By: Bill Thames
Other than being extraordinarily gifted guitar players, what do Duane Allman, Elvin Bishop, and Eddie Hinton all have in common? The answer is—that they all considered Paul Hornsby a close friend, a marvelous musical talent on the road, and one of the finest engineers/producers in the recording industry. The list of names certainly does not stop there. Paul has played, and recorded with some of the finest musicians and vocalists that the South has to offer; Gregg Allman, Bonnie Bramlett, Scott Boyer, and Tommy Talton of Cowboy, The Marshall Tucker Band, Charlie Daniels, Tim Hardin, Dr. John, Chuck Leavell, and Alex Taylor. Those names just scratch the surface. The list, like the road, goes on forever. His production credits, however, are astonishingly impressive. In the early 1970’s, while working for Capricorn Records, in Macon, GA as a staff studio musician, and with only a few months of production experience under his belt, Paul began producing such groups as The Marshal Tucker Band, Charlie Daniels, Grinderswitch, Bobby Whitlock, and Wet Willie. The walls in his substantial studio office in Macon are crowded with gold records, but Paul intentionally saves room for more. I found Paul to be a soft-spoken gentleman who takes his past accomplishments in stride, and constantly looks ahead to the remaining love of his life, the future of music.
Paul was born and raised in Alabama, and he spent his early years gleaning guitar licks from Chet Atkins, Merle Travis, and Ventures recordings. His earliest musical influence was his father who was an old time fiddler, who played regularly at local square dances. After enrolling at the University of Alabama in 1962, however, Paul’s musical horizons expanded significantly. He began to be influenced by visiting Blues and R&B acts such as Slim Harpo, Jimmy Reed, and Arthur Alexander. Some of these groups would let the young guitarist sit in and as Paul recalls, “Playing has never been any more fun than in those days.”
It was while Paul was living in Tuscaloosa, AL that he met Eddie Hinton and Johnny Sandlin, and eventually formed “The 5 Minutes” in 1964. The name of the band was eventually shortened to the Men-its. Paul’s band seemed to have a future, so they signed with a booking agency in Nashville, and toured the southeast and Midwest. It was during this time that Paul met, and became friends with a young Gregg and Duane Allman. “The young Allman’s had a band called the Allman Joys,” as Paul remembers, “who played the same circuit as The Men-its and our two bands wound-up chasing each other all over the Midwest.” Early in 1967, Eddie Hinton left the Minutes to become a session guitar player at Muscle Shoals, leaving them without a singer or lead guitarist. At about that same time, the Allman Joys broke-up leaving Gregg and Duane Allman in need of players. The two bands decided to join forces and the resulting, as yet un-named, group was “discovered” only weeks later in St Louis, MO by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, along with their manager, Bill McEuen. Paul’s new band moved to Los Angeles, signed with Liberty Records, and the name “The Hourglass” was selected.
Regrettably, the Hourglass, like so many other groups of that time, was forced by Liberty Records to record music that the company’s producers determined to be the best music for the band. Paul and the band had little or no influence in the selection of the music that they recorded; consequently, two albums were produced with only glimmers and glimpses of the bands authentic “live” sound making it on to the recordings. Anyone lucky enough to hear the Hourglass perform in the spring or summer of 1968 was treated to the indisputable foundation of what was to become “Southern Rock”. During 1968 the Hourglass played concerts at the original Fillmore, the Avalon Ballroom, and the Whiskey-a-go-go sharing the stage with 60’s megastars like the Jefferson Airplane, the Buffalo Springfield, the Animals, Janis Joplin, Moby Grape, and Country Joe and the Fish. “If we could only have had a hit record, everything would have been perfect,” recalls Paul, “but it was not to be.”
The Hourglass came the closest to having their authentic sound captured in a recording studio when the band pooled their money and drove to Muscle Shoals, AL to Fame Studio, where Paul and Johnny had started recording years earlier. “The B. B. King Medley” came out of this session, and is proudly included on the Duane Allman Anthology LP. “The whole idea of going up to Muscle Shoals, to record that session, was to show Liberty Records how we wanted to sound. Unfortunately, they hated it.”
