Phil Was a Capricorn
By Michael Buffalo Smith
Phil Walden, 66, the Capricorn Records founder who launched the careers of Otis Redding and the Allman Brothers Band, died on Sunday, April 23, 2006 after a long battle with cancer. Walden died at his home in Atlanta.
Founded in 1969, Phil Walden’s Capricorn Records was the premier American music label that helped put Macon, Georgia on the map as a major southern rock hub. It was home to such renowned artists as the Allman Brothers Band, Wet Willie, Elvin Bishop, The Marshall Tucker Band, The Dixie Dregs, Delbert McClinton, Captain Beyond and many others. At both Capricorn Records and his earlier endeavor, Phil Walden Artists and Promotions, Walden signed artists based on what he heard and felt, not on corporate research or popular trends. Over the last 40 years, Walden had a hand in shaping not only Georgia music history but popular music history.
Walden’s two most famous artists, Otis Redding and guitarist Duane Allman, both died tragically, Redding in a plane crash in 1967 at 26 and Allman in a motorcycle accident in 1971 at age 24.
The Allman Brothers Band, the quintessential Southern rock band which the guitarist founded with brother Gregg and others, continued after Duane Allman's death.
"They weren't trendy," Walden said in a 1996 interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "You had all these British groups dressed up in Edwardian finery," Walden continued. "But there was never any attempt by the Allmans to be a show band. They played music. On occasions, when they were allowed to, for hours."
Duane Allman and his brother Gregg would soon become the stars of the Capricorn label. The Allman Brothers Band’s third album, At Fillmore East, was hailed by critics as one of the best live rock albums ever produced. This live double album was dubbed “the finest live rock performance ever committed to vinyl,” by Rolling Stone magazine."Phil was a visionary," said Chuck Leavell, who joined the Allman Brothers on keyboards in 1972 and now plays with the Rolling Stones. "He just had a great vision and a true, deep passion for the music."
In 1979, the label dissolved under the distribution company PolyGram Records, forcing Walden to file for bankruptcy in 1980. Walden then steered his career in a different direction, returning to artist management. In the 80’s Walden represented Jim Varney, best known for his role as Ernest P. Worrell, and the then little known actor and director Billy Bob Thornton.
The Capricorn label made a strong comeback in the 1990 in Nashville, Tennessee and within the next year released its first album by Athens band Widespread Panic. With Capricorn’s resurrection came a new line up of fresh, new, young acts including 311 and Cake. Walden moved Capricorn to Atlanta, Georgia in 1996 and sold half to the company to PolyGram/Mercury. This venture allowed the reissuing of many of Capricorn’s earlier recordings since PolyGram/Mercury owned many master tapes. The label was sold in 1999, but Phil was not ready to put his love for music in the past. In 2001, Phil and his children Philip and Amantha began Velocette Records in Atlanta.
During the 1970s, Walden was an early backer of then-Georgia Gov. Jimmy Carter. He helped with Carter's bid for the presidency financially, as did the Allmans, Marshall Tucker and other Capricorn groups, who played benefit shows.
Carter said in a statement last week that he and wife Rosalynn were sad to hear of Walden's death. "Phil was one of the pre-eminent producers of great music in America," Carter said. "His many performing partners, including Otis Redding and the Allman Brothers, helped to put Macon and Georgia on the musical map of the world."
“In the late 60's I was just getting into the T-shirt screening business,” says Jerry W. Henry. “Phil believed in me and what I was doing. He gave me one of my first orders. I was in need of money and his orders helped keep me in business. The music business would not have been the same without him.”
Walden was born in Greenville, South Carolina January 11,1940 but grew up in Macon, Georgia. As an undergrad at Macon’s Mercer University, Walden began his venture into the music industry by booking bands for local high school and college events, eventually opening his own office and expanding his agency in the southeast. Phil introduced his younger brother Alan Walden to the music business, making him a full-time partner in Phil Walden Artists and Promotions. Together, Phil and Alan represented Otis Redding, Sam and Dave, Clarence Carter, and Percy Sledge. Alan went on to work with both Lynyrd Skynyrd and The Outlaws.
As a young R&B lover, there was no better place for Phil Walden to be in the late '50s than his hometown of Macon, Georgia. The black music scene was thriving with homegrown talent such as Little Richard and the Pinetoppers. And Walden, still in high school, was determined to be a part of it. Beginning his career by managing a local group named the Heartbreakers, as president of his high school fraternity Walden started booking R&B acts. His break came when a guitarist he was managing, Johnny Jenkins, introduced Walden to a young singer named Otis Redding. The two became fast friends and, opening an office in downtown Macon, Walden dedicated himself to making Otis Redding a star.
Redding and Walden's close friendship made them outcasts in the segregated South, Redding's widow, Zelma Redding, recalled in 1997. She said Walden's passion for black music made him "the little white boy who everybody was wanting to beat up on."