The Hero in the Motel Lounge

Meet Robert Lee Coleman, a son of Macon, Georgia, and a pioneer of Southern soul and funk music, who vows never to put down his guitar.

Ba-da-POW! Ba-da-POW-POW!

Story goes like this: your average, middle-management, corporate employee, with no fat expense account, takes a Monday business trip to Macon, Georgia, and checks into the Best Western on Riverside Drive. Said employee wants a beer and sees the Back Porch Lounge. It’s not really the hotel bar, per se, and it certainly doesn’t resemble one, but it’s attached. Middle manager walks in and sees a Black man with a gray beard on the little stage. He’s firing that funky lick out of his Gibson guitar.

Middle manager knows they’ve heard it before, and then it clicks. James Brown. “Hot Pants.” Still, middle manager would never guess, never even dream, that the man on stage actually wrote that lick. That a half-century ago, he stood in a recording studio and wound up co-writing that masterpiece of funk with the Godfather of Soul himself. Middle manager would need to know a few things about Macon, Georgia, to figure that out.

The guitar player on that stage every Monday night in Macon is Robert Lee Coleman. Grew up in Macon, led two different bands there as a teenager. When he was nineteen years old, the soul legend Percy Sledge dropped in and saw Coleman, then promptly recruited him into his road band. Soon as Coleman was done with Sledge, Brown came calling.

This Week-01

—A visit with legendary guitarist Robert Lee Coleman in “The Last One Left
—“Come Back to Me”: poems by Susan Swartwout
—Rediscover Charles McNair's “The Elephant in the Room” from our archives

The South is full of unsung creative geniuses like Robert Lee Coleman. But this unassuming man is deeply beloved in his hometown of Macon and known the world over to music geeks. When photographer Adam Smith and writer James Calemine, called last fall to propose their own road trip to Macon to capture a couple of days in Coleman’s life, I was all in immediately. And Salvation South is proud to present the fruits of their labor this weekend.

We’ve also got a couple of poems this week that are as sharp as Coleman’s guitar attack by the New Orleans-born Susan Swartwout. And now that we are old enough, we’re planning, every now and then, to revive great stories from our archive, and we’re proud to bring “The Elephant in the Room,” the story of the fiftieth-anniversary class reunion for the former students of Dothan High in south Alabama, by our longtime and much beloved contributor, novelist Charles McNair.

It’s a fine weekend of reading. It’ll remind you:

  1. that if you need to mourn, you don’t have to be quiet about it,
  2. that racial segregation in a classroom a half-century ago need not make for a segregated class reunion, and
  3. to put on some James Brown and dance. ’Cause it feel good.
Author Profile

Chuck Reece is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of Salvation South, the weekly web magazine you're reading right now. He was the founding editor of The Bitter Southerner. He grew up in the north Georgia mountains in a little town called Ellijay.

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