An Interview with the Legendary Producer & Musician Paul Hornsby: Never Quitting

"Music that I like to hear does.  I want to hear about something I can feel and can relate to."

Paul Hornsby:

The South's Gonna Do It Again

Born in Elba, Al. in 1944 and raised in nearby New Brockton, Paul's first musical influence was listening to his father, an old time fiddler, play at local square dances. When he was fourteen, he began playing guitar, which was his first serious entry into creating music. Paul learned his licks from Chet Atkins, Merle Travis, and then the "Ventures" records. Paul Hornsby started playing music at an early age. His first professional experience came in 1962 in the band the Minutes. By 1967, he was playing with Duane and Gregg Allman in the Hour Glass.

After that time, Hornsby began a producing career, first with Capricorn Records, then as an independent.

Paul Hornsby is a musician and record producer who has produced gold and platinum records by such artists as Charlie Daniels, Marshall Tucker Band, Eric Quincy Tate, Grinderswitch, Bobby Whitlock, and Wet Willie. Singles Hornsby has produced include "The South's Gonna Do It Again", "Long Haired Country Boy", "Heard It In A Love Song", and "Fire On The Mountain". He has also performed with Elvin Bishop, Captain Beyond, Gerry Goffin, and Livingston Taylor.

Paul is represented in the Alabama Music Hall Of Fame and the Georgia Music Hall of Fame. He also remains active with his MUSCADINE recording studio. It's equipped with a lot of vintage gear and instruments that would be at home in a rock museum - 50's Telecasters, B-3 Hammond with the old Hour Glass Leslie tone cabinet which is still played everday, Gregg's Wurlitzer piano used on "Fillmore East" and on and on. 

Interview by Michael Limnios

Paul, let's start from the beginning and your first contact with music and the Blues.

My earliest influence was my dad, Edd Hornsby, who was an old-time fiddle player. I grew up hearing him and his cousin, James Tindol playing at square dances and cake walks. By the time I was 14, I was playing guitar along with them.


How was the transition from Rock & Roll and the Beatles to Blues in the late 60's?

The Beatles brought something new to the scene, Sophisticated Rock & Roll. They were so powerful that you just couldn’t ignore their sound. At the same time, we had the Rhythm & Blues thing going on in the South.  Artists like Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, and others.  A band’s set list usually consisted of about half & half of the two styles. Leading up to them, were also Rock-a-billy artists like Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis, and truly Rock & Roll artists like Little Richard & Chuck Berry, who were in a class of their on.

Even though Blues was around, I think most of us ignored it until artists like the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, &  Jeff Beck made us take a closer look at it. We said “Ok we’ve got this.  Its always been around us.  We can play this.  No problem.”

Even though the Blues had effected most of the music we had been playing, I don’t remember it standing out as a form of its on in the stuff we were playing or hearing on pop radio.

When and how was the first meeting with the Allman Brothers, and what were the plans for the creation of the Hour Glass?

About 1965, I was playing with a band down at Dauphne Island, Alabama near Mobile. Some of the guys went down to a local club called the Stork Club & came back raving about a band they saw called the Allman Joys. They said the band  sounded great and had long hair & everything. (Long hair was a big deal at that time) They invited Duane & Gregg Allman, who the band was named after, to come out & see us on Dauphne Island. That was our first meeting & I was equally  impressed when they sat in and played with us.

We started to see quiet a bit of the Allman Joys after that. They came up to Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where I was living at the time, and played for several fraternity parties at the University Of Alabama. Those were about the most lucrative gigs you could land back then.

I had the band The Five Minutes going at that time and our drummer, Bill Connell,was offered the job of playing with the Allmans. Johnny Sandlin, who had played with  the Minutes before, came back aboard as our drummer.

We became fast friends with the Allman Joys and they turned us on to their booking agent in Nashville. We went on the road playing music full time and played the same clubs as the Allmans.

