I’ve been revisiting the Capricorn Records discography lately as part of a research project, really digging into the output of the label in the 1970s and giving a close reading to the sounds documented on record, especially those put to tape in the red-curtained, wood-paneled live room of Capricorn Sound Studios.
There’s a good deal of historical discussion and documentation surrounding places like Memphis, Nashville and Muscle Shoals as it concerns a certain “sound” associated with records produced in those cities and, in particular, specific studios. Stax Records in Memphis owes much of its success to Booker T. & the MGs. Muscle Shoals had the Swampers.
Macon, while included as part the discussion of an important Southern musical network in the mid-20th century, has never enjoyed the designation as a center of an iconic, eponymous “sound.” Perhaps some of the reason the designation doesn’t exist is the fact that Capricorn Records and its output of Southern music is so tied to recordings by the Allman Brothers Band.
Those records weren’t fully produced in Macon, however. Instead, they took advantage of the production services of household names such as Tom Dowd in other studios across the country. To get to the “Macon sound,” one has to dive a little deeper into the discography and go to the room where it originated.
The first clue to pinning down that sound can be found in the first few seconds of Capricorn’s second full-length release, “Ton Ton Macoute,” by Johnny Jenkins. It leads off with an intricate drumbeat. The beat itself is a crate-digging sampler’s aural dream, but the real power of the drums comes in the way they were recorded. That was courtesy of Johnny Sandlin, who’d come to Macon as part of the new studio’s house band after drumming for the Hourglass and taking up another role on the other side of the soundboard as a producer.
When the guitar on the record comes in, it’s close mic-ed and raw. The bass stomps through the mix, fat and full of warm midrange. It’s obvious that those sounds are coming from a particular room and from a particular group of people, musicians that had been playing together for years and defining their style. Those musicians were also encountering new influences as they experimented in the new Macon studio.
What they were recording isn’t quite the soul and blues of Macon’s past, and it’s not quite the Southern rock that the label would become known for in the future. It’s something else: the Macon sound.
That sound would carry on throughout the next decade as producers such as Sandlin and Paul Hornsby applied that signature touch to the sometimes wildly diverse group of artists that came through the studio. That live room still quietly sits on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard today, but going into it alone and standing in the middle of the room with your eyes closed, you can still hear what made those records so great.
Jared Wright is a member of Field Note Stenographers, a collective of local musicians who write about shows in Middle Georgia. He is also a musical historian, curator and archivist. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.