One thing I learned in while living in Georgia is that Mama Louise always took care of her boys.
The passing of Gregg Allman brings back memories of fried chicken, greens, and an overpainted Coca-Cola sign in the old downtown district of Macon, Georgia. Inside the doorway was the small H & H Restaurant where Mamma Louise, owner of the shotgun-sized restaurant, opened her heart to a near penniless and hungry group of musicians trying to make a hit record at the nearby Capricorn Records studio.
As the band struggled to create a breakout sound in 1970, the band stumbled into the nearby restaurant with enough money to buy 2 dinners. The band, however, consisted of a half-dozen hungry stomachs.
Mama Louise took pity on the boys. She told them to sit down eat. They could settle up one day when they made it big. Truth is, she never really expected to be repaid, only help take care of someone else in need. Her heart was as big as the servings you would find on your plate.
Macon is located halfway from Atlanta and Savannah – or close enough to call it so. The H & H Restaurant became a beacon for Allman Brothers’ fans who would be passing through. Located alongside a worn city street, the rusted newspaper rack outside the front door attracted more attention than the small 4-foot by 3-foot Coca-Cola sign hanging outside. I once drove around the block several times before I ever discovered the front door.
Parking was difficult and the hours limited. Until her death, in 2007, Mama Louise could be found in the kitchen making up the day’s specials for the regulars – none of whom were musicians. Her menu was a classic soul food mix – or “meat and three” as they are known throughout the south. And the fried chicken would stay with your soul long after the city limits would fade into your rearview mirror.
Truth is I found the H & H closed as many times as it was open. If you were ever going to eat there, you had to make surgical plans to arrive during the short hours of operation. The small sliver of fame never changed the restaurant’s calling – to be there and open when the locals were hungry for lunch.
Inside you’d find standard issue red vinyl chairs, well-worn tables that tilted when you rested your weight, and possibly the greatest authentic personal collection of Allman Brothers items in the world.
The Brothers never let the kindness of Mamma Louise fade as fame exploded around them. On the yellow walls of the restaurant, I remember staring at gold records personally signed to Mamma Louise, concert posters, and other one-of-a-kind items given to her over the years. And the remarkable thing is the hangings were in no way presented for any commercial gain. A photo of guitarist Duane hung below one of Mary Magdalene and to the lower right of Jesus tending a flock of sheep. The boys were simply another part of Mamma Louise’s extended family.
But the kindness from the boys extended beyond wall hangings. The band took care of her the rest of her life. They would fly her to concerts, putting special chair off stage for her. They even hired Mamma Louise as the official cook for their 1972 tour, however, never asking her to raise a spoon.
On one visit I walked back towards the kitchen to see Mamma Louise sitting in her chair focused on peeling vegetables. She looked up and smiled and as quickly, went back to her humble task. Yes, she was personal friends with one of the most celebrated bands of all time, but in 20-minutes some hungry soul would be coming through the doors and would need something to eat.
There are hundreds of off-the-book tales of how the band kept in touch with Mamma Louise – from special birthday parties to visits. But as big as the band became, they never forgot the woman who took them off the streets and into her kitchen. Mamma Louise never forgot her boys, and the boys never forgot her kindness.
Mama Louise passed away in 2007 at the age of 94. She was in the kitchen.
(Photos are from my personal visits – LW)