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Obituaries

Phil Walden, 66; Ran Capricorn Records, Home to Allman Brothers, Southern Acts

April 25, 2006|Dennis McLellan | Times Staff Writer

Phil Walden, whose Macon, Ga.-based Capricorn Records launched the Allman Brothers Band and became known as "the citadel of Southern rock" in the 1970s, has died. He was 66.

Walden died at his home in Atlanta on Sunday after a long battle with cancer, said his daughter, Amantha Walden.

In a career that began when he started managing Otis Redding and booking shows for other R&B artists in the late '50s, Walden launched Capricorn Records in 1969.

Capricorn earned a reputation as the South's most successful independent record label in the 1970s, with acts such as the Allman Brothers Band and the Marshall Tucker Band.

The label's roster included such artists as Wet Willie, Elvin Bishop and the Dixie Dregs.

"Phil was there at the beginning, and we could not have accomplished what we have without him," Gregg Allman and the other members of the Allman Brothers Band said in a statement Monday.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday April 27, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 39 words Type of Material: Correction
Walden obituary: The obituary for Capricorn Records founder Phil Walden in Tuesday's California section said President Carter appeared at the annual Capricorn Barbecue and Summer Games hosted by Walden in 1976. Carter was still a candidate at the time.

Walden's life and career, however, were a roller coaster, and his music empire collapsed in the late '70s.

He overcame problems with cocaine and alcohol in the '80s and reentered the record business with a revived Capricorn Records in the early '90s.

"He was a brilliantly talented, instinctive music man who lived a wild life," Joe Smith, former president of Warner Bros. Records, which had a distribution deal with Walden's label in the 1970s, told The Times on Monday.

"He had a great ear" for music, Smith said. "Phil was a tremendously colorful guy, slightly wacko ... and in Macon, Ga., he was a king."

In Macon, Walden was known for hosting the annual Capricorn Barbecue and Summer Games, held at a lakeside amusement park he owned.

The free, invitation-only extravaganza featured live entertainment by Capricorn acts and touring bands. President Carter made a brief appearance at the 1976 event.

Walden had been an early supporter of Carter, then the governor of Georgia, during Carter's presidential run, producing a series of benefit concerts during a crucial period in the campaign.

Born in Greenville, S.C., on Jan. 11, 1940, Walden grew up in Macon, where he became an early fan of the R&B music of Joe Turner, the Midnighters and the Clovers.

Walden was a student at Mercer University in Macon in 1959 when he began operating an artists management company.

Phil Walden Artists and Promotions was headquartered in a downtown Macon professional building: a $33-a-month, 9-by-12-foot office furnished with Army surplus desks, a telephone and a portable typewriter.

"For my first contract, I wasn't old enough, and my father had to cosign with me," Walden told the Chicago Tribune in 1991.

One of his first clients was Redding, a then-unknown young R&B singer whom he first met at an amateur contest at a Macon theater.

Beginning in 1962, Redding recorded a string of hits, including "Respect" and "Try a Little Tenderness."

"Otis and I enjoyed a particularly close relationship," Walden told Billboard in 1991. "Our relationship went far beyond a manager-artist relationship."

From his success with Redding, Walden began managing or booking other R&B acts, including Sam and Dave, Joe Tex, Percy Sledge and Clarence Carter.

Walden and Redding had planned to build a recording studio together and be more in involved in production, but their plans ended when Redding died in a plane crash in 1967 at age 26.

Instead, with the support of Jerry Wexler, an influential executive at Atlantic Records, Walden launched Capricorn Records.

The label, which was initially distributed by Atlantic Records, was intended to be an R&B singles label. But, Walden told the Chicago Tribune, "quite honestly, after Otis' death, black music just didn't seem the same for me.... I had tried before to get some rock 'n' roll clients [to manage] and now I was hellbent on proving I could come up with some rock groups" for the Capricorn label.

After hearing a tape of Wilson Pickett performing "Hey Jude," Walden recalled in the 1991 interview, he asked the producer who the guitarist was.

"He said it was some longhaired hippie guy down in Muscle Shoals [Ala.]. I said: 'I'm going to Muscle Shoals. I'm gonna sign him and put a group around this guy.' "

The guitarist was Duane Allman. Shortly after the release of the 1971 breakthrough album, "The Allman Brothers Band at Fillmore East," which went platinum, Allman died in a motorcycle accident.

In 1977, Capricorn ended its distribution deal at Warners and Walden moved to PolyGram Records. It was, he later told the Associated Press, "an unfortunate decision, a terrible decision."

When PolyGram was hit hard by an industrywide slump two years later, Capricorn had to file for bankruptcy.

In the mid-'80s, Walden's heavy drinking and cocaine use led him to Alcoholics Anonymous and, he later said, he remained clean and sober.

"I had lost my family, lost everyone who had been close to me," he told the Associated Press in 1991. "I was probably just pretty offensive to anyone I ran into."

In 1991, Walden made a distribution deal with Warner Bros. Records and relaunched Capricorn Records in Nashville, with the Georgia rock band Widespread Panic as the label's first act.

In 2000, Walden sold Capricorn for a reported $13 million to New York-based Volcano Records and started a new label, Velocette, in Atlanta.

He went into semiretirement around 2001, and the label is now run by his daughter and his nephew Jason Walden.

In addition to his daughter, Walden is survived by his wife, Peggy; his son, Philip M. Walden Jr.; four grandchildren; and his brother, Alan.

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