THE CAPRICORN RHYTHM SECTION
Nashville Station, Macon, GA
March 25, 2006
“Oh, how I wish that I had written this song,” lamented Bonnie Bramlett, from the stage of the Nashville Station during the recent Georgia Music Hall of Fame benefit. In her masterful “Southern Preacher” voice, the Queen of blue-eyed soul was recalling the very personal night when she and Gregg Allman had learned the news of Twiggs Lyndon’s untimely death. Bonnie Bramlett continued her story to the spellbound audience, “Mr. Gregory Lenoir Allman wrote this song, but on that night, so many years ago, I wished that I had written it, because it was the perfect song for that dreadful night. It was the middle of the night, and Gregg was all alone down in the lobby of the Hyatt Regency in Atlanta, playing his heart out on the grand piano, and I was on the balcony on the eleventh floor singing this song down to him—it was a very personal, magical night of music that I will never forget.” With that, Bonnie Bramlett, and the Capricorn Rhythm Section poured their hearts into an emotion-charged Oncoming Traffic. I’m fairly certain that this particular performance was too beautiful for words.
Saturday’s benefit show had the feel of a family reunion, and to those in the audience, the musicians who played could not have been more significant if they had been five past presidents. Bonnie Bramlett, alone, would have been royalty enough, but her backing band was the recently reformed Capricorn Rhythm Section consisting of Johnny Sandlin, Paul Hornsby, Billy Stewart, Scott Boyer, and Tommy Talton. The Capricorn Rhythm Section, or CRS as they call themselves, was the original in-house “rhythm section” of studio musicians that helped put Capricorn Records on the map. Before Capricorn, though, Johnny Sandlin and Paul Hornsby played with Gregg and Duane Allman in the Allman Brothers Band predecessor, Hourglass, and Scott Boyer, Tommy Talton, and Billy Stewart played in the very successful southern country, jazz, blues band, Cowboy. The individual CRS members have literally worked with hundreds of music icons such as Percy Sledge, Billy Joe Shaver, Dave Mason, Eric Clapton, Duane Allman, Bobby Whitlock, Delbert McClinton, Chuck Leavell, the Marshall Tucker Band, Charlie Daniels, Elvin Bishop, Wet Willie, and the Allman Brothers Band to name just a few. The list, like the road, goes on forever. But on this night in Macon, the Capricorn Rhythm Section, and Bonnie Bramlett were simply playing for friends that stopped by to listen, for charity, and most important of all, for each other. They were Macon music magic. Before the show was over, Bonnie Bramlett, CRS, and their guest performers had played two tight sets consisting of twenty-seven songs. With one or two exceptions every song played was from a member’s catalog or was written by lifelong friends, Eddie Hinton and Gregg Allman.
The first set featured just the Capricorn Rhythm Section, consisting entirely of Eddie Hinton and Cowboy penned songs. Tempo’s switched from bright to bluesy, and from southern rock to jazz, as the band wrapping themselves in the music that defined a time, a place, and an attitude. Playing like two ducks effortlessly gliding over a pond, the band’s rhythm section, consisting of Johnny Sandlin and Billy Stewart, could not have appeared more nonchalant, while sounding both powerful and precise. It’s always a pleasure to watch veteran studio musicians on stage, simply because they tend to rejoice in making the impossible seem so effortless. The same can be said for Boyer, Talton, and Hornsby. Scott Boyer and Tommy Talton traded vocals, and lead guitar duties—with Boyer playing the harder-edged, heavier, gritty, gut wrenching notes, and Talton playing the silky smooth bluesy leads, stabbing at the air with his signature slide.
Paul Hornsby, veteran keyboardist extraordinaire, switched between the Hammond B3 and electric piano, and also added some tasteful backing vocals.
Bonnie Bramlett took the stage, mid-set, beginning her set with Atlanta, GA and then she broke into Love the One Your With, and an already interesting evening became instantly outrageous. The lady can simply sell a song like no one else I have ever heard. Bonnie’s voice, a husky blues-croon, rippling with conviction, blanketed the audience like the sweet, heavy smell of wisteria on a warm Georgia evening. She was all over the stage, and all over herself. On her knees, singing Cover Me, and Oncoming Traffic, or prancing the stage like a female Mick Jagger, singing Ain’t That Loving You Baby, and Only You Know and I Know, Bonnie worked it like she believed that every song depended on her conviction, and I believe that she did.
Adding to an already tantalizing show, somewhere around Bonnie’s second song, Donna Hall, Jimmy Hall’s sister, and former Wet Willie-ette, leapt onstage from the audience, at the band’s insistence, and sang impromptu backup for the rest of the night. After a short break, the CRS came back up and played a few more songs from the Boyer and Talton, Cowboy collection, and then Chris Hicks and his goldtop Les Paul joined them, adding a little Marshall Tucker to the mix. Soon Bonnie returned to the stage and belted out another set of “eye of the storm” funk and blues vocals, drinking in the texture of each song. Taking no prisoners this time, Bonnie left the stage spent, and she left the crowd screaming for more.
CRS ended the night with Down in Texas, another hat-tip to Eddie Hinton, adding the “Gregg Allman Tour” gritty guitar-driven favorite, Where Can You Go as an encore. CRS was joined for the encore by eighteen-year-old whiz-kid guitarist from Dublin, GA, Tony Tyler. Watch out for Tyler, he is rumored to be the new golden boy of the blues.
Some nights it’s just music, and that’s enough. Some nights it’s music with a little bit of magic mixed in here-and-there; and of course, that’s better—and some nights, like Saturday, old friends like Bonnie Bramlett and the Capricorn Rhythm Section are in town Macon Music Magic. And that is the way it should be.