Little known historical fact. When I was editor of the Independent Florida Alligator, back in 1975, I hired a skinny kid named John Moran to be my photo editor.
Yeah, that John Moran. The Springs Eternal guy. Florida’s best nature photographer.
Heck, you might say I made John what he is today. Although no one else would say that because, you know, John’s got more natural talent than he knows what to do with. So there’s that.
Anyway, it’s fair to say that both John and I have aged well over the decades. Like, um, I dunno, fine cheese. Here’s a photo of John today standing next to a photo of John back in the ‘70s.
Back when he was just 19-years old and working for both the Alligator and the Great Southern Music hall.
“I was a teenage rock n’ roll photographer,” John confesses. And who am I to question that? He’s got the proof positive on display right now at the Matheson Museum.
And you really ought to go downtown and check it out. Not only is “Return To Forever: Gainesville’s Great Southern Music Hall” a testament to young Moran’s artistry. It is a compelling walk down memory lane, back to a time when the Great Southern was ground zero in Gainesville’s magical mystical music milieu. (Hey, I know how to do alliteration, pal. I’m a wordsmith.)
“Return To Forever” comes from a Minnie Riperton song written by her husband Dick Rudolph. They used to live in GNV and, as it happens, Minnie and Dick came very close to being partners in the Great Southern. But then she landed a record contract in L.A. and fame beckoned. Still, Riperton did perform at the Great Southern. And young John was there to capture the moment with his $248 mail order camera.
And don’t even get me started on Bo Diddley. Who’s got that kind of time?
This exhibit comes by way of a collaboration between Jeffrey Meldon, local attorney and co-founder of the Great Southern, and John. It is a partnership that began back in the day, when John bluffed his way into Meldon’s office and said “You need me.”
Meldon and his partner, Jim Forsman converted the old circa-1930s Florida Theater into an 800-seat music hall. And over a four year period, they brought some great acts to town.
Oh, and this exhibit isn’t just about the Great Southern. Moran also throws in some campus scenes he captured while working for the Alligator. The kid had to lay down on his belly, in the muck, to capture this “Cowabunga” slip-and-slide moment.
Not to mention his retrospective of UF’s never-sanctioned but always ill-reputed Halloween Ball. (John confides that many of the HB photos he took were simply not suitable for, um, family viewing.)
Anyway, you can’t believe who came to GNV to play. Gambol Rogers and Randy Newman and and and….
…and while they all did their thing on stage, John would stand nearly face-to-face so as to capture them in their best light.
It’s a slice of GNV music history that really ought not to be missed.
Hey, did you know that Steve Martin took his audience out onto the sidewalk along University Avenue so he could keep pitching gags after closing hours?
And that Muddy Waters met his wife while he was in town playing at the Great Southern?
Or that Eric Burden walked out on his second show because not enough people showed up for his first?
It’s hard to believe that this legendary GNV music hall only had a four year run. But you can catch that brief but electrifying history well told at the Matheson.
Oh, and kudos to former Sun Scene editor Bill DeYoung for his compelling narrative. And to Florida author and historian Rick Kilby for his stunning exhibit designs.
You really need to see it. If only to relive your own misspent youth.
Listen, how many of us were lucky enough to look like this when we were young?
Of course, John is a camera guy who probably knew how to photoshop before Photoshop was a thing. Memory fails me, but for all we know, young john really looked more like Alfred E. Newman.
But that’s the thing about history. It’s recorded by those who survive it.