Nearly 50 years after they played together on Gregg Allman’s “Laid Back” tour, a group of Southern rock legends reunited at the historic Capricorn Sound Studios.
Tommy Talton, a prolific guitarist and co-founder of the band Cowboy, assembled the musicians at their old stomping ground in downtown Macon to record seven songs for his forthcoming anthology. The 80- to 90-song collection is expected to be released digitally later this year.
Capricorn “was kind of like our little clubhouse back then. We were always in there. If we were not on the road, we were usually in the studio recording something,” said Talton, who in the 1970s played in sessions with the Allman Brothers Band, Dickey Betts, Clarence Carter, Billy Joe Shaver, Kitty Wells and many more.
“It’s amazing to get back. It’s like being able to go back to your childhood neighborhood.”
The studio, which is part of the larger Mercer Music at Capricorn complex, reopened in 2020 after a multi-million-dollar renovation pulled it out of decades of disrepair. Talton’s recent session on April 4-6 was held in Historic Studio A, which has been fully restored and contains original furnishings along with a modern, custom-built API recording console.
Reuniting with Talton at Capricorn were Cowboy and “Laid Back” tour veterans Chuck Leavell and Randall Bramblett on keyboard, Charlie Hayward on bass, and Bill Stewart on drums. Wet Willie’s Rick Hirsch joined in on guitar and will be helping with post-production work.
“We haven’t been all together at the same time in the studio, especially in that studio, in a long time,” Talton said. “It’s amazing. You can walk in, and it’s like time has not passed. You’re all still friends. You all still laugh at the same things and remember the same things. … It was just wonderful.”
Talton’s friend Jeremy Stephens — a protégé of storied recording engineer and producer Johnny Sandlin, who was best known for producing albums by groups like the Allman Brothers Band and Wet Willie — served as engineer along with Capricorn Chief Engineer Rob Evans.
Photos from Tommy Talton’s session in Historic Studio A at Capricorn Sound Studios on April 4.
Joe Bell, co-founder of Hittin’ the Note, a music magazine that covered the Allman Brothers Band and sold merchandise for 24 years, is executive producer on the project. Patrons Danny Randolph and Pat Haney also are helping to bring this project to fruition.
“Tommy, in my opinion, is the greatest songwriter I’ve ever known both in quality and in quantity. He’s a prolific songwriter,” said Bell, who came up with the idea of doing an anthology. “His songs today are absolutely just as good as in his early days — in fact better, really.
“He’s got a perspective of wisdom in all this, and the things that he writes about are intimately connected to his personal life.”
Talton, 73, started playing music as a teen, and the anthology will span his musical career from 1965 to 2022. It will start with music from his first band, We the People, go into the Cowboy years and Cowboy reunion, and include music from his many solo albums, as well as unreleased tunes.
The songs tracked at Capricorn will be the only new recordings included in the anthology, and the session marked the first time any of them were recorded in a controlled studio setting. That includes “Time Will Take Us,” which fans might recognize from Cowboy’s performances during the “Laid Back” tour.
“I changed up a couple little music things in it just to make it a little different,” Talton said. “We recorded it on April 5 and had Chuck there, and he duplicated a lot of his solo that he did on the live version from Gregg’s solo tour album, but still, it’s different. It’s the same but different.”
A book with photographs, taken by Bill Thames and others, and stories about the songs will accompany the anthology. But don’t expect Talton to tell fans the meaning behind every song.
“I don’t think it’s good for a songwriter to tell the listener what the song is about because if you do that, you really limit the listener’s possibilities of more personal inspiration,” he said.
Talton recalled meeting a fan after playing at rock ‘n’ roll landmark the Fillmore East one night. Cowboy’s first album, “Reach for the Sky,” had recently come out on Capricorn Records.
“A young kid came up to me. I was only 22, and this kid must have been about 18, 19. And he was all shaking, nervous to talk to me, which was surprising to me right off the bat, but he said, ‘I wanted you to know that I have your album, and when I put that piece of plastic on my turntable, it means more to me than anything now because your lyrics have shown me a new way of looking at the world, and you have changed my life for the better,’” Talton said. “So, that’s pretty cool to be able to hear that you’ve done that for somebody. And that has happened many, many, many, many times throughout my life.”
The anthology gives Talton the rare opportunity to chronicle his life’s work.
“Not many people have a recorded history of moments in their life,” Talton said. “It’s not my entire life, but it’s some shining moments.”
A “Laid Back” rehearsal. Photos by Herb Kossover