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Johnny Sandlin, Allman Brothers Band Producer, Dies at 72

Producer Johnny Sandlin, who co-produced the Allman Brothers Band’s two biggest albums and worked with virtually every top name in the Southern rock genre, has died in Decatur, Ala. He was 72.

Sandlin’s daughter, Leigh Ellen Sandlin Cauthen, confirmed that the veteran musician, engineer and producer succumbed to cancer.

A versatile multi-instrumentalist as a youth, Alabama native Sandlin made an early mark as a session musician at Rick Hall’s noted FAME studio in Muscle Shoals. In 1967, his group the Five Men-Its merged with Duane and Gregg Allman’s combo to become Hour Glass; he worked principally as a drummer on the act’s two Liberty Records albums.

From 1969, Sandlin was principally involved for several years as an executive, producer and mixer at Phil Walden’s Macon, Ga.-based Capricorn Records. Beyond his work on the Allmans’ “Brothers and Sisters” (No. 1, 1973) and “Win, Lose or Draw” (No. 5, 1975), he produced or engineered albums by the Southern rock units Cowboy, and Wet Willie and Allmans guitarist Dickie Betts.

As an independent producer in the late ‘70s, he helmed albums by Texas singer-songwriter Delbert McClinton and “Two the Hard Way,” a commercially disastrous set by the then-married Gregg Allman and Cher.

With the renaissance of Capricorn Records in the ‘90s, Sandlin worked with a number of second-generation Southern rock acts, including Widespread Panic and the Dixie Dregs, while producing sets with such original Capricorn artists as Gregg Allman, Wet Willie vocalist Jimmy Hall, Allmans and Sea Level keyboardist Chuck Leavell and R&B singer-guitarist Johnny Jenkins.

Sandlin was inducted into the Alabama Music Hall of Fame in 2016.

He was born April 16, 1945 in Decatur. As a teenager, he played in the local bands the Secrets and the Impacts. While working with the later band, he met members of another local act, the Mark V – pianist David Briggs, bassist Norbert Putnam and guitarist Marlin Greene – who, like Sandlin, would go on to work as house musicians during the early days of the hit-producing Fame facility.

At the studio, he also encountered such key Southern soul figures as pianist Spooner Oldham and singer-songwriters Eddie Hinton, Dan Penn and Donnie Fritts. He founded the Five Men-Its with Hinton. That group later merged with the Allman siblings’ Florida-bred Allman Joys, who were the group’s major regional competition.

After Hour Glass folded following a pair of unsuccessful albums for Liberty, Sandlin began working for artist manager Walden’s neophyte Capricorn imprint in Macon as a house producer and A&R director. His first project for the company was “Ton Ton Macoute!” by singer-guitarist Johnny Jenkins; Duane Allman was featured on lead guitar. He also produced Cowboy, an act including members of the pre-Allman Brothers Band unit the 31st of February.

He served as an engineer on the Allmans’ “Live at the Fillmore East” (1970) and “Eat a Peach” (1971). In 1973, he produced the chart-topping “Brothers and Sisters,” which included the No. 2 hit “Ramblin’ Man,” and continued his chart streak with the group with “Win, Lose or Draw.” His other Capricorn projects of the era included albums with Elvin Bishop, James Taylor’s brother Alex, comic Martin Mull and Bonnie Bramlett of Delaney & Bonnie.

As an indie producer during the ‘80s, Sandlin branched into straight country via sessions with Jerry Reed, Mac Davis and Ronnie Dunn of Brooks & Dunn.

He returned to his Southern rock roots during the ‘90s, producing Widespread Panic’s “Pick Your Panic” (1991) and “Space Wrangler” (1992), Dixie Dregs’ “Bring ‘Em Back Alive” (1992), Jimmy Hall’s “Rendezvous With the Blues” (1996) and Chuck Leavell’s “What’s in the Bag” (1998).

In later years, Sandlin produced new albums by Bramlett and Bishop and worked with young Southern rock performer Kenneth Brian.

Sandlin’s survivors include his daughter and wife Ann.

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