Southern rock guitarist Tommy Talton dies at 74

The Florida native who co-founded the band Cowboy played for Georgia-based Capricorn Records
Tommy Talton relaxed with his guitar backstage at the Capricorn Studio Reunion Show in Macon in December 2019. Courtesy Mark Pucci Media.

Credit: Mark Pucci Media

Credit: Mark Pucci Media

Tommy Talton relaxed with his guitar backstage at the Capricorn Studio Reunion Show in Macon in December 2019. Courtesy Mark Pucci Media.

Tommy Talton honed his slide guitar licks jamming with Duane Allman, wowed sold-out crowds at Carnegie Hall in New York City and the Fillmore West in San Francisco, and lived the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle with the Capricorn Records music crew in Macon in the 1970s.

“His sound came from his soul,” said Athens musician Randall Bramblett, his friend and musical collaborator for more than 50 years. “He had a beautiful guitar sound, especially slide, really unique. He would get lost in it sometimes.”

“He was always a very tasteful player. Very melodic. Not necessarily a fiery player,” said Chuck Leavell, keyboardist for the Allman Brothers Band and a lifelong friend. He played with lovely flowing melodic lines, he said.

“He learned a lot from Duane, but he had his own style and it became quite a signature with him,” Leavell added.

“When he would hit a note that was just right or his band would hit a note that was just right, he had this grin, and this twinkle in his eye,” said his agent and manager Terry Reeves. “He was so genuine and loyal.”

Talton died Dec. 28, 2023, at his home in Marietta of lung cancer. He was 74.

Frank Thomas “Tommy” Talton was born in Winter Park, Florida, on Jan. 9, 1949, to Juliette Cayll Talton and Delmos Jackson Talton. He attended Winter Park High School and excelled in sports, but music was always first love.

He started playing guitar at age 13 and by 15 was playing with the central Florida garage rock band We the People, which though relatively obscure still has a cult following. The band played a few gigs with The Allman Joys, later to become the Allman Brothers Band.

Talton left We the People in 1969 and co-founded the band Cowboy with Scott Boyer in Jacksonville, Florida. When Duane Allman heard the band, he recommended them to Phil Walden, who signed them to Capricorn Records label, headquartered in Macon.

Cowboy featured Talton’s songwriting and sweet slide and lead guitar, with a Southern Rock sound that was a good fit at the label. Although never as big a name as the Allmans, Marshall Tucker Band, Wet Willie or some other Capricorn acts, Cowboy released four albums in the 1970s.

“From the standpoint of meeting wonderful people and having countless, unusual opportunities, it was a fine time,” Talton said in a 2015 interview with Psychedelic Baby Magazine about the Capricorn years.

“Although, from a business and contractual view, myself and others should have looked a little closer before signing some of the agreements we got involved in,” he said.

He was an in-demand session player in Macon through much of the ‘70s on guitar, mandolin and dobro, recording with the Allmans, Clarence Carter, Johnny Rivers, Kitty Wells, Billy Joe Shaver and others.

He played guitar on Gregg Allman’s “Laid Back Tour” in the mid-70s, from Carnegie Hall to the Fillmore West. The Village Voice singled out his guitar playing in a review of the Carnegie Hall show.

But the high life did not last. “The whole end of the ‘70s was not that pleasant,” recalled Bramblett. “Capricorn folded and everybody was way over-partying. We were all kind of out there and obnoxious.”

Talton moved to Luxembourg in 1994, formed a band called The Rebelizers and toured in France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany and Spain.

“I lost track of him for a long time when he moved to Europe, and he was going through his own stuff,” said Bramblett.

“When he went to Europe, he found his purpose again through music,” said Reeves. “He was in a much better place in recent years.”

He returned to the U.S. in 2001 and married Patty Donnelly in 2002.

“When he came back with Patty, he had mellowed out and was determined to make a career for himself as a solo artist,” Bramblett recalled. “I felt like I lost him and then got him back.”

His later projects included the Tommy Talton Band and a Cowboy reunion.

Talton was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2017.

“I only hope when it’s my time to go I can be half as brave as that guy,” said Paul Hornsby, owner of Muscadine Studio in Macon and a friend since about 1970.

“He played music right up to the end. I don’t know how he did it,” Hornsby said. “The cancer was all over him. He’d be headlining some big show and playing his (rear) off. I don’t know how he pulled it off.”

Talton’s last live gig was in August 2023 at a private party at Druid Hills Country Club in Decatur, playing a mostly acoustic show with Leavell, Bramblett and other Southern rock and Americana music warriors. “You could tell he wasn’t well, but he put on a fantastic show,” said Bramblett.

Talton is survived by his wife Patricia; daughters Corrina Josephine Talton, Christina Merrill Hartley (John Vilardi), and Kathleen Gondek (Steven); brother Gary Talton; sister Rosemary Talton Clark (Robert), and grandchildren.

“As a family, we will have huge holes in our hearts moving forward but are comforted by the fact that TT left us such a beautiful legacy with all the music he created through the years,” his daughter Kathleen Gondek wrote on the family’s GoFundMe page that had been raising money for his cancer treatment.

A celebration of life is planned from 3-7 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 28, at Red Clay Theater, 3116 Main St. in Duluth.