Skynyrd, The Allmans and Otis
Alan Walden's Career in Rock and Soul
by Michael Buffalo Smith
Anyone who has read anything at all about the history of Southern Music is familiar with the Walden name. Phil Walden and his brother Alan did more for Macon music during the sixties and seventies than perhaps anyone else.
In our exclusive interview, Alan speaks candidly about brother Phil, Otis Redding, Lynyrd Skynyrd and more.
Alan's wife Tosha, Gregg Allman and Walden.
Tell us how you first broke into the music buisiness, and a little about your relationship to Phil, etc.
He booked a black band for his high school fraternity and it went over so big all the frats began calling him to inquire how to book more of them. As he scouted around he discovered a band called Pat Tea Cake & the Mighty Panthers who had Johnny Jenkins on guitar and Otis Redding and Bill Jones as vocalists. They soon became a favorite of the fraternities and sororities and when a dispute arose within the band Phil formed another band and named them Johnny Jenkins and The Pinetopppers. I booked them for my high school dance and would often help Phil get them to their dances and parties. I became the high school representative for Phil's new agency, Phil Walden Artists & Promotions. Also, I doubled as Coca-Cola sodajerk at the local club where we promoted bands like Doug Clark & The Hot Nuts, the Delacardos, & Maurice Williams & The Zodiacs.
We were almost arrested for presenting Doug Clark & The Hot Nuts because of their controversial songs like "See the man all dressed in green, he lost his quarter in the rubber machine."
The company grew and expanded into booking bands for colleges and high schools all over the Southeast. Phil operated from a one room office (Which Otis painted) with even our Mother answering the phone for him while he was in class at Mercer University or working his main job at Ben Jone's exclusive Mens store.
Business was good and Phil wanted to develop his favorite band into a recording attraction. "Love Twist" was recorded by Johnny Jenkins & the Pinetoppers and "She's Alright" and "Shout Bama Lama" by Otis Redding. Neither did well nationally but became regional favorites and "Love Twist' sold enough regionally to capture the attention of Atlantic Record's promotion man, Joe Galkin who quickly became one of the Walden's closest friends and also their mentor in the recording industry.
A second recording session was scheduled for Johnny Jenkins at Stax records in Memphis. Otis drove Johnny up for the session. After a long day with little results, Otis, with the help of Al Jackson of the MGs was allowed to put down two sides, "These Arms Of Mine" and "Hey Hey Baby." The owner of Stax, Jim Stewart was not impressed and literally gave away his half of the publishing on these songs to John Richboug of WLAC in Nashville. The record had been released for nine months before it started to sell. Hamp Swain at WIBB in Macon and John R at WLAC in Nashville continued to "burn' this record for the entire time, refusing to give up on it. "These Arms Of Mine" became Otis Redding's first release to hit Billboard's Hot 100.
I was away at college at the time and remember some of my friends laughing when I said Otis had a hit record. They did not believe it was real and went as far as to say "I like Otis but I don't know if he can really sing!" After completing my first year at college I transferred to Mercer University and began my first quarter when I received a call from Phil. He had graduated from Mercer and was commissioned a second Lieutenant in the Army and in those days even Elvis Presly served.
Between 4 PM on Friday and 4AM on Saturday Phil trained me to be a booking agent and the manger of Otis Redding. Twelve hours to run a company singlehanded for the next two years! The first year it was very rough. Phil told me he left $5000.00 in the bank but failed to mention $10,000.00 worth of debts.
I had to first try and break the racial barrier with the black acts and gain their trust. This was not easy for a 19 year old white kid fresh out into the black music scene. I have to say my inexperience became an asset at times. I made mistakes and found myself deeply in debt not to banks or finance companies, but to my relatives, The Waldens. I was not old enough to borrow from the banks yet. Bankruptcy was out of the question and not practiced in those days like it today. Besides, Waldens paid their bills especially to other Waldens.
During these trying times I often slept on the sofa in the office just so I would be there early in the morning to answer the phone the next day. The agency became my whole life. While my friends were going out to have fun and dating I was mostly at the office even bringing my dates there instead of the movies etc. During this time Otis and I became very close friends. When he was not doing shows on the road he would hang out at the office with me. Otis enjoyed being involved behind the scene as well as performing. He and I often grabbed a 12 pack of Bud and spent most of the night writing songs, answering mail, booking, or making promotion tapes for the DJs and radio stations. We were one of the first integrated companies employing both white and black secretaries. We traveled together and this was prior to the Civil Rights Bill. Yes, we encountered racists but it only fueled our determination to make it work more. Some of them were very cruel but we wrote them off as crackers, rednecks and dumbasses.
