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Candidate Jimmy Carter: Rock’s Good Ol’ Boy

Phil Walden of Capricorn Records is stumping for Carter with the help of the Marshall Tucker Band, the Allman Brothers, and more

Governor Jimmy Carter in Washington, D.C., on August 14th, 1975.

Governor Jimmy Carter in Washington, D.C., on August 14th, 1975.

AP Photo

Atlanta—Some music people wear gold crosses and silver coke spoons; 35-year-old Phil Walden, rock godfather of Macon, Georgia, manager of the late Otis Redding and president of Capricorn Records, sports a green JIMMY CARTER FOR PRESIDENT button.

Walden’s support of the 51-year-old former Georgia governor’s quest for the Democratic grail has led him to toss his checkbook into the primary campaign. He’s also persuaded Warner Bros.’ Joe Smith to throw “Let’s Get to Know Jimmy” benefit affairs and he’s trying to convince several of his Capricorn acts to lend their support. On October 31st the Marshall Tucker Band kicked off the first of four Carter benefit concerts at the Fox Theater here. Elvin Bishop and Charlie Daniels are considering cranking up to do two other Fox shows. And the Allman Brothers are scheduled to play in Carter’s behalf when they stop in Providence, Rhode Island, on November 25th, an engagement picked by Carter officials to generate interest in the upcoming New England primaries. The Capricorn efforts could net the Carter campaign up to $200,000, with ticket stubs providing proof of “donations” that will enable Carter to receive federal matching funds.

Walden and Carter first met when the newly elected governor visited Macon on a “Stop and Listen Tour” in 1971; introductions were made by Cloyd Hall, Walden’s grammar school football coach who had become Jimmy Carter’s executive assistant and is currently Walden’s vice-president of corporate development. Carter had based his successful campaign on a profile compiled by Washington pollster William Hamilton on the attitudes of the red-clay folk back home. Carter had railed against big business, big banks and big newspapers, and had tried to make himself appear a good buddy of George Wallace, who had carried the state in the presidential election of 1968.

Some time after they met, Walden told Carter that he believed the state was treating the local music industry like a stepchild even while it was seducing moviemakers to film in Georgia. Carter agreed and lent his weight to a strict antipiracy bill, signed into law this year by his successor, Governor George Busbee. The piracy of records and tapes, hawked cut-rate at truck stops across the state, has been costing the industry $10 million a year.

Walden calls Carter “the type of candidate the music industry can identify with,” and says he is sure Carter would be “sympathetic to our causes.” But he claims that the antipiracy legislation is not the reason for his support. “It was really too late for Carter to do anything about it once we got the antipiracy bill together.” Carter agrees: “He never mentioned the bill to me. It was being pushed by my floor leader and I never had any conversation with Walden on that bill.”

It is certain that there are some personal reasons for Walden’s backing. In the low-key town of Macon, where some people once sneered at poor, skinny Phil Walden as “that little white boy who loves black music,” here was the governor, sleeping in Phil’s house and inviting him and his wife Peggy to stay at the mansion the next time they zipped up to Atlanta. Carter treated multimillionaire Walden like a good ol’ boy—with respect. Now that Carter requires a good deal of money and loyalty to boost his name recognition and glamorize his persona of soft-spoken sincerity, Walden has not forgotten.

Warner Bros.’ Smith, one of the industry figures whom Walden has approached, says that Carter is “an open, honest, capable man who needs a dramatic shot in the arm to get national publicity. He’s getting much of his California support because he is believed to have the best chance of stopping George Wallace in the Florida primary. If he looks good in the early primaries, his support could mushroom. I’m not an active fund-raiser but I think the [Let’s Get to Know Jimmy Carter] party opened up some doors in the industry.” Smith says that he’s helping other candidates, “but if the California primary were held at this moment, I’d vote for Carter.”

Carter, who once dropped in on Dicky Betts’s Highway Call studio sessions, has attended concerts by the Allman Brothers and hosted a breakfast for Bob Dylan, the Band, Bill Graham, Walden and various Capricorn heavies when Dylan played in Atlanta in 1974, says that “during the formative years of our current young executives and lawyers, Bob Dylan and others like him shaped their consciousness of racial equality, peace and the horrors of war—and the artificiality of adults in their relationships with one another.”

Several Capricorn acts talked about the candidate. “I knew he was governor of Georgia,” Charlie Daniels said, “but that didn’t cut no ice with me because I didn’t know where he stood. I didn’t want to back someone who was gonna say, ‘We’re gonna kill the niggers and burn down the synagogues’ and that kinda shit.

“So I asked for some material and they [Capricorn] sent me a whole pile of stuff. I read it and now I’m pledging my whole support to Jimmy Carter. He speaks plain; I can understand what he’s talkin’ about. He stands for change and we need a lot of fuckin’ change. I damn sure can’t get behind Ford or Wallace, so I’m going to get behind Jimmy Carter.”

Elvin Bishop was, typically, more laid-back. He’d met Carter once, and Carter “seemed like a nice fella”—he’s the “only politician who has balls enough to come to a rock concert.” Still, Bishop said that Walden hadn’t yet asked him to do a benefit, and that doing one would depend on his schedule. “The last time I voted,” reflected Bishop, “was for Johnson in ’64. I just turned 21 and was thrilled.”

Though his band is set for a benefit, Doug Gray, lead singer for the Marshall Tucker Band, seemed less than thrilled about Carter. “I don’t know why we like Jimmy Carter. There’s nothing outstanding about him and I personally don’t know the man. But I see a lot of his ads, and we like to do things for people we think will help everybody—including us.”

Walden denies arm-twisting his groups into playing for Carter. “We’ve sent them information and we’ve talked to the groups about his ideals. I don’t want to force any entertainer to do it. I’ve stressed that.

“A lot of people around Carter have wondered what I want,” Walden admitted. “I can honestly say I don’t want anything. I wouldn’t accept anything. But this country does need a good president. If I were seeking some favor, the safe way would be to sit back and see what role, if any, he will play in the Democratic party. But I just like the guy.”

In This Article: Coverwall, Jimmy Carter

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