With Liberty Records unwilling to budge, and the band unwilling to settle for second-rate, the Hourglass disbanded in the late summer of 1968; with Duane heading back to Fame Studio as a session player, Gregg returning to California to grudgingly fulfill the Liberty contract, and Paul returning to Tuscaloosa to form yet another band. Paul’s new band, “South Camp” included a young piano player named Chuck Leavell, Bill Stewart on drums (later a Capricorn session player), and Charlie Hayward on bass (later a member of the Charlie Daniels Band). During this time, Atlantic records became interested in Duane Allman as a solo performer, and Duane called Paul to ask him to come up and cut a few tracks for a “solo” album that Atlantic wanted Duane to record. During those sessions, Johnny Sandlin was on drums, and Berry Oakley played bass. Paul recalls, “Some of the cuts we did were ‘Going Down Slow’, ‘Happily Married Man’, and ‘No Money Down’ which were later released on either the Duane Allman Anthology LP, or Dreams, the Allman Brothers Band boxed set.”
Duane’s solo album was never released, but it was during these sessions that Paul met Phil Walden, who had become Duane’s manager. There was some discussion about putting another band together with Duane—essentially reforming the Hourglass. With the Liberty debacle fresh in his mind, Paul passed on reforming the Hourglass, but he did accept a position from Walden as a staff studio musician at the newly formed Capricorn Sound Studio in Macon, GA. Paul, along with Johnny Sandlin on drums, Pete Carr (former Hourglass member) on guitar, and Robert Popwell (later the Crusaders) on bass, became the Capricorn Studio rhythm section. “We were trying to pattern the success of the legendary Muscle Shoals rhythm section, and my heroes, Booker T. and the M. G.’s, the staff band at Stax Records.”
For a time, Paul and the rest of the rhythm section did session work at Capricorn for R&B artists like Eddie Floyd and Arthur Conley, and folk acts like Livingston Taylor. Paul eventually became a studio manager at Capricorn as he settled into daily studio work. There were occasions, however, when artists would come through the studio and ask Paul to join them on tours. Among his favorites were Livingston Taylor and Dr. John. “I got a master’s degree playing B-3 behind Dr. John. It was great work,” Paul recalls, “Dr. John would call and it would be cold and rainy here, and the next day I would be in Puerto Rico, playing, having a ball, and collecting my weekly Capricorn check to boot!”
As a session player and manager, Paul watched as more and more big name bands gravitated to Macon and to Capricorn Records. Paul could also see that entire bands rarely needed session players. To Paul, the writing was on the wall, so he asked to try his hand at recording and production work. Shortly thereafter, the label asked Paul to produce a local Macon band. Paul recalls that, “During the sessions the band broke up a couple of times. It was a darn nightmare. As this was my first effort at production, I desperately wanted to finish the entire album, so I invited some of my old “South Camp” buddies from Tuscaloosa to come over to complete the recording and become the band. As it wound-up, the band included Chuck Leavell, Bill Stewart, and Charlie Hayward. The album was released as “Sundown” on the short lived “Ampex” label, and was quickly forgotten, but those musicians have gone on to make music history.”
Not too long after the “Sundown” album, Capricorn signed a band from Spartanburg, South Carolina called the Marshall Tucker Band. “I went down to this little club here in Macon that Capricorn used to audition bands at that time. We were listening to this group and no one really liked them much but me. I don’t know what it was, but I heard something in their music that I really liked, so they decided to sign them and give me the production duties. I worked with the band for two months of eighteen-hour sessions, and then the first self-titled album was released as The Marshall Tucker Band.” The rest as they say is music history. Paul produced the next five mega-hit Marshall Tucker Band LP’s for Capricorn. In addition to producing the recordings, Paul’s distinctive piano style can also be heard on those albums in such standards as “Heard It In A Love Song”, “Can’t You See”, and others.
In the mid 70’s Paul went independent, leaving his position at Capricorn as staff producer, and studio manager. This move allowed Paul to produce outside artists on other labels. One such artist was The Charlie Daniels Band. Paul recorded four albums with Charlie including the southern anthems “The South’s Gonna Do It Again” and “Long Haired Country Boy”. “In addition to the four studio albums, there were three or four of the Volunteer Jam live albums recorded with practically everyone in the world on stage together.” During this time, Paul also continued to produce acts for Capricorn, such as Wet Willie, Grinderswitch, Eric Quincy Tate, and Bobby Whitlock of “Derek and the Domino’s” fame.
