Music impresario Phil Walden, who managed Otis Redding and helped define Southern rock through his work with the Allman Brothers, the Charlie Daniels Band, the Marshall Tucker Band and many other acts, died Sunday after a long bout with cancer. He was sixty-six years old.
After managing several R&B acts in the 1960s, including Al Green, Sam and Dave, Percy Sledge and Redding, Walden helped create the Southern rock genre with Capricorn Records, where the roster featured the Allmans, Elvin Bishop, Bonnie Bramlett and the Dixie Dregs.
Personal and financial difficulties led to the demise of Capricorn in 1980, but Walden resurrected the label ten years later in Nashville, kicking off the return with the debut album from Widespread Panic. More recently, the label had successes with Cake and 311.
After graduating from Mercer University in Macon, Georgia, in 1962, Phil Walden became a booking agent and then a manager. His work with R&B acts led to his affiliation with Atlantic Records and producer Jerry Wexler. During a stint in the military, Walden recruited his younger brother, Alan, to take over the management business. Alan Walden later managed Lynyrd Skynyrd.
Working with Wexler, Walden and co-founder Frank Fenter established Capricorn — an imprint of Atlantic named for Wexler and Walden’s star sign — in Macon in 1969. Walden met guitarist Duane Allman, then under contract as a session player for Atlantic, through Wexler, and set about making him a star in his own right.
The Allman Brothers were not an instant success, selling just 33,000 copies of their debut album. But the breakthrough of their 1971 live double set, At Fillmore East, helped convince Walden to end Capricorn’s affiliation with Atlantic and move to Warner Bros. A later agreement with Polygram ended in 1979; Walden declared bankruptcy in 1980.
Redding’s death in a plane crash in 1967 had been a huge blow to Walden, who considered the client one of his closest friends. He suffered another devastating loss in 1971, when Duane Allman died in a motorcycle crash. Yet Walden soldiered on, creating a small empire in Macon with the label, a recording facility, real estate holdings and other ventures. In 1976 Walden and the Allmans threw their support behind a presidential candidate from Georgia named Jimmy Carter.
Walden dropped out of sight during the 1980s, struggling with drug and alcohol dependencies, a court decision that found he had underpaid royalties to the Allmans, and other setbacks. When he returned to artist management, his anchor was not a rock band but the comic actor Jim Varney, whose “Hey Vern” commercials made him a hillbilly icon and the star of a string of movies.
In recent years, with the Capricorn name retired, Walden tried his hand with another label, this one called Velocette. The entire staff was made up of Waldens, including his son, Phillip Jr., and daughter, Amantha.
“Phil was one of the preeminent producers of great music in America,” former president Jimmy Carter said in a statement. Walden’s work with Redding, the Allmans and others, Carter said, “helped to put Macon and Georgia on the musical map of the world.”