WRITTEN BY JEFFREY WARD, PHOTOGRAPHED BY SARA MOORE
For more than a decade, a local singer-songwriter, his family and friends have been making music almost every Thursday night at what they’ve dubbed Charles Durrough’s Music Barn. It may be one of Coweta County’s best-kept secrets.
A prolific songwriter, Durrough invites his neighbors to come on over to the music barn each week for an evening of old-fashioned country music.
Located at the corner of Smith and Burnham Roads in Sargent, the barn—actually, an old skating rink—is well-concealed but worth finding. As they enter, visitors weave down a narrow aisle with mounds of vintage flea market merchandise on either side. Once inside the music studio, décor prominently featured on the walls includes the American flag, dozens of country music photos and related memorabilia. The atmosphere is warm, patriotic and sentimental.
Relax into one of the two dozen easy chairs facing the stage, and you’ll enjoy an evening of spirited and sometimes soulful music performed by various members of the Durrough family. Durrough and company have been performing weekly at their cozy venue for 11 years. All are welcome, and since a family atmosphere is encouraged, no smoking or alcoholic beverages are allowed. Not only is admission free, but the Durrough family often puts out complimentary coffee and snacks, too.
A life-long Coweta County resident, Durrough can’t remember when music was not in the fabric of his life.
“Our family grew up poor, but we all shared the joy of music,” he says. “As a kid, I remember at Christmastime some 50 members of our extended family crowded in for Southern gospel singalongs.”
Starting at age 10, he performed throughout the South, playing guitar and often signing self-penned songs to adoring audiences, mostly in Georgia, Alabama and Florida.
He recalls a 1950s incident in Newnan involving the late, legendary Sheriff Lamar Potts of “Murder in Coweta County” fame.
“My older brother Clyde and I would park at the courthouse square, open our car trunk, and play and sing for anyone who would listen,” he says. “Pretty soon, we caused traffic jams around the square with our popularity. Sheriff Potts finally came to us and asked us if we could please find an empty parking lot to sing in.”
His life of singing and performing led to Durrough being inducted into the Atlanta Country Music Hall of Fame in 2010.
When he wasn’t performing, Durrough made his living selling furniture in Newnan and Sargent. He still enjoys gardening on his 14-acre farm in Sargent and sells flowers he’s grown to local farmers markets. He takes pride in the fact that he’s planted and nurtured 35 peach trees. But the Hall of Fame inductee is most proud of his songwriting.
“I’ve written about 5,000 songs,” he says, naming titles that run from the whimsical “My Woman Has Gone Wal-Mart Crazy” to the nostalgic “40 Years Down the Road.” Although he never got them published, he and family members continue to sing their favorites. A Vietnam veteran, he would like to publish and eventually hear on the radio one of his favorite self-penned songs, an anthem titled “Bring Back America.” He recently recorded several of his favorite songs in hopes of publishing the compilation.
Durrough enjoys all types of music. His personal favorites including Hank Williams, Gene Autrey, Johnny Cash, Jim Reeves and Elvis Presley. Just about any Thursday night at the barn, you’re sure to hear something from this set of country masters. When asked the difference between country music in the era of Williams and Cash compared to what’s on the radio today, Durrough has definite opinions.
“As a musician, I can tell you a slower number is harder to play well than something that is faster and more upbeat,” he says. “The appeal of old-time country music is the story it tells and how the words are easier to hear, understand and appreciate. So much of modern country music emphasizes the rapid boom-boom-boom of loud rhythm and bass, which drowns out the lyrics.”
The singer-songwriter pays homage to his Christian roots at the Music Barn by performing Southern gospel numbers with his wife, Mary Anne, accompanying on vocals. At 77, he admits one of his favorite tunes is “I’m Too Old to Rock ’n’ Roll, So I Just Rock.”
Durrough exudes modesty and sincerity when he explains why he puts together the weekly three-hour music program, for free, at the barn.
“The modern world has largely gone speeding by me, so I want to give folks a little time to slow down to the pace of yesteryear and experience a little peace and relaxation away from their troubles, even if it’s just for a couple of hours,” he says.
Indeed, all attending a December jam expressed great appreciation for the family’s gift of hospitality and music. Joe Crain, owner of Crain Oil Company, was in attendance, as was former Coweta County Schools Superintendent Bobby Welch, who took a turn at the mic to strum and sing for the audience.
The Durrough family’s music now stretches through three generations with Charles and Mary Anne often joined at the barn by their children and grandchildren. One of his sons plays lead guitar, a grandson plays bass and everyone sings, including his 7-year-old granddaughter.
Convince Charles you have a passable singing voice and can play an instrument worth a lick, and he just might invite you on stage to play along. If you’re really good, he may hand you the mic. And, if you happen to play a good country fiddle or banjo, drop on by the barn as soon as you can. He’s been waiting for you.