Paul Hornsby is a living legend in blues music, but his influence as a musician, songwriter, and producer has spread far and wide in the music industry. Born in Elba, Alabama in 1944 and raised in New Brockton, he cut his teeth listening to his father play fiddle. His early musical influences, Chet Atkins, Merle Travis, and The Ventures led him to pick up a guitar at the age of fourteen and begin playing and writing music. As a student at the University of Alabama, he sat in with blues greats Jimmy Reed and Slim Harpo. These experiences forged the beginnings of an epic career.
Part of the college rock band scene in the 1960s in Tuscaloosa, Paul recorded in Muscle Shoals and took his band The Men-its on the road, where he eventually joined forces with Duane and Gregg Allman in the band, Hour Glass in 1967. Playing California concert halls such as The Fillmore, The Avalon, and Whiskey-a-Go-Go and touring the state with Jefferson Airplane, Buffalo Springfield, Moby Grape, and Big Brother, Hour Glass became a tour de force in live music in California. Paul started playing organ and piano while in Hour Glass as he realized that there was “no shortage of guitar players,” and shared playing keyboards with Gregg Allman on stage. Paul remembers that Hour Glass often played four nights at a time and some of the best musicians would sit in with them if they were not touring. One night, he said, the stage was crowded with the likes of Paul Butterfield, Stephen Stills and Neil Young (from Buffalo Springfield), Buddy Miles on drums, and Eric Burdon (from the Animals). Paul recalls of that night, “All of the sudden I heard a girl’s voice and she was getting down with it…screaming on the mike. And I kind of worked my way to see who it was and it was Janis…Janis Joplin.”
Paul explains that Duane Allman wanted to leave California and return the band members back to the South. Paul went to record at Muscle Shoals with Duane and the other members of Hour Glass, laying down blues tracks like “No Money Down” and “Going Down Slow.” By the summer of 1968, Paul said Hour Glass broke up and he started a band in Tuscaloosa with a promising keyboard player who was still in high school, Chuck Leavell. Chuck was mentored by Paul and eventually became the keyboard player for the Rolling Stones.
Eventually, Phil Walden, a renowned booking agent for prominent rhythm and blues acts, asked Paul and the other rhythm section players from the former Hour Glass to come to Macon, Georgia to be the resident rhythm section at Capricorn Recording Studio. Spending most of his time in the studio gave Paul the opportunity to learn sound engineering first hand. Phil Walden quickly recognized Paul’s talent as a record producer and asked him to start recording various bands. Paul’s second adventure as producer had him working with a then unknown band called The Marshall Tucker Band. After spending two months in the studio, their first album, entitled The Marshall Tucker Band, was released in 1973 and was an instant hit, achieving gold status within a year. That first album contained the hit single, “Can’t You See,” since named as the number one Southern rock favorite song of all time.
While working with The Marshall Tucker Band, Paul befriended Charlie Daniels who, often sat in with the band onstage and in the studio. Charlie was impressed by Paul’s skill as a record producer and asked him if Paul would produce him. At this point, Paul was working as an independent record producer and went on to produce Charlie Daniels Band’s 1974 multi-platinum album, Fire on the Mountain, which contained the hits “Long Haired Country Boy” and “The South’s Gonna Do It Again.” These hits were also followed by a huge single for The Marshall Tucker Band, “Heard it in a Love Song” off their 1977 album California Dreams. Paul notes that keyboard playing on their hits was his piano work in the studio.
Paul now owns Muscadine Studio in Macon and has produced thousands of artists over the years, like E.G. Kight, the Georgia songbird; Paul considers her one of the most talented blues singer/songwriters with whom he has ever worked. He has also enjoyed the opportunity of touring and playing Hammond B3 organ with another artist he greatly admires, Dr. John. Paul states: “At this stage in my life and career, I only am doing what I want to do. I’m lucky enough to be able to do that.”
Paul Hornsby was inducted into the Alabama Music Hall of Fame in 2010.