If Otis Redding is one of the architects of soul, consider Macon, Ga., as the bedrock of R&B.
A few weeks ago, my wife and I made our first visit to Macon.
(And my bad for not catching up with faithful Soul In Stereo stan Will – I got you on the next trip, homie)
Prior to our visit, I certainly knew of Macon’s musical roots – serving as the home of Otis, the King of Soul; Little Richard, aka the Quasar of Rock; and the renowned Allman Brothers Band.
And of course, I know the enduring hits. “Try a Little Tenderness” was an unquestionable classic even before Kanye West and Jay Z gave it new life a decade ago. “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” transcends genres. And Otis’ Christmas classics, from “Merry Christmas Baby” to “White Christmas” are holiday staples. His music is immortal.
But it wasn’t until I stepped on Macon’s soil did I realize just how integral Otis’ influence was to the town, and to music beyond the scope of R&B.
Capricorn Sound Studios, now known as Mercer Music at Capricorn, stands as a pillar of his legacy.
In 1967, the building, located at 530 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., was purchased by Redwal Music, a company founded by Otis along with Phil and Alan Walden. Phil Walden had served as Otis’ close friend and manager and the duo were set to start their own record label.
However, tragedy struck in 1967, when Otis died in a tragic plane crash. His death delayed the studio’s opening until 1969, when Capricorn Records was finally established. Under Capricorn, that little downtown building would eventually become the headquarters of Southern rock, giving birth to the Allman Brother’s sound, and launching the careers of dozens of others, including the Marshall Tucker Band, the James Montgomery Band, the Outlaws and scores more.
Capricorn would close shop in October 1979, literally days before I was born. I promise I had nothing to do with it.
Capricorn as a label would see a revival in the 90s, giving birth to Widespread Panic, Cake and 311. It would eventually close down by 2002.
But what of that little building that Otis n’ friends bought so many decades ago?
Well, in 2015 Mercer University began restoring studio space, transforming Mercer Music at Capricorn into both a state of-the-art studio space and an incredible time capsule into music’s past. Last year, it officially opened. Most of the building has been modernized but Studio A maintains its 1970s vibe. Wood paneling, curtains straight out of my grandma’s old house – the works. Even more cool is a vintage piano with marred keys – apparently Otis used to extinguish his cigarettes out by grinding them into the keys.
The upgraded second floor is a museum to Southern music – both rock and R&B – complete with digital archives, interactive displays and vintage photos.
It’s a legacy that all began with Otis’ dream of a label. He may not have lived to see it through but his impact cannot be denied.
As incredible as Mercer Music at Capricorn is, Otis’ reach expands even further. The Otis Redding Foundation, established in 2007 by wife Zelma Redding in her husband’s honor, is its own treasure trove of classic photos, as well as a hub for educational awareness programs. The annual summer Otis Music Camp teaches attendees to write, record and perform their own music.
Memphis. Muscle Shoals. Macon.
The three Ms of Southern music.
And Otis Redding still reigns as its monarch.