After the first year we began to show a profit and my father even came to work for me. By the time Phil returned from Germany Otis and I had a string of hits. "I've Been loving You Too Long" was in the top 10 of Billboard and "Respect" was already in the can (recorded)! Phil and I became 50-50 partners and immediately began an even stronger push to expand. we built the largest working stable of black artists in the world. The only other large management company was Motown's and their artists never worked except for the Motown Reviews and a few selected dates. We were the kings of the one nighters with our acts only taking 10 days off in a year if they were hot.
Who were some of the clients y'all were handling at the time besides Otis?
In addition to Otis, we represented Sam & Dave, Percy Sledge, Clarence Carter, Johnnie Taylor, Etta James, Al Green, Booker T and The MGS, Arthur Conly, Joe Tex, Eddie Floyd, Joe Simon, Bobby Womack, Albert King, Albert Collins, John Lee Hooker, Clarence Gatemaouth Brown, James Carr, Tyrone Davis and many more. We opened Redwal Music which was one of the first publishing companies in The South and unheard of in that era. Plans were made for the recording studio since Otis had begun to produce other artists. Then tragedy struck. Otis was killed in route to his gig in Madison, Wisconsin, December 10, 1967.
So sad. How did you cope with that?
The whole world stopped cold for me that day. My star, and my best friend were gone. I had never known pain like that. He was the first man I loved outside of my immediate family. I still cry sometimes for Otis. I might be reading a story or hear a song, or just remember some of the good times and it will rip through me like it was yesterday. Predictions followed. THE WALDENS WERE OVER WITH!
What happened next? Did you guys start Capricorn then?
My brother and I were crushed by this terrible accident but we were still determined to go on and on and on. Soul music died almost the same day as Otis. It began a very fast decline over the next year. We began to look at the rock and roll bands. Phil and I had already purchased the building for the recording studio and we decided to go forward with it. With our new direction he signed Duane Allman and I signed Boz Scaggs. Into rock and roll we went. We founded Capricorn records bringing in our other brother, Blue. Now with the studio opened and a whole new adventure underway we hit it hard again.
Most of the money in those days went to finance The Allman Brothers Band and Boz began to get discouraged. He and I had become good friends and he even moved into my log cabin near the Big-O Ranch.
Financing was short and we were building some very large debts again. this strained my relationship with Phil and one night in new York he said I was riding on his coattails! I had been a manger, an agent, a publisher, a record company, and event tried one session as a producer! In addition to all of those hats, I was the office manager and supervised the books. Ironically, I accounted for 62% of the income to our companies while hanging on that coat tail and knew it very well. I also felt we could take one or just a few bands and pursue every avenue and make just as much money as handling twenty and not having enough time to do it all. This led to dissention and I finally resigned in 1970.
What did you do next, and how did you come to record Lynyrd Skynyrd?
I opened Hustler's Inc. on April's Fool Day 1970. There was no magazine at that time and we named it for "Hard worker," hence, let's hustle! I set it up as a publishing company number one, and a management company number two. I went on a talent search for that "special' band and auditioned 187 bands in one year and I only kept one! The 13 th band I auditioned was LYNYNRD SKYNYRD!!! I changed my lucky number from 5 to 13!
I took them to Muscle Shoals and recorded them with my friends, David Johnson and Quinn Ivy at a studio named Broadway Sound. Then I took them to my other good friend, Jimmy Johnson at Muscle Shoals Sound. Jimmy really sunk his teeth into the band and literally taught them how to record. He gave them great advice and pushed them hard to get the best sounds. He helped polish their whole concept while working with them after living there for five months trying to get something going I found myself broke again. The Allmans had broken wide open and business booming at Capricorn. I have to admit, I wondered "What to Hell Have I Done?"
Nine record companies had turned us down! I don't mean "We like you but you need better material." I mean "Not interested! No need to contact us again." Atlantic, Columbia, Warners, A&M, RCA, Epic, Electra, Polydor, and even Capricorn all passed after hearing "Free Bird", "Gimme Three Steps", "Simple Man", "I Ain't The One" and about twelve other originals. Their comments were "They sound too much like The Allman Brothers!" Now I ask you? Put them on back to back and tell me they sound alike? We all came from The South, played hard, had long hair, drank and chased women. But we did not sound alike! The Allman's had their jazz influences and we were a straight ahead juking band! I remember one excutive telling me to turn that noise off while I was playing him "Free Bird."