Then, in early 1967, The Men-its (by then, we had changed the spelling) broke up when our singer, Eddie Hinton left the band to be a session player in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. We were looking around for a replacement when I got a call one day from Duane.  Seems the Allman Joys had  just broken up & we decided to merge the two  groups.

We practiced for a couple of weeks & got our first booking at a club in St. Louis, Mo. One night during this gig, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, along with their manager, Bill McEuen, happened into the club. McEuen was very impressed with the band’s  sound & convinced us to go out to Los Angeles. When we got out there, we signed with him as our manager and he landed us a deal with Liberty Records. Pretty fast work, since the group had only been together for about 3 months.

We named the new group the “Hourglass“ and over the next couple of years, we cut 2 very forgettable albums for Liberty. Unfortunately, the label never captured our true sound. They just didn’t understand the music we brought out there as we were probably the first, what now would be called, Southern Rock band.

To make the story short, we became dissolutioned  with the way things were going and moved back to the south & by the summer of 1968, we disbanded.

Duane moved to Muscle Shoals to become a session player and I moved back to Tuscaloosa & started a band which contained a 16 year old piano player, named Chuck Leavell.  One day in the spring of 1969, Duane called me to come up to Muscle Shoals to cut some demos with him.  He had caught the attention of some Atlantic Records people who wanted to put another band around him.  He had just signed with Phil Walden as his manager. Phil wanted to put the Hourglass back together,  but I, along with the other members had had enough and declined.  Instead, Walden talked us into moving to Macon, Ga. to be session players in a new studio he was building called Capricorn Sound Studios.

Meanwhile, Duane had recruited some very good players from Florida and they became the Allman Brothers Band.  This band and we remaining ex Hourglass members, all moved to Macon at the same time.

With the success of The Allmans, Walden started up what was to be Capricorn Records. I progressed from being a session keyboard player to studio manager, engineer, and then, staff producer for the label.


Which was the best moment of your career and which was the worst?  

I don’t think I ever had a more depressing period in my career than in early1967, when the Men-Its broke up. We were on the road with half a band, no bookings, and broke. The best time was probably in 1975 when I turned 30, my daughter was born, and had 4 records on the Charts at on time.


What do you think were the reasons for the “Southern Rock boom” at the end of the sixties?

It was just time for it to happen.  Seems like every 10 years or so, music changes over to a certain degree. The Allman Brothers Band came on with such an impact, followed by a few others from the South, that it was like fresh air. It was strong & original. Within a very short time, some writer coined the phrase, Southern Rock to describe the bands that were coming out of about a five state area. Some agents picked up on the term to help in marketing the style of music we were doing.


How do you feel now that you have more fame and celebrity?

I don’t know about the fame & celebrity part, but I do eat more regularly.


Which of your work would you consider to be the best?

I guess one of my favorite albums was “Fire On The Mountain” by the Charlie Daniels Band.  Also up there, would have to be the “Where We All Belong” album by the Marshall Tucker Band. There have been a few others that haven’t been as well known, like a recent CD, “Lip Service”  by a lady named E.G. Kight. She’s a Georgia born blues artist who is starting to make a some waves.


Which is the most interesting period in your life and why?

Probably the ’70’s. I was helping establish a new genre of music that  hadn’t been invented yet.


What experiences in your life make you a GOOD musician?

Probably because my Dad told me I could never make a living playing music. I had to prove him wrong.


How do you want to be remembered?

As a good musician , somebody who knew a good song when he heard it, and knew how to put it together in the studio.

How was your recording experience with Charlie Daniels Band?

Charlie is somebody who knows what he wants when he comes unto the studio. He writes all of his own material, although he credits each band member for their contributions to the arrangements. When somebody is seasoned like Charlie, it takes a great load off.


Would you tell me some facts about the Volunteer Jams?

