L-R: Johnny Sandlin, Daniel Hutchens, Scott Boyer. 1993.
I’m so sad today, hearing Johnny Sandlin has passed. I hadn’t seen him in quite a few years, but he sure had a big impact on my musical life. He held a righteous seat at the historic table of Southern Rock, but as Duane Allman once said, the term “Southern Rock” is redundant. So we can just go ahead and enlarge that phrase and say that Johnny Sandlin had a big impact on American Music in general.
Johnny was probably best known as the producer of the Allman Brothers’ BROTHERS AND SISTERS album. He also played music with the Allmans and many others, including being a member of the band THE HOUR GLASS with Gregg and Duane in the late ‘60s. He gravitated toward studio work when Capricorn Records blasted off in the ‘70s; he worked in production, engineering and mixing capacities on classic Allman albums such as EAT A PEACH and AT FILLMORE EAST, plus projects with revered names such as Eddie Hinton, Bonnie Bramlett, Wet Willie, the Marshall Tucker Band, Johnny Jenkins, Delbert McClinton, and many others.
He also did some records in the ‘90s with some of our Athens-area buddies, like Col. Bruce Hampton and the Aquarium Rescue Unit, and Widespread Panic, and that’s when my band Bloodkin crossed paths with Johnny.
I had written “Makes Sense To Me” for the first Panic album on Capricorn, which came to be known as Mom’s Kitchen, though technically it’s just titled Widespread Panic. Anyway, Phil Walden was the head of Capricorn, and he liked the song; he also liked some Jerry Joseph songs Panic was into, so he flew me out to Portland, Oregon, sight unseen, to co-write with Jerry Joseph. This project could have been a disaster, in retrospect, but Jerry and I got along great, and wrote a good number of songs, between our crazed adventures on the streets of Portland. We were wild kids to be sure, but Jerry also turned out to be one of the great living American songwriters, and our friendship continues to this day.
Bloodkin never wound up working directly with Capricorn, but Johnny Sandlin caught wind of us, and along with John Bell he formed an independent label called Back Door Records, for the sole purpose of putting out a Jerry Joseph record and a Bloodkin record. Ours became GOOD LUCK CHARM, and featured Johnny’s picks from the songs Eric Carter and I had been working on the previous few years. The record is definitely Johnny’s version of us. It was our first time making a “real” record, and working with a top-shelf veteran like Johnny Sandlin was, as I’ve said many times, an education money can’t buy.
One time, we were working on “Success Yourself” with the Panic guys sitting in, and suddenly a homeless-looking guy wandered into the studio, asking to borrow $20 from Johnny. Then the guy looked over at Dave Schools––and I mean, glared hard at him for maybe a full minute. Like he wanted to kill Dave. It was weird and disturbing. Finally the guy left, and we all asked Johnny, “Who was that?”
Johnny told us, “That’s Eddie Hinton.” One of the greatest songwriters, vocalists, and singers ever…yep. The same guy who played on recordings with Aretha Franklin, the Staple Singers, Solomon Burke, Elvis Presley, Otis Redding…his vocals were right up there with Otis, too. And he wrote so many classic songs like “Breakfast In Bed”, “Hard Luck Guy”, “Everybody Needs Love”…damn. And here he’d been, walking into our little session, asking to borrow a few bucks, and strangely fixating on Dave Schools. “Eddie might’ve taken a little too much acid over the years,” Johnny told us. It was surreal. Our version of Keith Richards walking into Chess Records, and seeing Muddy Waters up on a ladder, painting the ceiling.
Johnny also called in some of his other Alabama friends for the sessions: Roger Hawkins, David Hood, Mickey Buckins, Scott Boyer etc. …all legends in their own rights. An amazing time for us young kids, trying to figure out recording studios and life in general.
Anyway…we finally finished the record. Many of those songs remain staples in our live shows. GOOD LUCK CHARM didn’t break any sales records, but in Bloodkin’s little world of independent music, it was a massive turning point. It brought us to life, gave us a foothold, and it was a sheer privilege to have that opportunity to learn from a Master. Johnny Sandlin really became our teacher, in the most profound sense of the word.
He was a sweetheart, and a mentor, generous with his talent and his knowledge. Adios, Big Duck. Thank you for everything you gave us all.