John Everett "Johnny" Sandlin Jr. (1945- ) of Decatur, Morgan County, has made important contributions to the southern rock genre through his work as a music producer for the Capricorn record label and as a close associate of the musicians who formed around the Muscle Shoals, Colbert County, and Macon, Georgia, studio scenes. He is perhaps most widely known as the producer of The Allman Brothers Band's platinum-selling Brothers and Sisters album (1973). Also a versatile musician, Sandlin played guitar, bass, and drums at various times during his career.
Johnny Sandlin was born April, 16, 1945, in Decatur, Morgan County, to Bessie Lucille Compton Sandlin and John Everett Sandlin Sr. He was mentored by his half-brother William Howard Johnson, who was 17 years his senior, attended Decatur High School, Calhoun (Junior) College, and Athens State University. As a teenager, he took guitar lessons and played in a band called The Secrets and later, The Impacts. His musical influences included Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Ray Charles, B. B. King, and Bobby Bland.
In the 1960s, Sandlin played in a number of bands and with many musicians, including The Mark V and The Pallbearers with Dan Penn, and with Eddie Hinton in a group called The Five Minutes. He also worked at Florence Alabama Music Enterprises (FAME) through 1964 as a session guitarist. In 1967, Duane and Gregg Allman and their band, called the Allman Joys, merged with the Five Minutes and took the name The Hour Glass, and would go on to create the foundations of the southern rock style. The Hour Glass recorded two albums in Los Angeles for Liberty Records, Hour Glass (1967) and Power of Love (1968). During that period, The Hour Glass opened for such acts as Buffalo Springfield, Eric Burdon, Jefferson Airplane, Moby Grape, Mother Earth, and the Youngbloods.
With the formation of Capricorn Records in Macon in 1969, Sandlin became more involved in record production and engineering, beginning with the critically acclaimed Johnny Jenkins album Ton Ton Macoute! In the 1970s, his work included several albums by Cowboy, a group whose members formed from the band called the 31st of February and became known as the Capricorn Rhythm Section, and extensive collaboration with The Allman Brothers Band on Live at the Fillmore East (1970), Eat A Peach (1971), Brothers and Sisters (1973), and Win, Lose, or Draw and The Road Goes on Forever (both in 1975), while also producing solo albums for Gregg Allman. In addition, he produced material for Alex Taylor, Wet Willie, comedian Martin Mull, Kitty Wells, Bonnie Bramlett, and others. After 1976, Sandlin traded his administrative role as vice president and head of artists and repertoire at Capricorn Records for a more artistically autonomous one as independent producer, most notably on Cher and Gregg Allman's duet album Two the Hard Way in 1977 and on several albums by Delbert McClinton.
The 1980s saw significant changes in recording practice as digital technology began to radically change the way recordings were produced and vinyl LPs gave way to compact discs. Sandlin resisted using synthetic sounds on his productions, preferring to record acoustic instruments in the natural reverberating environment of the recording studio. The 1980s also saw a rise in popularity of country music, leading Sandlin to work with Ronnie Dunn, Jerry Reed, Mac Davis, the Gatlin Brothers, and Marie Osmond.
Sandlin began the 1990s producing an album for former Cowboy singer-guitarist Scott Boyer, All My Friends (1991), then engineered Eddie Hinton's Cry and Moan. He later produced two albums for Widespread Panic, as well as the jazz-influenced Aquarium Rescue Unit, while working on albums for the Dixie Dregs and Jupiter Coyote in the mid 1990s. For Sandlin, the high water mark of the decade centered on Dan Penn's Do Right Man (1994); Jimmy Hall's Rendezvous with the Blues (1995); Gregg Allman's Searching For Simplicity (1995); and Johnny Jenkins's Blessed Blues (1996).
In the new century, Sandlin continues recording and producing in his Duck Tape recording studio, which he formed in 1984.
He also worked as bassist and engineer on the Capricorn Rhythm Section's Live at 2nd Street Music Hall, a 2006 recording on Rockin' Camel Records, the label he co-owns with Carl Weaver. In 2008, he rejoined his long-time associate
Bonnie Bramlett, producing her album titled Beautiful (2008). Echoing Bramlett's maxim, Sandlin maintains that a good recording begins with a great song and a great singer. His
working principle is to put the music in a direction and then let great musicians take it from there and interject only if
necessary. He resides in Decatur with his wife, the former Anathalee Ann Gray, with whom he has three daughters.
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Escott, Colin. Tattooed On Their Tongues: A Journey Through the Backrooms of American Music. New York: Schirmer Books, 1996.
Freeman, Scott. Midnight Riders: The Story of the Allman Brothers Band. New York: Little, Brown & Co., 1995.
Kemp, Mark. Dixie Lullaby: A Story of Music, Race, and New Beginnings in a New South. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2004.
Peter B. Olson
University of Memphis and Mississippi State University
Published January 22, 2010
Last updated March 22, 2011