Well, when I was doing them, they were like an explosion. About 20 musicians and singers, whaling on stage at the same time.  Then I had to take the tapes back into the studio and Salvage a record from it. They were a Jam in the truest sense.  Later, they became more controlled, even having some rehearsals beforehand.


What has music offered you?

It got me off an Alabama farm!


What have you learned about yourself from music?

That I’m probably too lazy to do anything else.

Which of the people you have worked with do you consider the best?

I don’t think anybody would fault me for saying that Duane Allman was a genius.

What was it that made Duane stand out from other guitarists?

Duane was one of the few musicians, who I would go as far as to say, was a genius. He was an inventor with the guitar. That’s a big difference from being an imitator.  In addition to being a great musician, he was just smart intellectually and was charismatic. That’s just something you have and can’t be explained. You either got it or you don’t.


If you weren’t a musician, what would you be?

An archaeologist


Describe the ideal rhythm section to you?

Right now, I’m working with some of my old Capricorn Rhythm Section buddies. Tommy Talton, Bill Stewart, sometimes Randall Bramlett, along with a young guy on bass-Marshall Coats. We’ve been doing some good stuff for the past few years.

Do you believe MUSIC takes subject from LIFE?

Music that I like to hear does.  I want to hear about something I can feel and can relate to.

What advice would you give to Robert Johnson?

Hire a whiskey taster!


What turns you on?

A nice set of tits. (Sorry about that one, couldn’t resist)

Do you remember the recording time with Marshall Tuckers Band, a story you will never forget?

I mostly think about recording their first album. We were all young & green then.  We spent 2 months in the studio, working many 15 hour sessions, just trying to come up with something that sounded different from everybody else. We knew they would be compared to the Allman Bros. Band, so we tried everyway possible to not sound like them. We put steel guitar, flute, fiddles, moog synthesizer on there, which the Allmans didn’t have.  (If I could do it over though, I’d probably take the Moog off).

What was the secret of the Muscle Shoals studios?

I don’t know if it was a secret or not.  However, it always puzzled me how that much music could come out of an area that had no night clubs or places for musicians to play. You couldn’t even buy a drink of liquor for a long time. You had to drive across the Tennessee state line for that. Somehow though, those ole boys up there lay down some really basic, honest music. I never heard anything fancy there, but it doesn’t have to be. They know how to back up a singer/musician and allow them to shine through and get the most out of them.


Three words to describe Capricorn records

Five words… “A place in their time”.


Is there anything that you miss from your childhood times in Alabama?

Things were a lot simpler then. I didn’t think so at the time, but I think the world was better off then.

What mistake in music would you want to correct?

It’s a good thing I’m not allowed, or I’d probably cut every record I’ve ever done, all over again.


What things do you prefer to do in your free time?

Anything but music.  I never play music in the car or at home. I miss the days when music was a hobby.  I like to fish.  Also, I do primitive skills—make stone arrowheads, etc. That’s the frustrated archaeologist coming out of me.


Which of historical music personalities would you like to meet?

Ray Charles. If it hadn’t been for him & Dr. John,  who I did play with, I wouldn’t have a piano style.


Does media or talent play the most important role for a artist to get discovered?

I would never say that talent gets in the way. On the other hand, there’s a lot of acts out there, that you wonder how in the world they made it.  It had to be the hype. And they probably won’t be around very long anyhow.


What are the things you miss most about the Avalon, Fillmore & Whisky’s gigs

Just being young, stupid, and bulletproof in a time that was very exciting to us. This was in the “Summer Of Love”, 1967 & 1968.  We were just a bunch of country boys that fell off a turnip truck in Hollywood. There was a lot going on to say the least. We played with the biggest acts in the world.  Blew more than one or two off stage. 

We started a custom of having jam sessions at the Whiskey-A-Go-Go. The best musicians in town would come out when we played there and sit in with us. One of the last times we played there, I remember Janis Joplin, Paul Butterfield, Buddy Miles, Eric Burdon, Stephen Stills, & Neil Young being on stage with us. There was a 2:00 closing curfew, so they had to kill the power to get us off stage.

