Phil Walden

Promoter of Southern rock


Philip Walden, manager and record-label owner: born Greenville, South Carolina 11 January 1940; married (one son, one daughter); died Atlanta, Georgia 23 April 2006.

Best known in the UK for the instrumental "Jessica" which for many years provided the theme tune for the BBC television programme Top Gear, the Allman Brothers Band were one of the biggest US rock groups of the Seventies. Phil Walden put the group together around the talented young session guitarist Duane Allman, who had made his name recording with Wilson Pickett and Aretha Franklin at Muscle Shoals Studio in Alabama.

Using the experience he had acquired as Otis Redding's manager, Walden bankrolled the Allman Brothers and signed them to Capricorn Records, the label he had launched in 1969. Despite the deaths of both Duane Allman in 1971 and the bassist Berry Oakley in 1972, the Allman Brothers Band became a top draw on the US concert circuit.

The interest Walden created in the Southern rock genre pioneered by the Allman Brothers led to ZZ Top, Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Charlie Daniels Band's finding national and international success. He also had stints managing Boz Scaggs and Dr John, and signed Elvin Bishop, the Marshall Tucker Band and Wet Willie, but in 1980 Capricorn filed for bankruptcy. By then, Walden had become the object of lawsuits by members of the Allman Brothers Band claiming they had suffered financially because of his conflicting roles as manager, label owner and music publisher, and the low royalty rates he paid them. Later, he was able to relaunch the Capricorn imprint and in the late Nineties scored US hits with Cake, Widespread Panic and 311.

Born in 1940, Walden grew up in Macon, Georgia, and fell in love with rhythm'n' blues and rock'n'roll in his teens. "I was just fascinated by that music," he told Scott Freeman, author of Midnight Riders: the story of the Allman Brothers (1995):

I had never been exposed to something that raw in my life. When I heard "Wop bop a lubop a lop

bam boom" [from Little Richard's "Tutti Frutti"], I knew I didn't want to sell insurance or used cars. I wanted to be in the music business.

As a student, Walden booked R&B artists to play college and high-school parties without worrying about the colour barrier. In the late Fifties, he began managing the flamboyant left-handed guitarist Johnny Jenkins and came across Otis Redding singing Elvis Presley songs at an amateur contest held at the Douglas Theatre in Macon. He hired Redding on the spot to join the Pinetoppers, Johnny Jenkins' band, as vocalist, valet and chauffeur.

Redding's break came when Walden suggested that the singer could cut a couple of tracks at the end of a Jenkins session at Stax in Memphis in 1962. "Hey Hey Baby" was nothing special, but "These Arms of Mine", a dramatic ballad written by Redding, became the singer's first US hit the following year on the Stax subsidiary Volt.

Walden spent two years in the army but, once he returned, worked tirelessly to promote Redding. The hard work paid off when "I've Been Loving You Too Long (To Stop Now)" and the album Otis Blue, containing covers of the Rolling Stones' "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction", the Temptations' "My Girl" and Redding's own composition "Respect" stormed the charts in 1965.

In the autumn of 1966, Redding made his European début and was a huge success in the UK. Walden suggested a return trip to Europe the following spring with Sam and Dave, Booker T & the MGs, the Mar-keys, Carla Thomas and Eddie Floyd, as well as Arthur Conley. The Stax Revue took in Scandinavia and Holland, while the Paris and London shows were recorded for a series of exciting live albums.

Walden repeated the feat in the autumn of 1967, this time with a bill comprising Conley, Sam and Dave and Percy Sledge. By then, Redding had triumphed at the Monterey Pop Festival and crossed over to a white audience in the US. At the end of 1967, he recorded "(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay", which topped the US charts in January 1968 after his death in a plane crash. "I swore I'd never get involved with another artist," said Walden, who felt he had lost one of his best friends. "And then Duane Allman came along."

Jerry Wexler, then working for Atlantic Records, and Walden had both been impressed by Allman's slide playing on Wilson Pickett's version of "Hey Jude" recorded at Muscle Shoals, and they hatched a plan to build a group around the guitarist. Walden bankrolled the venture and spent $18,000 buying Duane Allman out of a contract with Liberty. He helped the guitarist, his brother Greg Allman (keyboards, vocals), Dickey Betts (guitar, vocals), Berry Oakley (bass), Butch Trucks (drums) and Jaimoe Johanson (drums) set up base in Macon. He became the band's manager, securing 25 per cent of their income for himself, and giving them a 5 per cent royalty rate to sign to his own Capricorn Records, with Atlantic distribution.

The group's first two albums had little impact but the Allman Brothers Band developed a fanatical following through the 500 dates they played in the US between 1969 and 1971. They started out at the bottom of the bill at the Fillmore East in New York in 1969 and by March 1971 were headlining two concerts at the same venue, immortalised in The Allman Brothers at Fillmore East. The live double set sold half a million copies within a few weeks of its release in September. The deaths of Allman and Oakley in motorbike accidents only added to the mystique of the group. Eat a Peach, another double containing Allman's last three studio tracks, made the US Top Five in 1972, while Brothers and Sisters topped the charts the following year.

Walden nursed the notoriously fractious group through a series of drug busts and Greg Allman's on-off marriage to Cher but after the 1975 album Win, Lose or Draw, they split. In 1972 Walden had upped the band's original royalty rate, but the group members kept asking questions about the state of their finances, as Walden bought a Picasso, drove around Macon in a white Rolls-Royce, and dabbled in property and politics.

He was a supporter of Jimmy Carter, the Georgia governor who in 1977 would become US President. The Allman Brothers Band had played benefit concerts for Carter and Walden provided financial assistance for his presidential campaign. Walden was famously caricatured on the cover of New Times magazine between Carter and Greg Allman, who was pictured with a spoonful of cocaine.

Walden was drinking and using hard drugs too, all the while borrowing heavily from Warner Brothers and the new distributors PolyGram. "One good record will turn this whole thing around," he would say. When a court ruled in 1979 that Capricorn owed Betts $873,000 and Polygram called in their loans, Walden's company had no option but to file for bankruptcy. Nevertheless, he managed to keep his personal fortune of an estimated $7m. Each of the four surviving original members of the Allman Brothers Band lost $1m; the group reformed in 1978 and again in 1989 and are still touring today.

In the late Eighties, Walden reactivated Capricorn. "Southern rock never died," he told a reporter:

We just stopped making it. I don't sing, I don't write, I don't perform, I don't produce. But I've had these incredible associations over some 40 years in this industry with some of the most incredibly talented people.

Pierre Perrone

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