How a revitalized recording studio is bringing Georgia’s Macon into the spotlight


JUDY WOODRUFF: Now celebrating the sound of
Southern rock and a new effort to restore the place that helped create it. Jeffrey Brown visits Macon, Georgia, for our
“American Creators” series, and part of our ongoing arts and culture coverage, Canvas. JEFFREY BROWN: “Dreams,” a classic song of
the rock era. It was made famous by the Allman Brothers Band and performed on a recent night
at Macon City Auditorium by musicians from then and now, as part of a celebration that
looked both to the past and future. Keyboard player Chuck Leavell helped put together
the concert. He’s been travelling the world for decades as music director for the Rolling
Stones. But he lives on a tree farm near here and, back in the day, was a member of the
Allman Brothers Band. CHUCK LEAVELL, Musician: It’s intimate, and
it reminded me that that was one of the cool things about it, because you were tight, you
were right there together with your fellow musicians when you were working. JEFFREY BROWN: He often recorded here at Macon’s
famed Capricorn sound studios, newly restored to its former glory. CHUCK LEAVELL: My memories are so strong of
making great music in this room. And so many other musicians would tell you the same thing. It’s just such a special feeling. It’s really
hard to describe, the magic of music. When you hit the right note, man, that magical
feeling that you get when you are cutting a song, that you feel like, wow, this has
a chance to be a hit. And we have cut a lot of hits in this room. JEFFREY BROWN: The story actually begins earlier,
with a local singer who became an international superstar, Otis Redding. Along with his manager,
Phil Walden, Redding dreamed of building a musical hub here in Macon. KARLA REDDING-ANDREWS, Otis Redding Foundation:
I think his sound came from deep within his soul, from what he was taught in the church. JEFFREY BROWN: Daughter Karla Redding-Andrews
today runs the Otis Redding Foundation, which offers music education programs to children. KARLA REDDING-ANDREWS: This was going to be
where he would be able to be home and record, and be able to go back to his ranch and fish
and hunt and swim, and bring other artists to Macon, and really just — just catapult
Macon to this sound that’s so special to our community. JEFFREY BROWN: That dream ended when Otis
Redding died in a plane crash at age 26 in 1967. But, two years later, Phil Walden and
his brother Alan launched Capricorn Records. It would become home to a soulful Southern
rock, with acts including the Marshall Tucker Band, Bonnie Bramlett, Elvin Bishop, and many
others. There were 10 years of hits. but the music industry changed. Capricorn ended up
in bankruptcy, the studio building was abandoned, and eventually fell into disrepair. Now it’s back, with a performance by Jimmy
Hall, former singer for Wet Willie, another Capricorn band, and a grand opening in December,
where the public had a chance to check out the facilities. A developer had bought the buildings as part
of a growing downtown renaissance here, including new loft apartments, and then donated the
studio buildings to Macon-based Mercer University. With outside funders, including the Knight
Foundation, for the record, a “NewsHour” underwriter, Mercer has turned the space, now called Mercer
Music at Capricorn, into a nonprofit incubator for local musicians, along with a small museum
celebrating the history. WILLIAM UNDERWOOD, Mercer University: This
project will propel the renaissance. JEFFREY BROWN: Mercer president Bill Underwood
says he grew up loving Southern rock, but this is about something else. What does Mercer get out of this? WILLIAM UNDERWOOD: Mercer gets a vibrant community.
One thing I have learned is that dying, decaying communities are not attractive to people. The more vibrant, interesting and exciting
your community is, the better able you are to attract talented faculty, talented students
and staff. So anything that’s good for this region is good for our university. JEFFREY BROWN: So, five, 10 years down the
road, what do you see? WILLIAM UNDERWOOD: I see lots of creative,
talented young people with tattoos and nose rings running all over downtown Macon. JEFFREY BROWN: That sounds good to you? (LAUGHTER) WILLIAM UNDERWOOD: Yes, as long as it’s not
my daughter. JEFFREY BROWN: The new dream is that Macon
once again becomes a musical hot spot, with the restored studio serving as an anchor. That would suit 20-year-old Maggie Renfroe,
who grew up here, before moving to Nashville to pursue a music career. MAGGIE RENFROE, Musician: If the history and
the music here in Macon continues to grow, and the next thing we know a label pops up
here, I would be the first person to come back here and show Nashville and show L.A.
and New York that Macon really could be a spot where it’s a music hub. JEFFREY BROWN: I asked Otis Redding’s daughter
Karla what she hopes to see in Macon in the coming years. KARLA REDDING-ANDREWS: The next Otis Redding
to come out of here. JEFFREY BROWN: Yes? That’s no little thing,
by the way. Right? KARLA REDDING-ANDREWS: But you know what?
It’s possible. Because they have everything they need right here to make it happen, great
engineer, great recording room. There’s no reason why it can’t happen. JEFFREY BROWN: And why not? All it takes is
some hard work, commitment and support, and, as the great Otis Redding song tells us, sung
on this night by Taj Mahal, a little respect. For the “PBS NewsHour,” I’m Jeffrey Brown
in Macon, Georgia. JUDY WOODRUFF: Some great news for that Southern
city.

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