Seemingly, out of nowhere, suddenly there was a new musical genre formed around bands from the south, christened “Southern Rock” and Paul Hornsby, Capricorn Records, and Macon, GA were at the epicenter. The musical genre called “Southern Rock” had become loved and accepted by countless listeners the world over, but Paul Hornsby, Pete Carr, Johnny Sandlin, and the Allman brothers, Gregg and Duane, knew the true origin of “Southern Rock”. The road to “Southern Rock” began when that pioneering band, the Hourglass set out for California in 1967. Moreover, that same road to “Southern Rock” was paved with countless hours of concerts and shows from Miami to LA, and in hundreds of small towns between. The Hourglass was undeniably the headwaters of the floodgate river that spawned a generation of musicians so soulful and profoundly different that a new musical expression was necessary to describe their music.
Fast-forward some twenty-five years later and you will find that pioneering musician, producer, and record executive spending time almost every day in his Macon, GA recording studio. Paul’s studio, Muscadine Recording Studio, is located on Vineville Ave. only a few blocks from the “Big House” which was once the Allman Brothers residence, and is now operated as an Allman Brothers museum. Muscadine is a small studio with a comfortable, down-home feel, totally lacking in pressure of any kind. Paul is proud of his vintage gear and instruments. His collection of early 50’s Telecasters and 60’s Stratocasters is legendary. Paul made a point of pulling the well used Leslie tone cabinet away from the wall so that I could read “Property of the Hourglass—Liberty Records” stenciled on the back. Next to the Leslie and Hammond B-3 is Gregg Allman’s Wurlitzer piano used on “Fillmore East”. I asked, as I ran my fingers along the historical Wurlitzer, “if that was the same Wurlitzer piano that he and Gregg used in the Hourglass,” and Paul smiled and said, “No, Johnny Sandlin has that one. He let it get away from him for a while, but he found it recently, and Johnny has it in his studio in Decatur, AL.”
It is apparent from our conversation, and from Paul’s studio, that he is sentimentally attached to the history that is attached to him. He showed me countless photographs and posters from his Hourglass days that fans and friends had sent to him. He speaks of former band mates, musicians, and friends with a pride that is as close to boastful as this man gets, and I do believe that it is beyond Paul’s capabilities to make a derogatory remark about anyone. However, the longer that one talks to Paul Hornsby the clearer it is that he has much to boast about. Along with all of his other accomplishments, Paul is represented in both the Alabama, and Georgia Music Hall of Fame, but Hornsby refuses to rest on his past accomplishments. While we were talking Paul casually handed me the new CD by E. G. Kight, “Southern Comfort,” which he recently produced. “Keep an eye out for her,” Paul proudly warned, “If you haven’t heard of her yet, you will soon—‘Southern Comfort’ has been nominated for three W. C. Handy awards.”
Paul’s studio naturally boasts a rhythm section of, “some of the finest musicians in the country, who play most any kind of music.” Paul himself keeps his chops up, playing his Hammond B-3 daily. I recently witnessed Paul tearing-up the B-3 at the Georgia Allman Brothers Band Association festival (GABBA.com), accompanying Lee Roy Parnell and sitting back-to-back, playing keyboards with Reese Wynans of Double Trouble fame. Paul was on organ and Reese played piano. Watching the two keyboardists laying down an in-the-pocket-groove, it was hard to imagine two grown men having more fun. Broad grins were everywhere on stage. When I asked Paul about that night and he told me, “I had just stopped by, back stage before the show, to say hello to my old friend Lee Roy that night, and the first thing that he asked was, ‘You are going to play tonight, aren’t you?’ Well, I was a little embarrassed because Lee Roy had brought in Reese Wynans on keyboards that night, but Lee Roy said, ‘Heck, there’s two keyboards out there, the more the merrier.’ Reese and I just had a ball playing together. He is such a great player!” Later Lee Roy, Reese, and Paul were joined on stage by legendary Grinderswitch guitarist Dru Lumbar for an amazing guitar/keyboard jamfest. It was one of those magical musical nights that a writer never forgets; a night where star and sidemen share equal billing in the eyes of the audience, and fire flies from fingertips.
The city of Macon, GA holds so many musical treasures; the Georgia Music Hall of Fame, the Douglass Theater, the original Capricorn recording studio, Mama Louise’s H&H Restaurant, the Big House, Rose Hill Cemetery, and so much more. If a musical pilgrimage to Macon, GA is in your future, be sure not to miss the best-kept secret that the city has to offer—one of the undisputed pioneers of “Southern Rock,” Paul Hornsby at Muscadine Recording Studio. Be forewarned, though, getting Paul Hornsby to boast about his accomplishments is about as daunting as coaxing a hound dog out from under the porch on a rainy day.
For more information about Paul Hornsby and Muscadine Studio check out his site at: