A good musician is also a great storyteller. Whether it’s written lyrics or notes to a song — music is a language that everybody speaks, but only some can truly master.
In the Bible Belt, musicians have quite a range — from rap to soul to country — and the variety of characters brings the charm and southern grit out during each performance.
Listening to a local musician tells stories is very similar to listening to a band that made it big. Talking to people pursuing their dreams, one hears stories of triumph, growth and heartache — stories that transcend local boundaries and the radio waves.
For a lot of musicians, church brought out their musical roots. And for one storyteller, Randy Newton, church was just the start for him.
At 13, Newton was given a guitar and ever since, his heart has belonged to the song. Growing up in the area, his stories range from local dive bars to restaurants playing, singing and dancing along with multiple bands he has been a part of over the years.
“I grew up at a place called the Twilight Restaurant,” Newton said. “Everybody had their first beer and their first kiss at the Twilight. It opened up in the late ‘40s, but it hit the big time in like ’59. It had 25 curb hops, sold 60 cases of beer a night on the curb. In the middle of the curb was a patio, on the backside of this thing was a two-story building that had glass. They turned records. People that were down on the dance floor could look up and say, ‘play Fats Domino,’ or something like that. And they turned records and there was a speaker at all four corners.”
Twilight was the place. Whether after Friday night football games or for a date night, it was the joint for music.
Newton credits the restaurant for truly giving him his love of music.
“In the kitchen were the cooks,” he said. “Jessie Hamilton, who worked for us from age 15 to age 39 was like my big brother, and he was playing the radio and it was always the soul music … and I fell in love with all the black music. On the jukebox and on the curb, they, of course, were playing all the popular music.”
From soul to pop — locals danced the night away in the ‘60s at Twilight, but several other local spots were growing in popularity as well.
“Swampland, this place that for 27 years was the longest-running show of its type in Toomsboro. Every Saturday night, local bands would come and play and it was the place to be for everybody in Middle Georgia,” Newton said.
At the Swampland, Newton recalled, everybody who was somebody was there — politicians, reporters, everybody who was somebody was there.
Newton has been a part of several bands, each making a name for itself locally and each coming with its own stories.
“We had played every song we knew, twice,” Newton recalled about a performance with one of his bands. “The place was standing up — nobody would leave. We did one song three times. Me and my wife’s big hit was ‘Good Hearted Woman,’ Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson, it was a big hit back then and me and her did that song the third time, the place was totally insane. I got chill bumps just thinking about it now.”
From playing and seeing shows in local venues like Shenanigans, Cowboy Bills, The Opera House and Adam’s Lounge, Newton remembers the days of music when pop meant a little something different.
Now, Newton is in the band 120/80 Vocal Band. The group consists of eight members who sing, play guitar and perform a variety of covers of everyone from Marvin Gaye to Merle Haggard.
Much like the 120/80 Vocal Band has members of all ages, Free Lance Ruckus is another local band that has become popular among middle Georgia venues.
Free Lance Ruckus is made up of Richard Martin, Emmett Hardwick, Chris Covey and Dusty McCook. The guys call themselves a southern alternative Americana rock with unique, powerful lead guitar, a solid rhythm section, and vocal harmonies that emphasize a singer/songwriter style.
Milledgeville is also home to hip hop artist Fish Scales, who made a name for himself in the group Nappy Roots.
Scales said that haling from Milledgeville shaped him into the musician, and person, he is today.
“I think being from a small town has given me a sense of friendship that it’s hard to get living in a big city,” Scales said. “In Milledgeville we learned to depend on your neighbor a lot. Everyone knows each other, so everyone looked out for each other for the most part. There was never s time I couldn’t go next door and socialize with my neighbors. I carry that same mentality when dealing with my Nappy Roots brothers.”
In addition to contributing to his character, Scales said that being from Milledgeville has also had an impact on his music — from who he listened to as a young kid, to growing up around fellow rappers, his music, just like every musician, is influenced by other music.
“My older cousins introduced me to hip hop early,” Scales said. “They would have all the new hip hop tapes like Fat Boyz, Biz Markie and KRS One. We would imitate Run DMC until we started our own little group when I was about nine years old. I knew then I wanted to be a rapper. … You start your growth in Milledgeville but it’s guaranteed that you’ll have to leave eventually to get to the next level. Good thing is, you can always come back.”
Not every musician makes it to a recording studio for a hit album, however with each performance at a local dive bar, whether to a crowd of 10 or 100, makes each musician feel happy to be performing, especially in their hometown.