What is your opinion about reality shows like “America’s got talent”, “American idol” etc?

A lot of my buddies turn up their noses at those shows. However, I’ve heard some pretty good talent once in awhile that might not have gotten discovered otherwise. I despise the decadence and arrogance some of the judges display though. I guess that’s their gimmick.


How do you describe your sound, your progress and Muscadine recording studio?

I don’t know how to describe it. Its just something I do. I just do it till it feels right.

I like to think that at Muscadine, the rates are affordable and that the artists that come here feel at ease. I’ve heard from a lot of my clients that the room makes them feel comfortable 

My approach to producing is to try not to get too many preconceived ideas about an act, until I’ve actually heard what they’re gonna do. When I hear something I think is wrong, then I’ll step in and suggest another way, just like another band member. If that’s part of my sound, then that’s your answer.

What music would you have played at your home alone?

Probably cowboy music. Gene Autry, Sons of the Pioneers, stuff like that. I grew up on cowboy movies and love the music in them.


What was it that “tied” all these bands together in the southern rock?

Well they all speak the same language… They all say “Ya’ll” And I think southern people, in general, are friendly. There’s always been that feeling of brotherhood among the bands from here. The music is incestuous.  Most of the time, you’ll find a member of another band sitting in on a gig or recording session. That was how the Marshall Tucker/ Charlie Daniels/ myself relationship got started.


What do you think about the new generation of southern rock musicians?

Just when you think you’ve heard it all before, somebody comes along with a new twist. I heard a new band recently called “Blackberry Smoke” who sounded fresh and brand new, but I’d have to call them Southern Rock.


Do you have a favorite song, and is it one you worked on?

I don’t write many songs.  Its very painful, since I usually write one when a woman leaves. Consequently, they are mostly torch songs about unrequited  love.

E.G. Kight recently recorded possibly my best song, “Its Gonna Rain All Night”. She literally knock it out of the park. Bonnie Bramblett had also recorded it a few years ago and it was a real honor to have her do it.


Who were your mentors in the production of albums?

I’m not sure I had any mentors since I never even thought about being a record producer. I fell into producing by accident. Just being in a particular place at a particular time. But, I’d have to admire George Martin and of course, Tom Dodd.


How has the music business changed over the years since you first started in music?

I’ve always said that I love music but hate the music business. The longer I stay in this business, the less I think I understand it. Now, there seems to be fewer major record companies. The ones that are out there will cut you from the label unless you sell millions of records. There was a time when a label like Warner Bros, would keep a band around just for the sake of art. Look at Little Feat. I don’t think they ever sold millions of records in their heyday, but their fans were loyal and so was the label.

The part I don’t understand are the labels that are run on computer sites. That’s where most of the music is being sold. I miss the old days of going to a record store and physically picking up an LP, holding it in your hands, reading the back cover, actually holding something. I don’t get that from computer downloads. And the genie is out of the bottle. Once you’ve downloaded it, people can copy it over and over and the musician doesn’t get a dime for their invested time and sacrifices.


What advice would you give to aspiring musicians thinking of pursuing a career in the craft?

If you can be talked out of pursuing a career in music, then you probably shouldn’t be doing it. It takes undying dedication, and there will be a  lot of disappointments along the way. It might be a good idea to have a second career to fall back on and to finance your music habit.


What do you feel is the key to your success as a musician?

Never quitting.


Do you have a message for the Greek fans?

Well, I’m obviously humbled to know that I have fans over there. I’m delighted to know that somebody is listening.  As long as you listen, we’ll try to keep good music coming at you!

Greece is such a grand old country. The archaeologist in me would love to walk around and visit some of the ruins to see where civilization started. I’d really like to have the opportunity to meet her people and maybe play with some of the musicians someday.


Paul Hornsby's website


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