The story of Capricorn unofficially began when Phil Walden, then a Mercer University student, began booking bands for fraternity parties at area colleges. Walden’s big break came when he discovered a band called Pat Tea Cake and the Mighty Panthers, with Johnny Jenkins on guitar and Otis Redding as vocalist. With Walden’s encouragement, these two headliners formed another band called Johnny Jenkins and the Pinetoppers. As Otis Redding emerged nationally as a solo artist, he and the Walden brothers — Phil and Alan — founded Redwal Music (“Red” for Redding; “Wal” for Walden), one of the first integrated music publishing companies in the South. Redding and Phil Walden also began developing plans for a studio where artists on their roster could record locally. Those plans were put on hold after Redding’s untimely death in a plane crash on his way to a concert in December 1967. After a brief hiatus, Phil Walden launched Capricorn Records in 1969 with guidance from his mentor, Atlantic Records’ Jerry Wexler. Walden selected the name, Capricorn, because it was his and Wexler’s Zodiac sign. Phil Walden, along with Alan Walden, Frank Fenter and others assembled a roster of new rock talent that began to redefine American music and create a new musical genre — Southern Rock.
Capricorn's Significance to the History of Music
Capricorn Sound Studios is most closely associated with the Allman Brothers Band, which recorded significant portions of three albums there, as well as Gregg Allman’s solo album Laid Back in 1973 and Dickey Betts’s solo album Highway Call in 1974. Led by Duane and his brother Gregg, Southern boys who had grown up in Florida, the Allman Brothers became so huge that even Duane’s death in a 1971 motorcycle accident didn’t derail the band. Their success made Macon ground zero for Southern Rock. Capricorn, then operating out of Walden’s office downtown, was the genre’s signature label. As the success of the touring artists rose, the label needed a studio in Macon and found a location in the real estate that Redding and Walden had purchased a few years earlier. By the mid-1970s, the headquarters of Capricorn Records included executive offices on Cotton Avenue and the active recording studio on what is now Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. The recording studio is the physical space that captured and de ned the 1970s Southern Rock sound with a roster of talented artists who would become legends: the Allman Brothers Band, the Marshall Tucker Band, the Charlie Daniels Band, Wet Willie, Elvin Bishop and many others.
Capricorn is one of only a few studios in the country that can claim to have produced music that had a uniquely transformative impact on American culture. Capricorn is the place where in influences from blues, soul, rockabilly and country blended into a new musical genre — Southern Rock — in the 1970s, putting it in a small group of transformative studios and musical styles including RCA Studio A in Nashville where the “Nashville Sound” emerged; Chess Records in Chicago, which popularized “Electric Blues”; FAME in Muscle Shoals, known for its production of “Southern Soul”; Motown Records in Detroit, which created the “Motown Sound” of soul music; Stax in Memphis, where Redding originally recorded; and the “Brill Building Sound,” a continual stream of mainstream pop music from the New York City building.
Legendary studio engineer Tom Dowd was recruited for some of the labels’ biggest albums and was later quoted as saying there were “Five M’s” of the music industry: Miami, Manhattan, Muscle Shoals, Memphis and Macon. The albums released during Capricorn’s era that spanned the 1970s earned nine platinum album awards, 17 gold album awards and five gold single awards. The birth of Southern Rock at Capricorn Records is unique in its time and place. Emerging from the 1960s Civil Rights era, Southern Rock musicians openly expressed pride in their Southern heritage and identity through their music, yet they demonstrated racially tolerant and politically liberal views that were in opposition to what may be considered traditional conservative Southern views.
This juxtaposition of music production and integration of the South in the 1970s contributes to Capricorn’s national significance. The creative spark attracted African-American and white musicians, songwriters and artists who not only worked together but also socialized together, generating shock waves in the South but ultimately influencing a growing acceptance of integration. Capricorn Sound Studios is an important chapter both in the story of Macon and in the broader story of music history. It is also an important chapter in the story of America because it illustrates how the integration of cultures in America has helped strengthen and define our nation.