A correction was made to this article on April 26.>
Phil Walden, who managed the career of Otis Redding and co-founded the label Capricorn with Atlantic Records UK rep Frank Fenter, died Sunday after a lengthy battle with cancer. He was 66.
Walden, whose life story included trips to the White House, drug dependency and financial ruin, died at his Atlanta home late Sunday.
Born in Greenville, S.C., on Jan. 11, 1940, he moved to Macon, Ga., at the age of 3. While attending Mercer U., he got his start booking bands for fraternity parties around Georgia and, at the age of 20, opened the Phil Walden Artists and Promotions agency. One of his first signings was Macon native Otis Redding.
Walden would also represent Sam and Dave, Joe Tex, Johnny Jenkins and Percy Sledge during the ’60s. In 1967, Walden asked Atlantic Records vice president Jerry Wexler to build a studio in his hometown. Wexler instead suggested Atlantic finance a record label based in Macon.
Christened Capricorn, the label quickly signed Jenkins and a then-little-known session guitarist working at Muscle Shoals Studios in Alabama, Duane Allman. Within two years, Allman had created the Allman Brothers Band, which released two studio albums with little fanfare. Their third disc, “Live at Fillmore East,” was an instant classic, putting Capricorn on the map. The label had its first hit single with Jonathan Edwards’ “Sunshine.” The diskery eventually became the epicenter of the Southern rock movement.
By the mid-’70s, with the Allmans leading the Southern rock charge, Capricorn had 27 acts signed to the label including Elvin Bishop, the Marshall Tucker Band, Cowboy and Wet Willie. Walden would use his bands to play benefit concerts for presidential candidate Jimmy Carter, making him the first president to connect with rock stars. Several even performed at inauguration night parties.
But as the ’70s came to a close, Southern rock was out of favor. The Allmans, reunited after an acrimonious split, sued Walden for unpaid royalties which, combined with new distrib Polygram pulling back loans to the label, forced Walden into bankruptcy. Walden moved to Nashville, created Triad Records and quickly reduced his $20 million fortune to nothing.
During the 1980s, Walden returned to management, repping actor Jim Varney — best known for his character Ernest P. Worrell — and Billy Bob Thornton. Walden exec produced the “Ernest” movies.
Walden relaunched Capricorn in 1991, with Warner Records financing, signing Widespread Panic, Kenny Chesney, Cake, Galactic and 311 before selling half the label to Polygram/Mercury, which owned master tapes of albums from Capricorn’s first incarnation and led to an in-depth reissue program. The label lasted until 2000, when Walden sold it to Volcano.
In 2001, Walden and his children Philip Jr. and Amantha formed the indie Velocette Records with a roster that includes Beulah and Jucifer.
With partner Benjy Griffith, Walden created Capricorn Films a year ago. Walden was inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame in 1986.