The Story

WAY BACK WHEN

James Macdonald playing guitar in 1968

I opened my eyes in 1959 and the famed sixties lay before me. My very first strong memories that I still carry are that of the Kennedy assassination and the Beatles appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. My brother Ken, eight years older, got a guitar and began buying 45s and albums of this new music. At nine, I started taking guitar lessons and finding my love for the instrument. I took to sneaking into my brother’s room and playing his records and if I thought I could get away with it, I’d take them to my room. This is how I discovered the Allman Brothers. I remember setting the needle on the A side of their debut album and hearing the powerhouse eruption of their launch into Don’t Want You No More. Unforgettable! I then lifted Live at Fillmore East and played it over and over…and over, trying to learn the notes. By 7th grade I had saved up money from my newspaper route and bought a used Les Paul, a ’68 Goldtop Standard with P-90s. That guitar was a real marker for the evolution of my sense of aesthetics. As well as playing this fine instrument, I used to stare at it, from all angles, from near and far, and be amazed at all the beautiful curves working together to create a shape that could not possibly be improved upon.

It wasn’t until college that I scored a copy of the Eat a Peach album. My strongest memory is of being the last one standing one weekend night. We had all ingested something, but I was not one to follow up with gallons of beer, so at 3 in the morning it was me alone with my cigarettes, guitar, notebook, and the Eat a Peach album. The smoke was rising and curling and dancing along like a scene in an Art Nouveau painting. Mountain Jam was taking me on a journey, the album’s inside cover invited me in…I wrote- ” I was moving so fast I couldn’t even move, I knew everything but there was nothing I could prove…”

At 21, I discovered woodworking as a viable career choice and felt for the first time passion in my work. I learned how to make electric guitars at the short-lived Richelieu Guitar Company in Bridgeport, CT. After building my own house in Maine, I began a custom woodworking business, learned marquetry, raised a family, and in 2013 started crafting art guitars informed by my time at Richelieu and a lifetime of playing. My marquetry skills now turn to storytelling the shared experience of the great music we grew up hearing and playing. I pride myself in making one-of-a-kind instruments that look, sound, and play great.

MAINE TO MACON

In 2015, I hand-crafted the Eat a Peach Tribute Guitar from mahogany and ebony using techniques learned in the early 80s at the Richelieu Guitar Company. The design is created in marquetry – hand cut pieces of wood veneer further detailed with a knife-tipped woodturning pen – and features elements from the Allman Brothers Band Eat a Peach original album artwork created by Wonder Graphics. I brought the guitar to shows around the country and shared images on social media.

In June of 2016, I opened my Facebook inbox to find a really nice message from Skoots Lyndon. Here’s some of what he said: The Eat a Peach Tribute Guitar holds a special place, and I am without sufficient words. My brother Twiggs was the original tour manager for the ABB, and he and Duane became each other’s biggest fans. After Duane’s passing, Gregg gave Twiggs Duane’s Tobacco Sunburst guitar. Twiggs kept the guitar, and planned to give it to Duane’s daughter Galadrielle when she got old enough to be responsible for it. When Twiggs died in 1979, we three remaining brothers became stewards of the Burst until I, as per Twiggs’ wish, handed it off to Galadrielle’s mother at Duane’s gravesite. In that time in between, the Lyndon brothers made sure that guitar got played. Twiggs was the only guitarist in our family and not exactly the best at it. He and I had both worked for the Dixie Dregs so we allowed Steve Morse to play it on the road and in the studio. As with Duane, Steve and Twiggs became huge fans of each other. Every time the photo of your Eat a Peach tribute guitar shows up, I am reminded of time spent with Twiggs, Duane, and Steve. Thank you for such a lovely tribute to one of the best bands ever, in my opinion. Keep up your amazing playable art. You touch more people than you know.

This first communication led to more, and Skoots introduced me to Richard Brent, the director of collections at the Allman Brothers Big House Museum in Macon, GA. We agreed I should bring the guitar down to Georgia and let Skoots and the museum folks get their eyes, ears, and hands involved.

A month later, I was embarking on one of the epic journeys of my life. Skoots and his wife Mandy met us for the Long Goodbye Tour Deep Purple/ Alice Cooper/ Edgar Winter at Chastain Park in Atlanta, GA. Within five minutes flat, we had backstage passes (thanks Skoots!) and my Eat A Peach Tribute Guitar was out of its case and plugged in by Steve Morse’s guitar tech Tommy Alderson. What a monster guitar player!

Big House Museum Director Richard Brent playing the Eat a Peach Tribute Guitar in Berry’s bedroom.

Next day we had the pilgrimage-like experience of driving into Macon, walking through the Rose Hill Cemetary with Skoots, standing at the graveside of the brothers, then passing through the ABB Big House Museum doors, meeting Museum’ director Richard Brent, Dave “Trash” Cole, and others, while feeling a growing sense of awe and wonder to be in the place that must have absolutely shook with the good music made by my musical heroes and mentors. The walls are lined with pictures I’d never seen, Berry Oakley’s sweet handwritten letter, the bedrooms set up as they were… Walking through the Big House I had the experience of all these rock stars becoming real and very human.

James Macdonald playing Duane Allman’s Goldtop at the Big House Museum

The moment of truth came when I strapped on my Eat a Peach tribute guitar up in Berry’s bedroom, turned up the volume, and played some riffs…nervously I admit. At this point I was so aware of the craziness of being in this museum and playing a guitar that I had made with my own hands, that I just wanted to go back in time and tell my 15 year old self the news! I hadn’t noticed that Richard had slipped out of the room until he came back and handed me Duane’s Goldtop. Then told me to plug it in…. unforgettable. I felt a flash, I would have thought, not of Duane Allman the awesome and amazing guitar player, but of Duane Allman, the young man of 24 having his life stopped too soon. I’m a father, my son is 28 years old, my daughter is 26. Tears came. I’d like to say that I channeled his spirit and played like I never played before. I didn’t. But oh man, what a privilege. What was it like to have his skill, his soul, and the support of the rest of the band when he made that guitar sing?

When the crowdfund is over and the dust has settled, the Allman Brothers’ Big House Museum will be the owner of the Eat a Peach Tribute Guitar. They will use the instrument to display and to play, and this was important to me. From the time I first plugged this guitar in it was clear that it was not a wall hanger, and that it belonged down South in Allman Brother country. The very act of promoting this campaign is also a way to get the word out about the Museum – it’s an incredible place!