by Michael Buffalo Smith
One of Capricorn Records' finest bands during the 1970's was Cowboy, an outstanding country-rock band headed up by Tommy Talton and Scott Boyer. During the past few years, both Talton and Boyer have reunited with Johnny Sandlin and the other members of The Capricorn Rhythm Section to record a live album and play some shows.
Talton has also been busy performing with his own Tommy Talton Band, and has recently begun writing with Boyer once again for a brand new Cowboy album.
We spoke with Tommy by phone frome his home in Georgia.
Where were you born and raised?
I grew up in Winter Park, Florida. Winter Park and Orlando is like Marietta and Atlanta. Winter Park is a quiet little place, next to Orlando.
I always thought this was funny, and most people think it makes a lotta sense, but I was born in the “Orlando Hospital and Sanitarium.”
(laughs) Really, that was predestination.
Right! I think my mother was in the hospital section, but uh...
That is where I was born. Winter Park. I heard that at the time Winter Park was one of the places where per capita most of the millionaires in the United States lived. The chairman of the board of 3M Company and guys like that.
When I was 14-15 we would play at the youth center and there was one main street there in Kissimmee. We would drive out on what we thought was a really long drive out into the sticks or cattle country. Now I hear that Kissimmee has more hotel rooms per square mile than any other place on earth. Look at where the world has gone...
Things change don’t they?
How old were you when you had your first band?
I was in the ninth grade, how old are you in ninth grade, 23? (laughs) I was in the ninth grade and we started a little three piece thing, actually two guitars and drums, no bass. My good friend Walter Neils and I started a band called The Chessmen. The first name we had was The Keyes. We played Kinks songs and stuff and even then we were already writing songs at 13-14years old. We got that little band together and were writing our own stuff, and I remember the very first gig we did at the Junior High School and we did some meeting in the auditorium and we made $5.00 each for that. We added a bass player and had a great drummer then named Scott Ytturia and his parents just hated the fact that he played in a rock and roll band. They wanted him to go to dental school. I talked to him about 15 years ago and he did become a dentist, but he was a great drummer who was actually more into a jazz oriented thing. Joe Morello, a drummer with Dave Brubeck came through town a couple of times in Orlando and Scott met him and played for him. Joe Morello gave him one of his floor toms. That is pretty impressive at age 14 for a jazz legend to give you his floor tom. You know?
Yeah, I would think so...
It is because he was that good. Do you remember Take Five by the Dave Brubeck Quartet, well, Scott at the age of 13-14 had had that whole incredible drum solo down, verbatim.
That’s pretty intricate stuff...
Yeah, he had it down like it was his, not like he was copying something he had learned. Well, I guess a lot of people are glad that he became a dentist, the people who go with rotted teeth to see him...
Then I joined from there another band in town called The Non-Chalants. They were the happening band in town. Did that for a year and a half or so and then joined forces with a band called The Trademarks from Leesburg, Florida that became We The People which to this day is like a pretty crazy thing. I have seen more publicity and talk about We The People than I have about Cowboy in the past few years.
I have been reading that book by Greg Haynes, Hey, Hey, Baby Days. It’s a giant coffee table book.
Yeah, I met that guy in Macon one night. They were having a party and Paul Hornsby told me he was in the book. I don’t know if they covered the central Florida area.
There is a great website that I have seen that some guy from Central Florida has and is a real good catalog of Stephen Stills, Gram Parsons, Tom Petty, and We The People, The Offbeats, Ron and The Starfires, The Romans who used to back up Tommy Rowe from Tampa and the Canadian Legends - that was a real good band that did lots of Everly Brothers stuff, and might have even been the Everly Brothers backup band for a while. They were incredible. They were the ones that blew me away.
We The People began in 1966 or late 1965, I was in there until 1967, and we had a contract with RCA where we recorded. I met Chet Atkins and Felton Jarvis, who produced Elvis, and I believe Elvis bought him a kidney.
It was better than a Cadillac...
(laughs) It was a pink kidney and it was good one. Didn’t have a lot of mileage on it...
(In the manner of Elvis) Thank you very much...
Yeah, I got a lot of great stories from Felton about recording Elvis. But Felton produced We The People and we were quite popular in France in 1968. There is a vinyl LP out with all the recordings. There is a double CD on Sun Dazed Records, with 40 songs of We The People.
In the world of garage band memorabilia, I have heard that We The People are among the top three bands.
