The death of Southern rock legend Gregg Allman last Saturday, May 27, evoked a strange memory of my being in the offices of Capricorn Records in Macon, Ga., at the same time that pop singer Cher filed for divorce from Allman.
According to his manager Michael Lehman, Allman died at 69 of complications from liver cancer at his home at Richmond Hill, Ga., 20 miles south of Savannah, where he had been living for several years.
Capricorn Records in the mid-1970s was an independent label created by Mercer University graduate Phil Walden and personal manager of soul music superstar Otis Redding. It became an international powerhouse and the home of Southern rockers with The Allman Brothers Band as its foundation.
Other chart-topping groups and single artists on the label included Elvin Bishop, Bonnie Bramlett, Delbert McClinton, Charlie Daniels Band, Marshall Tucker Band, Wet Willie, Martin Mull, Sea Level (led by founder and long-time Allman Brothers Band member Chuck Leavell) and The Dixie Dregs (later just The Dregs) co-founded by guitarists Steve Morse and Andy West, graduates of Augusta’s Academy of Richmond County.
Walden decided to start a country music division of the label which got off to a great start with the 1974 hit Forever Young recorded by Kitty Wells, the original “Queen of Country Music.”
Walden had asked singer-songwriter Bob Dylan if he had any songs for newly-signed Wells, and Dylan sent him Forever Young, which Dylan himself had not yet recorded. It later would be covered by a long list of stars including Rod Stewart, Diana Ross and Blake Shelton.
So it was that Mark Pucci, national publicity director for Capricorn Records, and Mike Hyland, vice president of public relations, invited yours truly to come see Capricorn’s newest country signee Razzy Bailey perform in July 1975 at Macon’s Uncle Sam nightclub.
The day of the performance I dropped by the Capricorn offices to talk with Pucci and Hyland about Bailey, whose 45 rpm single (Spreading It Around Like) Peanut Butter had been released the month before.
It was just normal, chit-chat talk. Nothing special, and I had a great time that night at Uncle Sam’s. Bailey, later to score top country charts with his RCA Records singles like She Left Love All Over Me and What Time Do You (Have To Be Back in Heaven)?, and I became good friends. He and his band even visited in my home in Augusta one time.
The next morning, I bought a copy of the Macon Telegraph, and there was the front page story that Cher had filed for divorce from Allman whom she had married just nine days earlier in a suite at the Caesar’s Palace hotel in Las Vegas. It struck me as being funny that I hadn’t picked up any of the signs that Pucci and Hyland must have been fielding calls from all over the world in the office that day. They had spent time with me in a very calm and unrushed manner.
Hyland died in 2015, but Pucci still heads his public relations company, Mark Pucci Media, in Atlanta that has handled a long, long list of celebrity clients.
This past Sunday, I talked with Pucci about that time period, and he said that Capricorn’s publicity department handling those worldwide calls consisted only of himself, Hyland and Gail Giddens whom he described as “basically a secretary but more than that.”
Pucci recalled, “As soon as the word got out that Gregg and Cher were hanging out together, we started getting a lot of calls from everywhere. There were no emails then.
“She started coming down to Macon and was very low key,” he added. “We were trying to keep the focus on The Allman Brothers Band’s music and Gregg’s solo projects, but Gregg and Cher’s relationship eclipsed everything. It was just crazy, and quite honestly we didn’t know the answers to the questions all these reporters were asking.”
Pucci said, in spite of Cher and Gregg’s turbulent involvement, there was no question “that they were really taken with each other.”
Allman’s life had taken him from his birth in Nashville, Tenn.; to Jacksonville, Fla., where he and his brother, Duane, had formed The Allman Brothers Band; to Macon during his recording days with Capricorn; to several years in California and eventually back to his beloved South.
There he settled outside Richmond Hill with his wife, Stacey, in their Tudor-style home custom built on a former antebellum plantation along the Belfast River.
He told Southern Living magazine writer Allison Hersh in 2007 that he loved coming home after his tours to the peaceful life of fishing, boating, gardening and riding one of his Harley-Davidson motorcycles on Georgia rural roads.
“Here I can pull out of my driveway and already be riding on a beautiful country road lined with wildflowers,” he said.
In one of his hit songs, the Georgia Music Hall of Fame inductee sang, “And I don’t own the clothes I’m wearing. And the road goes on forever. And I’ve got one more silver dollar, but I’m not gonna let them catch me. No, not gonna let ‘em catch the midnight rider.”
Allman’s days of being the midnight rider may be over, but his worldwide fans know through his thousands of recordings that his musical road will go on forever.
AARON WATSON BACK AT THE COUNTRY CLUB: Texas country rocker Aaron Watson returns at 10 p.m. Friday, June 9, to the Country Club Dance Hall &Saloon, 2834 Washington Road. Tickets are $15.
Watson, who is touring in support of his new album Vaquero, grew up in Amarillo. Several of his albums were produced by Ray Benson, leader of the western swing band Asleep at the Wheel.
Unlike some male performers who show up on stage in dingy ball caps and rumpled, dark-colored T-shirts, Watson believes in the old-school country tradition of looking good for fans.
“There’s nothing more classic than a nice pair of boots, worn-out jeans, a white pearl-snap shirt and the Resistol hat,” he has remarked.
BETTER GET YOUR TICKETS NOW: Heading this way in the coming weeks are The Tedeschi Trucks Band at Bell Auditorium on Tuesday, June 13, headlined by husband-wife duo Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks; followed by long-time country star Hank Williams Jr. in James Brown Arena on Friday, June 16.
Guitarist Trucks, the nephew of Allman Brothers Band drummer Butch Trucks, first performed at Bell Auditorium at 12 years old in 1992 opening for the Jacksonville, Fla.-based band Lynyrd Skynyrd.
Williams made his public stage debut in 1958 at the age of eight on the stage of the Nancy Auditorium in Swainsboro, Ga. He has made repeated appearances at Bell Auditorium and James Brown Arena since the mid-1960s.