The first Capricorn Records album I purchased was "Livingston Taylor".
My older sister bought me James Taylor’s debut for my birthday, it was the rage at BU. That Apple album finally came out on CD, and unfortunately its production has not worn well. But, at the time, it was my absolute favorite. With the interludes, the way one song slid into another. And my favorite track was "Carolina In My Mind". It’s not the version you’re familiar with. It’s played faster, with optimism. Every morning I woke up and immediately cued up the record on my turntable. To the point where my father even started to sing along.
And not long thereafter, I journeyed to Boston and saw JT at Harvard. You know how you see an act and you get goosebumps, know you’re experiencing something special? That’s what it was like. Just James sitting on a stool, even playing "For Free", the soon to be released song from his girlfriend Joni Mitchell’s album, "Ladies Of The Canyon".
JT mania really didn’t hit until the fall. He wasn’t on the cover of "Time" magazine yet. Every Taylor hadn’t released an album. Now, we only had Livingston, who was legit. I needed more of that touch your soul sound. I bought the record. And immediately became enraptured with "Carolina Day". Which still tickles my fancy decades later. As for the label? Wasn’t it just another Atlantic Records imprint? Akin to Cotillion, which was the label of record for the "Woodstock" three disc set?
But we didn’t know that yet. We had to wait until the following winter. When the Allman Brothers Band finally got traction.
I heard "Midnight Rider" on the radio this morning.
I’m very rarely up in the morning. But even scheduling two months in advance, I could get an appointment with Dr. Brackmann no later than 10 a.m. And elated that my hearing hadn’t deteriorated, I cranked the radio on the way home. And at the intersection of Alvarado and Hoover, the southern rock sound started pouring out of the speakers.
It took me years, but I finally realized "Midnight Rider"’s got the beat of a horse’s gallop. It sets you in a groove akin to riding on the back of a palomino. You know how riding is, you’re lolled into a trance, your mind is set free. "Midnight Rider" has the same effect. That’s why we were all closed on the Allmans. It was like they snuck up on us and became our best friends while we were unaware. It just felt natural.
And by August, when "Fillmore East" finally hit the racks, the Allmans were suddenly the hottest, the hippest band on the planet. Even though they’d had nary a single, never mind a hit.
Maybe it was Bill Graham’s anointment. They’d closed the venerable East Village emporium. The final act on the final night. The Allmans were for driving, for relaxing, for getting high and contemplating your life. They weren’t mindless. Our music wasn’t mindless.
And the Allman Brothers were on Capricorn Records.
At this point, we knew the label was masterminded by Phil Walden. In an era when music news was scarce, we scraped for every bit of information. This guy who was Otis Redding’s manager, his best friend, he was the king of a new sound, southern rock. If it was on Capricorn, you paid attention. Until Captain Beyond.
I’ve heard Captain Beyond on Deep Tracks. All these years later, they were pretty good. But what were they doing on Capricorn? Was Phil Walden getting too big for his britches, thinking he could conquer every genre of music?
But then came the Marshall Tucker Band.
Gonna take a freight train
Down at the station, lord
I don’t care where it goes
Gonna climb a mountain
The highest mountain
And gonna jump off
Nobody gonna know
Can’t you see
Oh, can’t you see
What that woman, lord
She been doin’ to me
Can’t you see
Can’t you see
What that woman
Been doin’ to me
The opening track on Marshall Tucker’s debut was "Take The Highway". It took off like a shot. That’s what we learned from the Stones, your opening track had to be aggressive, and utterly fantastic. And "Take The Highway" qualified. The band fired on all cylinders. And this guy, he had a voice akin to smoked honey. It had brawn, but smoothness. You were enraptured, whether you were a girl or a boy.
And then came "Can’t You See".
Somehow, all these years later, Marshall Tucker is seen as a COWBOY band. With hats, singing shitkicker music, like "Heard It In A Love Song".
Forget all that, forget everything after the first album. Actually, you only need the first two cuts on that very first album. "Take The Highway" and "Can’t You See".
Neither of them were singles. But within a few years, there wasn’t a baby boomer who hadn’t heard them. Sure, there was radio play. But someone always had the record. You’d hear the tracks at parties, in dorm rooms, apartments. When you were toking up, when you were kicking back and having an afternoon beer.
It was all about how the music made you feel. And "Can’t You See" made you stop everything you were doing and relax, and get into the music. There’s the acoustic guitar intro, the flute, and the GROOVE! Actually, it takes almost thirty seconds for the band to settle into said groove, and another thirty before the vocal begins. There’s electric guitar picking. Bending of notes. My girlfriend would like foreplay this good. And when the singing begins, you’re SOLD!
But the song isn’t compartmentalized, it’s not a ditty, out in a little over three minutes. It stretches. On for over six. You REVEL IN IT!
But that was my last Capricorn hurrah.
Maybe it was the death of Berry Oakley. Or Gregg Allman testifying against that roadie. Or maybe I just graduated from college. I loved those Lynyrd Skynyrd tracks, but I fell off the Capricorn bandwagon. And soon, so did everybody else.
Phil Walden helped Jimmy Carter get elected President, but his musical empire started to fail.
And now not only are Duane and Berry gone, but the Caldwell brothers too. And Phil himself. The king of southern rock is history.
Southern rock was everything the Grateful Dead were supposed to be. The Dead were sloppy, their voices were substandard. Whereas the Allmans and the other Capricorn bands were rehearsed. It’s as if Phil had never forgotten his roots with Otis Redding. You had to be able to play, you had to be able to slay the public, you had to convert them with one listen.
And I was converted to another one of Phil’s charges the other night. Wet Willie.
Oh, I knew "Keep On Smilin’". A good-timey track, the only time the band got it right. Wrong!
There was Grinderswitch. Sea Level. Too many substandard southern rockers. At least that’s what I thought. You see we couldn’t hear too much of this stuff. You had to buy it to truly hear it.
But through the miracle of satellite radio, three decades on, I was finally introduced to Wet Willie’s "Dixie Rock".
Come on play some good time music
Just the way we used to do
Maybe I underestimated Phil, maybe I had it all wrong, maybe he truly was on the pulse. Maybe I gave up on Capricorn TOO EARLY!
There’s a studio take of "Dixie Rock", but in classic southern rock tradition, you’ve got to hear the live rendition.
Fire up the doobie, buy a case of Boone’s Farm. Grow your hair out, and get ready for that Les Paul, it’s gonna pick you up off the couch and make you COME ALIVE!
I pull up in front of Felice’s house around midnight, and I can’t get out of the car. I’m shimmying and shaking in my seat. Nobody’s watching, it’s just me and the music. I can relax and be myself. The music has set me FREE!
These rockers were southerners, but they were our brothers. They marched to the beat of their own drummer. They took no bullshit. And they wanted to impress us, by showing us how great they could play!
If you’re getting tired of trouble
If you’re feeling down and out
Listen to the funky shuffle
Way they play it way down south