The bands that I mentioned, The Keyes and The Chessman, we would play at the Tiger’s Den in Cocoa Beach with The Allman Joys and that is how Gregg and Duane and I met. We didn’t know each other very well because we were separate bands on stage for a night or two and then we wouldn’t run into each other again for a while.
Just last September We The People did a reunion show. I had to drive to Orlando from Macon when the Capricorn Rhythm Section played in Macon with Bonnie Bramlett. I checked out of the hotel that night and drove down to Orlando and when I got there did not go to sleep from the night before and rehearsed for an hour and a half with We The People, whom I had not played with in 38 years. David Duff the bass player, who was incredible, had not picked up an instrument since 1976 and he did it man.
It just shows how he was one of the most talented guys that anybody had seen in central Florida back then. When this guy was 18 years old and he could sing James Brown and then he would go to the Everly Brothers, then from Everly Brothers to singing something by Gene Pitney. Anyway, they had a central Florida band reunion last year on September 16th and I was able to make it down there and I was pretty burned out. But We The People played for 35 minutes and the crowd went wild. There were about 6-800 people there and they loved it. We had won the Battle of the Bands down there and we were the ones to go see there for awhile. We did a lot of Young Rascals stuff, Beatles, and blues, and Stones stuff. But I just couldn’t get into doing one whole night without doing anything that either I or someone in the band wrote, you know?
Let’s take off on the history of how and when you met Scott Boyer and how Cowboy began...
When we met it was through a mutual friend named Becky. I don’t know what she said to him but she told me that there was this guy I needed to meet that she had met from Jacksonville and he writes his own songs like you, and plays guitar and sings really well. At that time it was hard to find someone that wrote their own songs. It was not like it is today, because everybody now writes their own songs.
I had just come back from California in late 1969 and had been living in LA. for a year and I was writing a lot. I was doing solo gigs in coffee houses and folk clubs. I was doing some Dylan songs and then my own stuff. Becky says that there was this guy I needed to meet. She introduced us and we both had our guitars. I know this sounds made up but this is exactly what happened... we sat down and pulled our guitars out and Scott played me “Livin’ In The Country,” which was a song we did on the first Cowboy album. I felt it was so neat to find someone else that also wrote their own music and that the music was good, I forget what I played for him but after I showed him a song we just sat down and asked each other who could we get in the band.
We got together with a friend of mine Tom Wynn, a drummer for We The People, and I had grown up with him and he was also in a band called The Non-Chalants and The Offbeats that I joined that turned into We The People, and he was the original drummer in Cowboy. And George Clark, a friend of mine from Orlando was playing bass, and Scott knew a piano player named Bill Pillmore from Jacksonville, and we all met up and literally within the next three months of our meeting we were all living together in a house in Jacksonville and doing nothing but working up original songs and playing all day and all night long.
We were throwing newspapers at 2:00 AM to pay the rent, and young kids would come by our rehearsals. These 13-14 year old kids with some name like Van Zant or something.
They would come in and listen to us and we would just constantly play. Then a guy named Duane Allman came through while we were living there and he was with Capricorn Records and Phil Walden at that time. We stayed up until early in the morning a couple of times and played together. Duane went back to Macon and I don’t know what he said to Phil but we had all those contracts back in the mail. Phil had never met us or heard us but he knew that Duane knew what he was talking about. It must have been something fairly acceptable. (laughs) It was pretty neat.
Capricorn Records has always been fascinating to me. Tell me about the atmosphere around there. Dickey and others have told me in the past that it was a brotherhood kind of thing.
You can call it that, a brotherhood. But it is something that will never exist again. That is too bad, and the way the world of the music business is now and quite frankly the way videos have taken over... and all that I don’t want to get off track here. I have a tendency to wander... It was a brotherhood. Capricorn studios was a house that we could go to. It was someone’s living room that we were fortunate enough that Phil had put that together. He had had success with Otis Redding and had the money to have that establishment built.
The way Cowboy was entered into the situation, if you can imagine that two people would meet and within six months after meeting be in the studio recording and doing all original songs and having free reign over what you do musically. Not having businessmen in suits coming in telling us that it won’t work. Johnny Sandlin was at the helm producing. Like one night we would be recording a Cowboy record and then Chuck Leavell might walk in and put a piano on a tune. It was literally that loose. There was no request to have him booked to put a piano on two songs at 4:00 PM for Cowboy. It happened because it was all a spirit of comraderie and as Dickey said, a brotherhood, and that word was not used until after the fact, after you had been through it. We didn’t call it anything. Someone would just have a new song to do and it was fun.
