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Remembering Capricorn's Frank Fenter: The Push To Get Him Into The Georgia Music Hall of Fame

by Michael Buffalo Smith

Frank Fenter is truly an unsung hero of the music world, especially in the world of Southern Rock. Today there is a movement afoot set into motion by Fenter’s step[son Robin to get Fenter into The Georgia Music Hall of Fame. His work with Atlantic Records and subsequent move to the new Southern label Capricorn at the request of the Ertegun Brothers make him a prime candidate for induction.

Frank was born and raised in Johannesburg, South Africa before moving to London, England in 1958 with aspirations of becoming a professional actor.

In 1966, Frank Fenter was chosen by Atlantic Records Nesuhi Ertegün to head Atlantic Records in the United Kingdom. During his time at Atlantic Fenter discovered such artists as Yes, King Crimson, and Led Zeppelin.

Fenter was instrumental for breaking R&B music in Europe, bringing the  Stax tour to Europe, in 1967.

In 1969, Fenter and Phil and Alan Walden co-founded Capricorn Records after securing a distribution deal from Atlantic Records that Fenter secured and negotiated with his mentor, Ahmet Ertegun.

“We were completely supportive of the idea of Phil and Frank creating a label together that we would be involved in and that we would distribute,” said Ertegun in an interview. “Together, Frank and Phil formed a great team.”

Frank Fenter became Executive Vice President of Capricorn Records signing many of the artists to the label roster with his business partner, Phil Walden.

The history of Capricorn Records is forever tied to the history of Southern Rock. From the signing of The Allman brothers Band in 1969, to the great bands that followed such as Marshall Tucker Wet Willie and Grinderswitch, Fenter was a major part of the label. A quiet man who worked more behind the scenes, there is no question as to his grand contributions to Southern Rock and to Georgia Music. Here are just a few of the many collected comments from Frank’s friends, peers and artists he worked with.

“Frank Fenter, when I think of him I see a smile. He was always the one that seemed to smooth out any of the many problems arising in the ever changing world of rock and roll. Where some might get a little excited and lose focus, Frank remained relatively calm, and could see the line of least resistance or whether or not a little turmoil was worth the fight. Mostly, Frank loved to celebrate life and it came through in his smile. A fine man that helped further the cause of music and musicians”  - Tommy Talton, Cowboy

“Frank was a great friend of mine. Throughout all the turmoil that always surrounded us, Frank was always there for me. He was a first class guy!”
- Dickey Betts, Former Allman Brothers Band member

“No one was like Frank Fenter. He deserves a lot  of recognition that he never got. One of the smartest men I have ever met. He was always a gentle man. Lots of class, always.
- Colonel Bruce Hampton

 "He absolutely should be in there, in my opinion. He was a huge part of Capricorn Records. He made a huge impact.” (quote taken from Macon Telegraph article,12/14/09)
- Chuck Leavell, former Allman Brothers Band, Sea Level and Rolling Stones band member.

“Frank was a special person who played an integral role, not only in making bringing Capricorn and its artists to the world, but also many legendary artists during his tenure at Atlantic.”
- Philip Walden, Jr.

“Frank Fenter's contribution to the state's music history has been somewhat overlooked. It would be wonderful for his contributions to be recognized by membership into the GMHF.” -Willie Perkins, former ABB Road Manager

“Frank was the wheels that made the operation run. He was a mover and shaker with Integrity. He understood the creative process, but he also knew how to make things happen on the business front" Bobby Whitlock, former member of Eric Clapton's Derek and the Dominos and Capricorn Recording artist.

“It is Frank Fenter who taught myself and artist mgr. Phil Walden the executive side of the record business in those historic years when we introduced Southern Rock to the world.
  Frank Fenter had one of the best ears in the music business.
He had the record business knowledge and he was a power behind the scenes at Capricorn and everyone in the record company recognized that.” - Dick Wooley, former Capricorn Executive

“He was instrumental in bringing Capricorn Records to Macon, Georgia. We have a special interest in seeing Frank nominated as I was his personal assistant from l970 until l973. Because of Frank I met and married Chuck. He also was instrumental in getting Chuck the funding for his first Hammond B3 Organ.”
- Rose Lane White Leavell, former Capricorn employee
'I was a staff recording engineer at Capricorn from 1976-1979 and was blessed to be able to be part of over 100 recordings including Marshall Tucker, Sea Level, Gregg Allman, Bonnie Bramlett and many others. During this time I was fortunate to work with Mr. Fenter on numerous occasions. His heart for music, his visionary abilities and his warm treatment of those he worked with, was and is rare in the entertainment industry.” - David Pinkston

“I remember Frank as the man who, among his other noble deeds, made it possible for me to become the first Recording Artist to bring together and entertain multi-racial audiences in South Africa. Until his intervention, I was steadfast in declining offers to go there because of its laws of Apartheid. But Frank could be very persuasive, and he fought long and hard to accomplish that goal. I shall always be very grateful to him for that, because even today, my greatest following is still in South Africa.