I had one hundred dollars in my pocket when I left Jimmy and Muscle shoals. I had encountered problems with some of the other partners and was looking at starting all over again. I got about thirty miles out of town when the old Cadilac broke down with a bad fuel pump. The wrecker service left me out there waiting until after 5:00 PM so he could charge more. There went all but ten dollars. Add $90,000 in debt back home and you might understand how bad it was. I walked out into a cotton patch shaking my fist at the sky, shouting " I am going to make Lynyrd Skynyrd happen even if it kills me!" It was my solemn oath.
We had to hit the clubs again. We played a hell hole called Funochios which was a real fruit and nut bar. The booze was good, the women were wild and we stayed until I thought I would die there. Then we had a run in with the manager. Ronnie's grandmother died and he did not want to sing. When Ronnie and I went to see him to tell him the band would still go on and Jeff Carlisi was also bringing his band, the manager's reply was "the old bitch is dead and you go on!." When it was the last song ("Free Bird") on Saturday, Ronnie started throwing amps onto the dance floor, smashing chairs, and breaking bottles. He totally wrecked the joint! People screaming and running, cops rushing in. I reached him just as the cop was about to bust him with a billy club. I screamed "His Grandmother died! Help me, don't hurt him! We got him outside with the help of the police only to find out I had to go back and collect the money for the week.
During these years Lynyrd Skynyrd rehearsed constantly. When they were home they went to rehearsals like most go to straight jobs. Judy Van Zant, Kathy Collins, girlfriends and families supported them. They had a place in the swamp called "Hidden Hills" and a deal with the local police to turn off by 5:00 pm everyday. They may have always been broke but they still knew how to have fun with each other. We continued to improve our equipment and our shows. We would write, rehearse and then try the new ones out in Atlanta or Jacksonville or Gainesville, Fla. The good songs stayed in the set and the bad ones went to the trash can. I wish I still had copies of the bad ones. They were great too!
We changed members several times but there was always Ronnie, Allen, and Gary. And Ronnie was the undisputed leader! He was a natural poet with the gift to write about what he felt, what he knew, his life, and the things he understood. No fantasies. The REAL DEAL! We became the Ten Musketeers! All for one and one for all! Wild, crazy, drinking, fighting REDNECKS with a capital R and proud of it! I had drank with some of the best with Johnnie Taylor- the best -but when I met Skynyrd-whew-I went under the table. Those guys could drink. Straight from the bottle- and they were still teens at the time.
We met Al Kooper while still playing the clubs. He was starting his own "southern label," Sounds Of the South. Even though it was short lived we used it as stepping stone. When we signed the recording contract on the hood of my pickup truck in the Macon Coliseum parking lot, Ronnie asked me in front of the other musicians what I thought of the contract. My reply was it was the worst I had ever seen. Worse than most of the old R & B contracts.
His reply was "What else we got? Nothing" I said. "Gimmie that damn pen" as he reached for it. We could wait no more. The band could not starve any more. We had already been in the clubs too long. They signed and he went back to Jacksonville and started writing "Working for MCA!"
I knew from the beginning we needed MCA on our side. I made sure we gave them a deal that would give them a chance to make millions. We recorded "Pronounced" for $22,500. Can you believe it? We did not try to borrow a lot of money. We did not call everyday. We were a working machine fully tuned and oiled. Independent! When I met Mike Maitland he was shocked. I was all business and not into hanging out in the Hollywood scene like most. With him I laid out some of the best marketing and promotion plans ever. I got The Who tour when all others failed! I got the best dates for the band and built a foundation the current band lives on! Take away "Free Bird," "Gimmie Three Steps," "Sweet Home Alabama," " Simple Man," "I Ain't the One" and what do you have left? If these songs were dropped from the set, would you pay to see them?
I did very career minded booking while their manager. I had the long run in mind constantly. I caught a lot of crap from the band sometimes because they wanted to make a certain amount all the time! Once we played a $10,000 date they thought all the dates should be $10,000. We might play Nashville for $35,000 and the next day be booked for $3,500 in a market undeveloped. Then once they said no more under a certain price, they complained of working the same cities over and over. They should have concentrated on the music and the shows and left the bookings and business to the pro. It amazes me how bands hire a manger and as soon as they get hot want to tell him how to do it. Or fire him because he is too smart for them. They should stick to what they know best! MUSIC!
