Blues News

Dr. John at a Capricorn Picnic 

Dr. John aka The Night Tripper

Dr. John, there isn’t much to say that hasn’t already been said about him. This charismatic icon referred to as “The Night Tripper” embraced a unique blend of music and made it his own. Since, he grew up in the 3rd Ward of New Orleans, he found his early musical inspiration all around him.  His preference was minstral tunes and watching family members singing and performing them on the piano. 

Furthermore, his father exposed him to the likes of jazz musicians King Oliver and Louie Armstrong.  Throughout his adolescence his father’s connections enabled him access to the recording rooms of musicians, including Little Richard and Guitar Slim.  Later, he began to play guitar and perform in clubs throughout New Orleans with various local artists. It’s what you do to in a place like New Orleans! Likewise, you get out of dodge when the work starts to slow down.  

Dr. John at a Capricorn Picnic 

There was magic in the air in Macon, Georgia during the 70’s, and music, wonderful music. Musicians flocked from all over, looking for their big break or at least a chance to sit in at a local club with musicians they admired. It was an exciting time. Part of the reason for that excitement was the Allman Brothers Band with their ability to blend different types and styles of music into their own unique sound. The times were electric. There was music everywhere. 

For Gilbert Lee, “I consider myself lucky as a photographer to have been there to document that magic time.” “Life was simpler then and more laid back. No need for the much sought after laminate or all access pass of today.  All you needed then was… a smile and a Nikon.” –Gilbert Lee, Photographer. 

Lee captured this quiet moment of Dr. John at a Capricorn Picnic at Phil Walden’s property on Lake Sinclair near Millegeville, Georgia. Capricorn’s annual picnic was the A ticket for anyone in the music business. Bill Graham, Bette Midler and Martin Mull were just a few of those attending that day.

Capricorn Picnics

It was a time when there was a strong link between southern rock and politics. Georgia Gov. Jimmy Carter, throughout his campaigning, “associated himself with the rock industry more than any other potential candidate.” Throughout his campaign, a number of Capricorn acts played benefit concerts to raise money for Carter’s campaign and Carter, in turn, attended Capricorn picnics and introduced the Allman Brothers on stage.  Lakeside Park back in the day was known as “One of the best-known social organizations in this part of Georgia.” When Lakeside closed to the public, Phil Walden later used the property to host the annual Capricorn Barbecue and Summer Games.

A company tradition, the Capricorn BBQ and Summer Games was a free, invitation-only extravaganza.  Capricorn’s famed annual picnic was so hip it brought celebrities such as Don King, Andy Warhol, Jimmy Carter, Bette Midler, Martin Mull, Cher and Ronnie Van Zant to Macon’s Lakeside Amusement Park. 

In January of 1977, Gregg Allman and Dickie Betts ran into each other at President Jimmy Carter’s Inauguration. This chance meeting allowed them to settle their differences and the band reformed a few months later; only to make a surprise reunion performance at the Capricorn Picnic, signaling the advance promotion for their “Enlightened Rogues” album that was released later that year.   

Gilbert Lee – The Photographer

Gilbert Lee has photographed a lot of big names and lives in Macon. He says hanging with the Allmans was quite the experience as they were just getting started. his living room resembles a museum of southern rock. He says the secret to getting some of these shots was timing.  “They weren’t big yet,” he recalled. “They all knew me so they just began to ignore me, which is exactly what you want.” 

Lee says he will never forget two weeks when Allman himself and some other folks hung out together on the West Coast, and he’s got some rare Polaroids to document it all.

Click here for Gilbert Lee’s website

Below is a great 58 minute video of one of the Capricorn Events – Bob Harris from “The Old Grey Whistle Test” goes to Macon, Georgia, in search of the Capricorn Picnic, a 1976 open-air party thrown by the head of Capricorn. It features many Southern rock bands and performers, including Wet Willie, Marshall Tucker Band, Dickey Betts, Bonnie Bramlett and Stillwater.

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CREDITS: / /The Old Grey Whistle Test

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