Tell me a little about the Talton. Stewart, Sandlin album, Happy To Be Alive.
It’s all my songs except for one cover, “Working in a Coal Mine.” The way that whole album came about was me, Bill Stewart, and Johnny Sandlin were sitting around and Dickey was supposed to come in and do some overdubbing on something he was working on. Well, Dickey didn’t show up for a while and Johnny just said, “Hey Tommy you got any new songs?” I said, “yeah.” So Bill, and Johnny, and I recorded this song called “Help Me Get It Out” and we recorded it and just off the cuff, Johnny showed it to Phil a few days later after he had mixed it. So Phil said it sounded pretty good and that we should just go ahead and do an album. (laughs) This was while Cowboy was still together, but I was also doing sessions with Kitty Wells.
Oh, the Forever Young album.
In fact, I am the one that brought "Forever Young" to Johnny, and to the husband/ manager she has, and the way that happened Scott and I had been in Atlanta up from Macon, to do a photographic session for the Boyer/ Talton album. The guy who was doing the cover was from New York and I believe his name was Richard Mantrell. Richard and I were talking in between shoots about album covers. I told him that my favorite cover was by Thelonius Monk and called Underground. I asked him if he had ever seen it and he told me he had done that cover and had won a Grammy for it.(laughs) So anyway, he had in his possession at the time Planet Waves, Bob Dylan’s album, before it was released. I am not sure where he got it, or if he was doing some work for Dylan as well, but he gave me that album. I heard “Forever Young” and took it back to the studio and we were doing Kitty Wells in two days and I showed it to Johnny. We did “Forever Young” with Kitty Wells. It was actually released as a single maybe two days later after we recorded it.
What a wonderful, nice, beautiful woman she was and at that time she had done 43 country albums. She was the queen of country music.
Tell me about writing music for the Billy Bob Thornton movie that never happened.
Phil Walden wanted to see me when I got back from Europe and I went down to his office here in Atlanta and it was just him and me for about 2-3 hours, talking about old times and what he had been doing. He was trying to get a movie together for Billy Bob Thornton and asked me about it and if I would do a song for it.
He gave me his only copy of the book to read, it’s called Joe, written by a guy named Larry Brown, a fireman in Oxford, Mississippi.I loved the book. You should read it. They’d already spent $250-300,000 on the rewrites for the screenplay on it. I wrote this tune about one month later, because I had initially had no ideas at all. Then one day in the shower, a line came to me, and I got out of the shower, and sat down and wrote it. I felt it might be better to do it on the piano, because you come up with different chords than you do on guitar. It’s much more theatrical. Anyway I wrote this tune,
It has a low Tony Joe White style vocal, the reason being he said that Tony Joe would be singing some of the tunes on this movie. It’s a great story about the seedy underbelly side of the South. You know drunks, thieves, and you just have to read the book. It’s easy to find and he received many Faulkner awards. But he died about 7 months later after we had talked about doing this movie and I had written the song. I had even gone over to Johnny’s house and recorded it. That’s the version I will show you. It never came about and I don’t think the money was there anyway. I spoke to Donnie Fritts who is a friend of Billy Bob’s, and he said he would do it, but they had not come up with the money or anything, so it never happened. It’s in the same vein as Slingblade. It was one of my favorites.
How did the hook up happen with the Gregg Allman Tour and album. That was interesting that an artist would have another artist featured on their album. I have never seen anything like that. Cowboy was spotlighted on Gregg’s album.
That all came about for the same reason we were speaking of earlier, the comraderie, brotherhood, and the house. You can just call Capricorn the living room. Gregg and Scott knew each other forever. I didn’t know Gregg as early on as Scott because they were both in Jacksonville, and they knew each other a little bit better. Gregg loved Cowboy and loved our stuff. Gregg and I actually became really close during that time when we were on tour and recording.
He recorded “All My Friends.” don’t know if you ever listened to the Boyer/Talton album? Essentially, if you look at the Boyer/ Talton album everyone from the Laid Back album was all the same. Except Gregg sang instead of me and Scott. It wasn’t some outside idea that happened. It was all the same people.. Cowboy started the show and Randall Bramlett was in Cowboy then and David Brown was on bass, he also played with Boz Scaggs and Commander Cody later.
So what’s this you were telling me about a new Cowboy album and reunion?
I just got back from spending time with Scott. We started writing some new stuff. Scott and I did not write that much together in the past. Like Lennon and McCartney, not to compare, but Lennon would write a whole song, and then McCartney would edit some of it and they split everything down the middle. But you can tell when Lennon wrote a song and McCartney did a song.