During this time I also was thinking of their latter days when they would no longer tour. Like now maybe? I had set up profit sharing and pension plans for their older years. I got them life insurance. Things they did not want to keep at that time. They wanted it all in CASH! One visit to the road I discovered $90,000 in a briefcase. Smart. I took it home and straight to the bank. I tried to remind them it wasn't that long before that we all had been broke. The wheel of success had turned. I was the money miser. And they just knew the sucess would never stop.
"Pronounced" was a smash and "Second Helping" was as well. MCA was thrilled and now had reps meeting us in every city. "Second Helping" came in for under $30,000.00 Both smash albums for under $50,000.00. No wonder MCA loved us so much. I was setting them up for the kill. We had not borrowed money and it was a prime time to renegoiate their recording contract. It would have been a multi million dollar deal. My biggest to date.
We were also getting prime concerts now with The Allman Brothers in Atlanta at Brave's Stadium, Clapton in Memphis, ZZ Top in Nashville, and heading to pick off The Eagles at the Orange Bowl in Miami! The band was now the showstoppers! They killed and killed. No one could hold up behind "Freebird!" Along the way Ronnie had recommended I sign a band called The Outlaws and I did. He said they had themselves a "Bird." That turned out to be "Green Grass And High Tides." Now I had five of the best guitar players in the world!
We were at the Orange Bowl with the Eagles and I was doing an in depth interview with Creem Magazine. They had spent two days traveling with me and this was going to be THE BIG STORY! Ronnie told me he need to talk to me right after the show and he and I went back to the room together. When we sat down he informed me the band had voted to replace me as the manager of the band. The wind went out of my sails. I can't tell you how bad and shocked I felt. This had been my whole life for the last four years. No one loved the band anymore than me. Not Ronnie, not Allen, not Gary or any of the rest of the band. Ronnie had been best man at my wedding. The only people I invited were the band. I thought of Ronnie as my closest friend. There was anger, hurt, pain, fear, and numbness. Ronnie said I could beat the hell out of him, that he would just cover up the vitals and let me have a go at him. I couldn't. He asked me if I wanted to know who voted what. I was still wrestling with the verdict. I knew Ed King didn't like me but the rest of the guys were supposed to be my friends too. I knew I had done a superb job for this group. But something had gone wrong! Here we were with the whole world at our feet and now BOOM! I must admit that also came a feeling like concrete blocks falling from my shoulders. Now I did not have to worry about their future like I had been doing. The truth of the matter is no one was looking after mine or seemed to care but me.
I went home to Georgia to lick my wounds. I have never been the person to stay with someone if they did not want me and this was my biggest disappointment in life. Not for all the money in the world. Now they wanted that big Hollywood super manager to take them on to superstardom. I waited a couple of days, prayed over it and then called Ronnie. I offered to meet with them and try to correct any problems and I did go out to see them. But it was not the same group of guys. They were now "the machine" as Ronnie called it. No more Brotherhood. My control was gone and I knew it. I could have stroked them all and maybe stayed in the picture a while longer, taken a cut in commission and become the yes man. Gary, Dean, and Ronnie came to the Capricorn Picnic that year and Ronnie and I ended up in a room alone again. I won't go into details but I lost it with him this time. Here was the guy whose back I had been covering for four years even when we were up against very bad odds. And now he's letting them all stab my ass in the back! I knew Ronnie could kick my ass one handed but I was so angry this night that did not even matter. I was furious and after I had my say I saw a tear coming down his face. Then I lost it and left with tears flowing as I left the hotel. I knew for sure then it was all over for me with them.
The next day he asked me if I knew I had a bull by the horns the night before. I knew exactly what he meant. Now that it was over I made the suggestion instead of us ending up with a big lawsuit we should try to find the new manager together and keep the lawyers from getting rich. I had seen these guys rise from poverty and work every inch of the way. I still loved them and tried to understand why they were doing this. I had been around enough acts to know these things happen sometimes and there is not much you can do to stop it once it gets going. No one ever doubted my honesty at least. They did say I was a money miser and I do count money well. Forgive me, but isn't that what a mangers job is? Would you rather have one who could not count? I did not want to see some idiot come in and totally ruin everything I had worked on and I wanted him to have to buy my contracts.
