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John D. Wyker's Cat Tales - Macon & Capricorn Records

Macon & Capricorn Records Cat Tale

The year 1969 was a wild and strange and crazy time for me.When the editor of GRITZ asked me to write a Cat Tale about the time I spent in Macon,Georgia I was honored to be asked and to be able to say that I would try to give the readers a feel for what the mood and atmosphere was like during those magical and heady days when musical acts like The Allman Brother and Wet Willie,and other performers that were signed to Capricorn,were puttin' a fresh new Southern style of Rock and Roll on the world's musical map !

I had just gotten a divorce from my first wife...The Rubber Band had broken up a year or 2 earlier and I had made up my mind that I seriously wanted to work in the music business full time.I was aware that I would have to make some changes in my life and make some personal sacrifices to make my dream of making music become a reality.

We had a sayin' back in those days that we could use to justify and endure just about hardship oranythang that went wrong and when thangs we'ren't goin like we wanted them to or some big imporatnt deal feel through that might have put a few bucks in our empty pockets .We would always just say it was part of what was called "payin' your dues ".

It's amazing how a phase and attitude like that can help give a person with a dream the extra courage they need when times get hard and you need somethang to help give you a reason to keep on pushin' and to hang in there when thangs got tough and it looked like you couldn't get a break anywhere.

We'd just marked it up as "payin' our dues".It was like nobody knows when they will die...and nobody knows when they have paid enough dues to have their dreams come true.When your number comes up and you start making some money off of your music ..it's then when you know that you have paid enough dues.

When you are really first staring out in the muisc business back in those days it very had to find anybody that would pay you to do anythang.Especially around the recording studio scene.There were no schools you could attend back then that could teach you what you needed to know so you had to prefect the art of hangin' out and tryin' to be helpful in some way and in return maybe somebody would teach you somethang that would help you along.

I knew I'd have to learn to travel light and to get my life style down to it's most simple and basis form.When you stop and really think about it it's amazing just how little we each need in our lives to make it though each day.A little food and water and of course air and shelter. I've lived in tents, on houseboats, RV trailors, in trucks, sleep in car and on friends couches and floors.I learned to do without alot of the luxuries and to be able to live on barely nothing in life in order to be free to follow my own dream of making music my life. The first thang I did was to sell the red 1966 fastback Corvette that me and The State National Bank owned. I loved that car and it used to be like Duane Allman's own private Taxi Cab when he lived in The Shoals and played sessions at FAME Studios in the 1960's. I hated to sell that car but it was one of the scrafices I had to make.So the next owner of that red Vette was drummer Roger Hawkins.A few years later he sold it to Terry Woodford of Wishbone Studio and then the next owner was keyboard player and Wishbone co-owner Clayton Ivey...So that Corvette stayed in the music business for about the next 2 decades!

It really felt good to get out from under having to make those car payments every month.I had to have somethang to get around on so I bought a used 450 Honda Scrambler motorcycle which was fine until winter came and it suddenly became a Strato-freeze air conditioner !

But proably the most important thang I did to free myself from my old lifestyle and be free to follow my dream was I got my wallet out and took all of my credit cards out and tore them up...I also closed my checkin' account and tore up all the left over blank checks....I was preparing for hard times and I knew that if I kept the credit cards and a check books that it would be too easy for me to use them when times got really hard.Having credit makes it way too easy on a person like me to get into debt way over head.My motto and mantra most of my life has been that if I did not have the money in my pocket I would have to do without it.

Johnny Sandlin, the cat that had gotten me in the music business, had already moved to Macon and was putting together a rhythm section for The Capricorn Studio.He had hired or suggested to Phil Walden that he also hire guitarist Pete Carr and Keyboard player Paul Hornsby...both had worked in The Hour Glass with Sandlin and The Allmans. Bassist Robert Popwell was hired and after he left Macon he later went on to play bass with The CRUSADERS.

Some other fine musicians and songwriters like Jackie and Ella Avery had also been hired.The Allman Brothers were takin' the music scene by storm and every rock and roll musician in The South started flockin' to Macon to try to find a place to fit in and get in on some of this action that Capricorn was creating.

