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Southern Rock Promoter Phil Walden Dead
Tuesday, April 25, 2006   By: Juan Paxety

The Allman Brothers Band, Charlie Daniels, Otis Redding and more

One of the more important figures in Southern music died on Sunday. Phil Walden passed away after a long battle with cancer. No, Phil was not a musician - he was a promoter - perhaps the most successful of all because he promoted Jimmy Carter into the presidency.

I first met Phillip, as he was called then, back in the 50s. He dated my older cousin and accompanied the family on vacations. Nice, skinny kid who was gullible after a fashion. The girls played practical jokes on him. One day he sheepishly came into the house asking my mother for help. The girls had imprisoned him in a waist cincher. 

Phil had a drive that was evident early - he had grown up in Macon, Georgia on the wrong side of Napier Avenue - that town's equivalent of the wrong side of the tracks. It was something that Macon society never let him forget.

Phil went to Mercer University, also in Macon, and began booking bands to play for fraternity parties. Phil frequently called on my father for advice - he'd booked bands in college and worked for a radio and television station in town. Phil soon learned that in the early 60s, the kids wanted to hear black bands.

Phil brought a black band to my cousin's house for an audition one day. The guitar player was pretty well known in black clubs around the southeast - Johnnie Jenkins - but Phil wanted to hear the band's new singer. He was Otis Redding. Otis had obvious star power.

Phil and Otis set up Redwal Music Company on Cotton Avenue in Macon. It was an old part of downtown near City Hall, but not near much of anything else. Phil began signing up and booking the bands that became important parts of the soul movement of the 60s - Sam and Dave, Percy Sledge, Wilson Pickett, Johnnie Jenkins and the Pinetoppers, Arthur Connolly, as well as Otis.

Then in December of 1967, Otis died in a plane crash. The story is that Phil had good lawyers who had advised him to have key man insurance on both himself and Otis. Redwal was about to become bigger.

By 1968, Phil had decided to start a record company. He bought an old warehouse on Broadway, began to build a studio, and decided to name his company after his astrological sign - Capricorn.  One afternoon in August of that year, he told me had found this guitar player in a Muscle Shoals studio. He told me the members were probably down at the studio - to go say hello and look around. The studio was well disguised - the front office was still an unrestored wreck, but through a heavy metal door, I found a top of the line (for 1968) recording studio. The band fooling around inside was, of course, The Allman Brothers Band.

Phil took them to the top, as he did with Charlie Daniels, Wet Willie, Marshall Tucker, etc. At one point, Capricorn Records deposited more money into local banks than any other business, including Robins Air Force base.  Phil still could not get into Idle Hour Country Club - the wrong side of Napier Avenue thing.

Along the way, Phil met Jimmy Carter, who called on Phil when he decided to run for president. Phil gave him a lot of behind the scenes advice, but his most important contribution came from understanding how to manipulate the post-Watergate financial contribution rules. Lawmakers had written in a loophole allowing for people to donate their work to campaigns without the value of the work coming under the reporting rules. The loophole was written to allow secretaries and accountants and lawyers to volunteer for the campaigns without the value of their services coming into question. Walden realized that The Allman Brothers Band could volunteer for Carter's campaign, too. They volunteered to play concerts in which the gate went to the Carter campaign. I understand from one of Carter's aides that he had the then enormous sum of $10-million going into the Iowa caucuses - all donated by various Walden enterprises. Phil booked Jimmy into the White House.

By the late 70s Capricorn had troubles. Record pirates were pressing more copies of Capricorn records than Capricorn itself. And Phil's isolation in Macon caused him trouble, too. As he told me in a conversation a decade later, everyone in town served as yes man to him. He never got the needed criticism. I think he also tried to do too much. He was manager, publisher, booking agent and record company to the bands, and the money got twisted around. Today, legit music business people will tell you to keep all of those jobs separate.

At the same time, the musicians were split by Gregg Allman's drug trial. Phil's company fell apart, but, still with good lawyers, he was able to keep a lot of his money. That caused even more resentment among musicians who weren't getting paid.

By the mid-80s Phil had moved to Nashville and begun again. He revived the careers of some old country artists, held a benefit for WLAC Radio's legendary John R, who was himself dying penniless. Later he moved to Atlanta and had some success, but nothing like the early Capricorn days.

So now Phil is dead at 66. One of the major figures of Southern music, a man who never played a note, is gone.


(c)1968- today j.e. simmons or michael warren