman Brothers, and we attended a concert in September 1971 in St. Paul, Minnesota, the twin city to Minneapolis. Unless I’m mistaken, this was one of the last concerts Duane performed. So fast forward to 1980. I had since joined the Air Force and was now living in Okinawa, Japan. I grabbed the mail one day and was devastated to learn that John had died in a motorcycle crash. I guess he went on to enjoy the music in heaven now as he followed Duane to the big music festival in the sky.
As I mentioned before, I barely knew where Georgia was, only that it was somewhere far away from Minneapolis– but my idea of where Macon was was soon to change. In 2002, the Air Force returned me to active duty following the 9/11 tragedy, and I found myself in Central Georgia. It was the beginning of a better understanding of “Southern Rock” and the Macon music scene. I soon met Mary Etta, a woman who’d grown up in Macon. She knew the music scene and was very familiar with the Allman Brothers and the serendipity of Grant’s Lounge performances. Mary Etta took me on a tour of Macon in 2012 because I felt I owed it to John’s memory to experience the Macon music scene’s past and present. We had lunch at the H&H, we toured the Big House, and we went to Rose Hill cemetery to find Elizabeth Reed’s marker. I read that ABB guitarist and songwriter Dicky Betts would sit on the wall overlooking the river for musical inspiration.
There, near the site of Duane and Berry’s markers, at the bottom of the hill, overlooking the river was the marker for Elizabeth Reed. In that moment, I felt as though I’d accomplished a rare objective in honoring the memory of my good friend John. I found the site and took a moment to consider seemingly unconnected moments and events in our lives that can bring us to a moment of epiphany. I may have heard John’s voice that day as I stood there next to Ms. Reed’s marker and watched the river run. I was remembering this friend from my youth interspersed with guitar riffs of that now oh-so-familiar sound that was the Allman Brothers. It truly was a profound and providential experience for me. As my thoughts of John floated in my memory that day, I felt a sense of completion in a journey I never knew life would bring my way.
On New Year’s Eve 2018, Mary Etta and I enjoyed the Devon Allman Project at the Grand Opera House. We heard Devon, Barry Oakley Jr., Duane Betts– and for the encore, Dickey Betts joined them. What a fabulous experience! Hope you enjoyed it, John!
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