We started trying to do that last Thursday, just get the ball rolling and some ideas flowing. I left him some songs of mine for him to listen to and he can say “why don’t we change this or edit that,” or rewrite. Editing among friends. It looks like it’s probably going to happen.
We are looking at beginning to record in September, hopefully. We have talked to the “capital-O” original members of Cowboy, and we plan on doing a few songs with them, and the rest with other friends.
The original band members are alive and still playing music. Tom Wynn, the guy we were talking about in We The People that was the originally drummer in Cowboy, and I were Clark the original bass player is down in Orlando as well and they play with bands around there. It’s not their main income thing, which is smart on their part. George is a master carpenter and very good with wood. I like to do that too but don’t have the equipment. I love wood and always have.
I had some lyrics about it from when Cowboy was living together in Cochran, Georgia, just south of Macon. There is an old, old shack out across the street,and it was an old slave’s quarters. At the time it was $75.00 a month for our rent, and there was 400 acres and a house built in the 1850’s. I found this old shack on the property. The line was, “There is an old, old shack out across the street/ I am going to get it fixed up as sure as I walk on my feet/ You can learn a lot from the hammer’s sound/ it takes a lot to get it built up but nothing to tear it down.”
“She Carries a Child” is the name of the song. It’s on the 5’ll Getcha 10 album.
Anyway that’s where that line came from.
Tell me about the song “Please Be With Me.”
That was one of those songs that just came out. It came out of Scott. I believe the level of honesty that you live your life in will open up the tube that connects you to the muses and to the other side. Any information that wants to be communicated to those of us who are still here in the physical world comes through that tube if you open it up. It’s called creativity, but in actuality it’s just copying what someone’s telling you through the tube. That is how “Please Be With Me” came through. That’s how my song on the first album called “Josephine Beyond Compare” happened. I got up at 2:00 AM and wrote the entire song immediately and then went back to sleep. When I woke up, first of all I was thinking Josephine, where did that come from? The writing was not mine, very female, with that feminine look.
You channeled that right through...
Yeah, definitely and I never edited that song, never changed a word of it from what I wrote at 2:00 AM out of a deep dream. Many people have come up to me and said that song meant a lot to them and that it was real strong. I credit it to the fact that I didn’t fuck with it.
You didn’t over think it.
I paint a lot and like music, writing, and such, the hardest thing to learn is when to stop.
With Gritz, I have always felt that white space is very important. Same with my own songwriting.
Sound can not exist without silence.
That’s beautiful and true. What do you think about today’s music?
It’s all video oriented and the world has become image. I believe that there is a generation of kids now that is finally getting into acoustic music and a depth of lyrics, lyrics about something that matters, other than something like...
Your butt, or how terrible life is. Maybe life is not so bad...
With the resurge in Southern Rock, it’s a good time for a Cowboy reunion...
I agree. You know Cowboy was never really Southern Rock. I always hated that label Southern Rock, especially in connection to Cowboy. Marshall Tucker was Southern Rock if you want to call it that. They are Southern, county rock. Cowboy was country rock. Many people have said that we were ahead of the Eagles in what we were doing.
Yeah, it stemmed from Gram Parsons...
Yeah, folk-music electrified. Dylan, and Tom Rush, Fred Neil. He is the artist that I bet Stephen Stills would be willing to tell you that he got a lot of his inspiration from. Fred Neil wrote and sung “Everybody’s Talking at Me.” with a very low voice. You know Larry John Wilson?
He is a good friend and we used to sit across from each other in Nashville in 1980 and play for hours and his voice from three feet away on a wooden floor would vibrate my chest. (laughs)
That’s where Buffalo Springfield came from and Cowboy was folk-rock. I have never been able to answer the question what kind of music do you play?
I saw one time Leonard Bernstein was accepting an award and said that he had worked with Paganini, Beethoven, Bach and on and on and he said that he had learned that there were only two kinds of music- good or bad....
That’s also what Tom Dowd told me in our interview because he said that is what it all comes down to, good or bad...
That says it all, doesn’t it.
Thank you for your time, Tommy. We’ll be watching out for more from The Tommy Talton Band, The Capricorn Rhythm Section and the big Cowboy reunion.
Thank you Michael.
Read our account of the making of the new Cowboy album HERE.
Photos by Bill Thames
Visit Tommy on Myspace http://www.myspace.com/tommytaltonband
Read Bill Thames interview with Tommy in Hittin’ The Note