Many years ago, Johnny Sandlin's birthday celebrations were quiet and family-focused. He'd have a lunch with his relatives, and catch up with other friends on the phone who lived farther away.
Sandlin's birthday will be thwarted this year, but he died on April 16, following a nod to the Allman Brother's only number-one song, "Brothers and Sisters," he wrote. The tribute will take place at Princess Theatre in Decatur, Alabama, where he lived in the state. The start time is 7. Tickets start at $30 plus fees.
Jimmy Hall, the frontman for funky Southern rockers Wet Willie, and guitarist Jeff Beck, is in the mix. As well as Melody Trucks, the daughter of late great Allmans drummer Butch Trucks, and Tim Tucker, a local rock singer-songwriter.
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Gray Cauthen, Sandlin's grandchildren, an Allmans-meets-Jason-Isbell type singer and vocalist, will also perform. Ella Cauthen, Zach Graham, the son-in-law of Sandlin's daughter Leigh Ellen Sandlin-Cauthen, will also perform.
Southbound was going to be a music and arts festival in Johnny Sandlin's honor. "And then COVID hit and everything went just sideways for everybody," Leigh Ellen says. This year, Leigh Ellen decided to revamp the idea as a tribute concert. "I wanted to do it on his birthday," she says. "It's just time to continue several things in his honor."
Even if Johnny helped make music that has touched generations of music enthusiasts, Leigh Ellen and her two sisters he was "just Dad." Even before she was aware her dad worked on it, Gregg Allman's 1973 debut solo album, "Laid Back," was her all-time favorite song. She has always loved musicians like Eddie Kendricks, the legendary Temptations singer, and being at the house.
Johnny Sandlin, a Southern rock recording studio, and his daughter, Leigh Ellen Sandlin (Courtesy Leigh Ellen Sandlin-Cauthen)
Johnny's connection to her father's music has only accelerated once, according to Leigh Ellen. "That first year after he passed, I spent most of my time on bike trails here in Decatur, and I must have listened to 'Jessica' 2,000 times," he adds. "Brothers and Sisters" are the gorgeous Allman Brothers instrumental track.
Sandlin's favorite of his own productions is the 1970 Johnny Jenkins studio, a bluesy set featuring Duane Allman's vocalist voice, and a cover of Dr. John's voodoo-rock song "I Walk on Gilded Splinters," which he recorded in 1993. The Country-rock band Cowboy's 1971 LP "5ll Getcha Ten" is another Sandlin's essential. The Allman Brothers' classic 1971 studio/live
Sandlin's studio work is known for its natural feel and clarity. It always sounded and sounded. He had a life-long rhythmic talent, and was also the drummer in Hour Glass, the precursor band.
Jason Isbell, the legendary folk/rock star who worked at Sandlin's Duck Tape Studio in his youth, recorded the last song Leigh Ellen ever watched with her dad before he passed.
On one of Wet Willie's finest records, "Drippin' Wet Live," a 1973 concert album, Sandlin was recorded in Duck Tape Studio. A couple decades later, the frontman and harmonica virtuoso shared their "Rendezvous with the Blues" solo album. Duck Tape was detached from a large den or two-car garage, and a 36-channel Westar recording console from the 1980s was the studio's centerpiece.
Hall says he was able to explore your own ambition while working with Johnny Sandlin in the studio. "He really encouraged you to find your voice or to say it how you wanted to say it," he adds. In the latest album Hall is collaborating with blues-rock guitar hero Joe Bonamassa.
Hall believes that he was like a mentor to all of us who worked with him. "He taught us all a lot and he left a great, long and long legacy." Hall also plans to perform a song or two from the next Bonamassa collabo at Sandlin's tribute, including "Ready Now," a heartfelt gospel-toned tune about conquering one's enemies. And, of course, he'll release "Keep on Smilin" and "Keep On
The last note to Johnny Sandlin comes out Saturday night at Princess Theatre. Steven Teller has raised $30,000 to design a mural depicting Sandlin and musicians who recorded at his studio, including jam-bands such as Widespread Panic and Col. Bruce Hampton. The mural will be painted on a wall outside the downtown law office where Leigh Ellen lives.
The family is also establishing the Johnny Sandlin Foundation for Music and the Arts. Leigh Ellen claims the foundation will provide music education to local schools, assist with musical and arts scholarships, and other initiatives. According to Leigh Ellen, the foundation has already established quite the board of directors, with members including Dickey Betts, the Rolling Stones, and Swampers bassist David Hood, and Sandlin's studio protege.