I was between marriages, and bands and jobs and was livin' on Shoals Creek right next door to ahouse that Eddie Hinton had bought with a loan that Jerry Wexler had given him.This was also about the time that Eddie started acting strange.At first it as just a few little thangs but before long he had gotten busted and lost his lake house and his Lincoln Continental and his wife Sandra's XKE Fastback Jaguar.After they got busted the lawyers made a deal with The powers that control The Shoals and a deal was made that if Eddie and Sandra would move to Nashville or somewhere out of state they would drop all charges.

Thangs in The Shoals were still rockin' along pretty good and FAME and Muscle Shoals Sound were always booked up and making great music.But I had the wander lust and I wanted to go to Macon and check thangs out for myself and also Johnny Sandlin had told me that he though he could help me get a job with Capricorn.So Becky Robbins ,who would later become my second wife for about 8 months, and Donnie Fritts and I loaded up in Becky's Blue Ford Maverick and headed out for Macon. Fritts and Becky only stayed a few days and the drove back to The Shoals.

Sandlin gave me a room to live in the house he had rented and his place was always the center of action. Back then their were no boom boxes or cassette tape players or anythang like that that we take for granted these days....but Sandlin had the best reel to reel set up money could by and there was always somebody comin' over to listen to tapes they had recorded.

One of the most memorable times I remember at that house of Sandlin's was the night that Duane Allman got back to Macon after he had finished workin' on The Derek and Dominoes album. He had a reel to reel copy of the album and we put it on and it played for days. I can still see Duane walkin' around the house in a tank top and bell bottoms and he was fired up...he was sayin' thangs like "I can play with the big boys Now ! Y'all listen to the end of Layla." We were believers...there was no denying that Duane and Clapton and Bobby Whitlock and the others had really cooked up somethang special and Duane was like a proud papa...and nobody could blame him at all for all the chest beating he was doin' after a session like that....he had arrived and he knew it ! We all knew it.

I used to love to go down on Cotton Avenue to Capricorn's main office complex. It was a beehive of action.You never knew who you would bump into down there.Upstairs when you walked in a beautiful and very friendly secretary named Carolyn who had been with The Walden's for years would greet you when you walked it.Somewhere behind that front office Phil had his office and his brothers Blue and Allan also had offices in that upstairs area.

My favorite place in the building was down in the basement. This is where the main part and heart and soul of the booking agency was located.There most have been about 50 dudes that worked down there in the basement.They all had desks and several telephones.... and they were Watts lines so you could call anywhere in the country and talk forever and nobody would mind...it was like a boiler room operation.This is where the cats that were called "booking agents" did their thang and that meant livin' with a telephone to your ear all day long.

That's why Capricorn's booking agency was so successful.These cats got paid by how many jobs they could book and if they were not talkin' on the phone to some college Fraternity social chairman or some club owner then they were not doin' their job and would be replaced in a heartbeat !

When I first started hangin' around the Cotton Avenue offices it seems like everyday at least one of the Allman Brothers or one of Walden's other acts were there tryin' to get someone to set them up with a doctors appointment so they could get some penicillin to cure their STD's.

I had been in Macon for about a week when Sandlin finally took me with him to Phil Walden's office...Phil was kind of aware of who I was because of that time in Memphis when Dan Penn introduced us at AMERICAN STUDIOS when The Box Tops were recording CRY LIKE A BABY ....and we had also seen each other maybe one other time at FAME STUDIOS.

I had also met Phil and Alan Walden about five years earlier when I was a freshman at The University of Alabama.I had pledged the Kappa Alpha Order Fraternity and our social chairman knew I was into music so one night he grabbed me by the arm and said "Come with me...we are going to have a meeting with a couple of booking agents from Georgia.We got in the KA social chairman's car and drove the short distance down University Blvd to The Moonwinks Motel.

There was a red Corvette convertible parked in front of the room where the meeting was to be held.The motel room door was open and some great R & B sounds were floating out on to the night's breeze.When we entered the motel room we realized that these cats had brought a record player with them and stacks of 45 rpms records.The room had 2 double beds and both of them were completely covered with 8 x 10 black and white glossy promo photos of every black recording artist in the business.