I recommended Peter Rudge. I had met him on The Who tour. He managed The Rolling Stones, The Who, Golden Earning, and Tanya Tucker. I figured if he could deal with Mick Jagger's ego and Keith Moon's insanity, he could surely manage my little southern band who were not totally out of control YET! I took their offer of some cash and retained the publishing on the "old" songs that had already had their big earning days. The cash did not equal what I would have made off the negotiation of the record deal alone. It was a drop in the bucket compared to what I could have made in the next three years. It would all equal to about 1/100 of what I would have made. But even with trying to keep things cool, bad blood still developed. Rumors spread that I only wanted the money. I find that ridiculous and totally untrue. I wanted to love what I was doing and it wasn't fun any more. Not only that but I went to see the movie, "The Longest Yard" which had the only song I had helped write with Skynyrd in it. When the credits came on the screen there was Ed and Ronnie and no Alan. I came up with the title and the plot to "Saturday Night Special" and they took it from me. At this time I made another solemn oath. " I will be back and beat you at your own game. MUSIC! One year later the L.A. TIMES review said "The momentum of the show had dropped until the return to the stage of The Outlaw's Hughie Thomasson and Billy Jones where a friendly competetion of the guitars roared" along with numerous others on the 37 day tour where The Outlaws never let up!"
I took my publishing catalog and made it a valuable commodity. When I sold my Skynyrd copyrights many years later I once again heard they were upset I had done well on the deal. I made the deal where I was promised their songs would be pumped directly into movies. The first movie after the signing was Forrest Gump with "Freebird" and "Sweet Home Alabama" in it. Do you have any idea how much money that made the writers? The "bad man" did it again! I finally had an opportunity to sit down with Gary alone one night and I did not beat around the bush I asked him if all the rumors were true, that they still had all theses resentments about the publishing. At least he was honest and told me he did think I had gotten the best of them with this. Then I told him I was sorry he felt that way, but that I wanted to add though that I thought I had made them all rich. I met with Gary another time in Atlanta and he asked me to help him make a strong publishing deal and he even signed a piece of paper saying I had the deal! When I tried to call him later to tell him of the interest I had found he never returned the phone call. I hear he is clean and sober now and I am so happy for him. I am too for three years now and a brand new father to my first son, Christian Walden. I hope one day we can sit and talk as just friends.
I went on to work with The Outlaws for twenty five years until they completely disbanded. We had three gold and one platinum on Arista Records. It was not near as successful as Skynyrd but I am still very proud of what we did with them! Henry Paul has proven to still be a major recording artist still in the mainstream and he was asked to leave the Outlaws under very similar circumstances as mine.
I began with Otis Redding who remained my favorite and accomplished more than them all put together. He put the "S" and the "O" in SOUL MUSIC. It never got any better than OTIS! He was THE KING OF THEM ALL, Y'ALL! A statue of Otis is to be placed in the new park right next to The Otis Redding Bridge in Macon. It is the first statue of a black man in Macon and maybe the first in Georgia. Otis' "Dock Of The Bay" just also received an award from BMI for seven million airplays. Only seven writers from America in the history have accomplished this. Thirty four years after his death his records continue to sell more now than when he was alive.
I heard you were nominated for the Georgia Music Hall of Fame. Were you inducted?
This last year I was nominated for The Georgia Music Hall Of Fame but LA Reed of Arista Records was inducted. I hope I may be nominated again and be inducted in the next few years.
Would you care to share your thoughts on the H&H Restaurant and Mama Louise?
Here in Macon we are very proud of The H & H, still a favorite spot for the hungry musicians and the fans alike. Not only is the food still down home great but The Lady of Class, Mama Louise who owns and runs it and does the cooking is one of the sweetest, kindest, finest people in the world who makes you feel good all over inside and out. And her collection of posters and photos is outstanding and the jukebox still smoking!
What was the scene like around Macon during the hey day of Southern Rock, early to mid 70's? Capricorn?
Macon will probably never know another era like the 60's to the 80's when you could meet everyone from Cher to Joe Frazier on Cotton Ave. There was never a dull moment and you never knew who was coming in the door next. Music was plentiful all over town with bands lined up for a chance to play joint named Grant's Lounge. Free music in the park almost every Sunday.The annual Capricorn picnics were a major event with people coming from all over the world. Bette Midler, Cher, Andy Warhol, Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Allmans, Marshall Tucker, Jimmy Carter, Bill Graham, Don King, Bonnie Bramlet, Dr. John The Outlaws, & Wet Willie just to give you an idea of the variety of people. Music, money, and more beautiful women than you could shake a stick at. This town was humming around the clock!
What's next on your agenda?
My future plans are to write my own book, work my publishing catalog and I still believe in a guy named Chris Hicks! His day is still yet to come but believe me it's coming!
Photos from the collection of Alan Walden except where noted.