When leaders in Macon, GA set out to celebrate history-making Capricorn Records with a major new cultural and business development, they managed to make a four-year effort climax on the exact birthday of Dec. 3, 1969.
“It’s my pleasure and privilege,” said Mercer University president William D. Underwood on Tuesday, “to hereby declare the re-birth of Capricorn Sound Studios on the 50th anniversary of its founding.” Mercer spearheaded the effort, and Underwood formally opened Mercer Music at Capricorn, a new $4.3 million dollar investment in historic preservation, music education, talent development and cultural tourism.
“I’m telling y’all there will be no place like the Capricorn complex. No place in the world for developing talented young musicians,” Underwood told a crowd before a performance by Nashville’s Jimmy Hall, whose 1970s band Wet Willie was a Capricorn mainstay.
By the first week of January, 20,000 square feet of space in four adjacent buildings from the 1890s and 1920s will house a music incubator with rehearsal spaces, a Macon music museum and several arts organizations. Its centerpiece will be the historic studio where, under the ownership of Phil Walden, southern rock is said to have been born in the 1970s.
Walden was a student at Mercer when he started booking bands on campus in the 60s. He met and partnered with a young Otis Redding, forming a publishing company with him and inaugurating a music business in downtown Macon. After Redding’s death, Walden launched Capricorn Records in 1969 in cooperation with Jerry Wexler and enjoyed a very successful decade.
The Allman Brothers may be the band most closely associated with Capricorn studios and its affiliated record label. The studio also hosted the Marshall Tucker Band, Charlie Daniels, Wet Willie and many more. The facility sat empty for decades though, after Capricorn shuttered in 1979. The label was revived in Nashville for a second life span.
Mercer spokesman Larry Brumley said the historic studio miraculously survived the ravages of time. “The building was probably two years away from collapsing on itself. But that studio - that room amazingly was largely intact.” He said it only needed new power and HVAC, and a small amount of paint. The old room, plus a larger new studio, will be full-service commercial spaces.
A gala concert took place Tuesday night, with Rolling Stones keyboard man Chuck Leavell, Jimmy Hall of Wet Willie, Taj Mahal and John Bell of Widespread Panic, a band on the later iteration of Capricorn Records.