The Walden's also had a wet bar set up and it was impossible for us to turn down free booze. Just about every college Fraternity and Sororities have very large amounts of money set aside and ear marked for all of the parties they would have that school year. Phil and Alan had come to Tuscaloosa to see how much of that business they could get signed to a contract...after stiff drinks and all that great music and lookin' at all the pictures of the stars we signed contacts with them for every party we had that season and the social chairman wrote them a check for 25% of the total....and I'm sure that just about every other Fraternity and sorority on campus did the same thang.

They probably made enough money in a couple of days on campus to buy another Corvette .We left The Moonwinks and the company of The Walden Brothers feelin' high as a kite and I'm sure they were satisfied with how much we spent with them that night! The next time I saw Phil Walden was at American Studios in Memphis the night The Box Tops were recording CRY LIKE A BABY...in between takes Dan Penn introduced us...of course I didn't mention that night in 1965 at The Moonwinks!

Fast forward back to 1969. Also Sandlin had recently recorded a song I wrote titled BABY RUTH that was on Alex Taylor's first LP titled Friends and Neighbors on the Capricorn Label. Alex as one hell of a Soul & R & B singer and also James Taylor's oldest brother. Sadly Alex died a few years ago at far too young of an age.

Sandlin introduced me to Phil and we shook hands and then we all sat down and listened to a couple of new songs that had been recorded by COWBOY at the new Capricorn studio,which was still under construction...it was a very relaxed atmosphere.

The next thang I knew the conversation had taken a turn and Phil was starting to talk about all the good thangs that he had heard about me from Sandlin and others and how talented I was and he wanted to know what it would take for me to come to work full time for Capricorn.

Back in those days I was usually terrible at negotiating any kind of deal except when it came to booking bands....there was one point a few years earlier when The Rubber Band got so popular that I had to start my own booking agency to handle all of the people that we were having to say no to because we were already booked.

Anyway during this meeting with Phil Walden I was determined to do a better job at negotiating and not to cave in at the first offer.Phil started out offering me $75 bucks a week and I countered with the fact that I could not even find a decent place to live on that kind of pay....so he raised the ante another 50 bucks..and still I played hard to get..but then added that I really would like to work for him and I made up a little white lie to try and make him up his offer....I told Phil that I had just sold some stocks and I was planning to go to Europe and do some travelin' and sight seein'.....

Finally Phil told me that Sandlin and Pete and Hornsby and the rest were makin' $275 a week and that was as high as he could go...he said he would pay me $250 a week...and then the strangest thang happened...the day before I had been half listening to The Paul Harvey Show and I kept hearing him using the phase "vertically intergraded" company....I really had no idea on that day at that particular meetin' with Phil Walden what in the Hell "vertically integrated" actually meant....but it sounded good and before I could stop myself I blurted out these words to Phil. I said "Phil I can see what you are tryin' to do here at Capricorn...it looks to me like you want to build a company that uses the concept of vertical integration ! I swear I had no clue what the term actually meant but I had heard Paul Harvey tellin' all of his many radio listeners that it was a good thang and that in the future most big companies would be tryin' to set up their operation to be as vertically integrated as possible.Well sir when Phil heard me use that term his eyes widened...his eyebrows went up and he had a look on his face like I had really stuck a nerve with him!

And then he said "Please excuse me for a minute I need to discuss somethang with my brother Blue. Blue's office was right next door so Sandlin and I sat there and waited...and I was praying that Phil would not come back in the office and ask me what the definition of "vertically integrated " was.I would have been a dead duck..I did not have a clue. Finally Phil came back in the office and Blue was with him.Blue said "Phil wants to hire you but we have a problem with the money...we have already almost gone over budget in hiring people for our production company.But we can hire you and we can pay you $275 which is what all of our top people are gettin' paid...the problem is that we will have to issue you two checks every week. Half of you pay will come from the production account and the other half will have to come from our publishing company NO EXIT Music ...but it will all add up to $275 a week. I mumbled somethang about how I did not care how many checks it took...I was ready to go to work for Capricorn and $275 a week sounded great to me ! We all shook on it and I was hired!

John D. Wyker is an Alabama music icon, having worked in Muscle Shoals and in Macon at Capricorn. His band Sailcat charted in 1972 with "Motorcycle Mama" and he was a close personal friend of Eddie Hinton. Wyker also wrote "Baby Ruth," recorded by Delbert McClinton, among others.

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