During my tenure at Capricorn Records, where Frank was Senior Vice President, he always made me feel like a part of the "Capricorn Family," never giving the impression - like so many other  higher-ups - that he was an executive, and that you were beneath him. Always the ultimate optimist, he never saw the glass as half empty, but half full. With his quick wit, sense of humor,  and hearty laugh, you were immediately at ease in his presence.

Aside from the attributes I mention above, Frank's contribution to the Music Industry is immeasurable. His legacy for that contribution is long-overdue its recognition. His induction to the GMHF should be a given, as he is regarded by those of us who had the good fortune of getting to know him, as one of the "Greats" in the business.”
- Dobie Gray, Former Capricorn Recording Artist

“Frank was both mentor and friend.His advice at every turn guided us through the murky waters of the music business and his was always the voice of reason. This was a role Frank willingly played with every band he ever came in contact with. Fueled by a passion for the music and armed with an intimate knowledge of the vicissitudes of the business, he was a rare figure indeed. People like Frank Fenter do not even exist in the music industry today.”
- Richard Cooper (The Cooper Brothers)

“For too long, Frank Fenter has been one of those unsung heroes in music history, despite his pivotal role in the development of both rock and rhythm and blues. Having grown up in apartheid-era South Africa, where he defied the boundaries of segregation to soak up the rhythms of his black compatriots music around bonfires, Fenter was well-prepared to dismantle similar strictures in the stratified South and create new harmonies, musical and social.
By dint of his integrity and far-sighted vision, he helped to mint a new genre of music: Southern rock. Fenter's influence can be heard today in just about every groove with funk and twang.”
 - Candice Dyer
author of "Street Singers, Soul Shakers, and Rebels With a Cause: Music from Macon" and writer at large for Atlanta magazine

“I am in full support of Frank getting into the Georgia Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Frank helped further Eric Quincy Tate's career in the music biz, and helped produce one of the best records to come out of Capricorn, "Drinking Mans Friend."
- David Cantonwine, EQT

"After we played two songs, Frank said “Delightful. Come in Monday morning and we will sign the papers.” Total gentleman is the operative word for Frank. He was kind and had a warm, sincere demeanor, he always made you feel important, he was "The elegant Captain of the ship.”
- Rick Hirsch, co-founder of Wet Willie, former Capricorn artist.

“Frank loved The Music Business and he was a fearless promoter of The Southern music that he loved ! He was also a great man. The music business needs more cats like Frank Fenter today !
- John D. Wyker, former session musician at Capricorn and founder of the band Sailcat

“I considered Frank and his wife, Kiki Fenter as the center of the social hub of the Macon music phenomena during the early 70's.  In particular, they were the primary hosts of parties and dinners for the Allman Brothers and other musicians of the era.  If walls could talk, a book could be written on the real story of Macon Ga at the height of its music history.  Many stories were told by Frank and the musicians that felt at home there.  While Frank provided inspiration of other musical greats, Kiki provided an opportunity for musicians to talk about their influences and with her encouragement, those thoughts eventually, made many records. Inspiration to learn and for a safe place to be who these people were, were very very, important.
Dickey and I were invited on a regular basis to enjoy the dinners that Frank fixed and Kiki hosted.  Whenever invited, Dickey and I attended without hesitance and with pure excitement.  Frank provided his collection of music that was phenomenal and Kiki was the warmest human being that helped navigate us through many a troubling time that most people in the music industry experience.  They both had this experience.  One of the greatest gifts was Frank's broad collection of albums which lined a whole wall from top to bottom in their huge estate home and, if it wasn't there, he would dig into the closets that held a mass of albums.  On one occasion, Dickey and Frank got into a discussion on jazz and the relationship to the fiddle. Dickey's father was a fiddle player and this was his first musical influence as a child.  Frank went into his closet and had the complete Django Rheinhart collection on the Hot Club of France.  He played an album, and that was it!  Dickey loved it.  He talked to Frank about setting up a recording session with Django which Frank followed up on.  Unfortunately, it wasn't possible at the time. What Dickey did do, was orchestrate a recording session and tour with Vasser Clements, an American country icon from Kissimmee, Florida.  The album was called "Highway Call" and the tour included Nashville and Muscle Shoals musicians, Spooner Oldham, backup singers for Elvis Presley, Pepper Watkins, etc.  One of the tunes was called the "Kissimmee Kid", an instrumental featuring Dickey and Vasser.
Frank was truly an inspiration and expert in every genre of music.  This is only one example of the incredible influence he had on the Macon/Capricorn artists.”
- Sandy Wabegijig (Blue Sky)

“During most of the 1970s', Capricorn Records was one of the most successful privately held record labels in the world, having created the genre of Southern Rock and introducing the world to bands as The Allman Brothers, The Marshall Tucker Band, Elvin Bishop, Wet Willie, Sea Level, Dixie Dregs, Grinderswithch, Eric Quincy Tate, Dobie Gray and Captain Beyond. Phil Walden is already an inductee. We can only hope that the Hall of Fame will induct the other half of the dynamic duo in 2010.”

-Michael Buffalo Smith

Join the fans who want Frank Fenter inducted into the Hall of Fame. Visit the Facebook page.

Read more about Capricorn Records and their artists here.


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