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Phil Walden (January 11, 1940 – April 23, 2006) was co-founder of the Macon, Georgia-based Capricorn Records with his younger brother Alan Walden and a good friend and former Atlantic Records executive, Frank Fenter.
He graduated from Mercer University where he was a member of Phi Delta Theta. Walden served as Otis Redding’s manager from 1959 until Redding's death in 1967. Walden hosted one of Redding's first shows at the Phi Delta Theta lodge in the sixties. He later helped launch the career of the Allman Brothers Band.
After managing several R&B acts in the 1960s, including Al Green, Sam & Dave, Percy Sledge, and Redding, Walden helped create the Southern rock genre with Capricorn Records, where the roster featured the Allmans, the Marshall Tucker Band, Elvin Bishop, Wet Willie, Bonnie Bramlett, White Witch, Hydra, Grinderswitch, 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 and the eclectic band Sonia Dada. 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.
Working with Wexler, the Walden brothers and 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 to Rick Hall, owner of FAME Studios, through Wexler, and set about making him a star in his own right. Alan Walden left the label soon thereafter and later managed Lynyrd Skynyrd and Outlaws.
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. Records. A later agreement with Polygram ended in 1979.
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 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. Walden also met a struggling actor, screenwriter, Billy Bob Thornton, and for several years acted as Thornton's manager as well.
In 1991, Walden relaunched Capricorn in Nashville,TN via a joint venture with Warner Bros. Records. The label's first signing was Athens, GA based rock band, Widespread Panic. The label made several changes in partners and ended up at Mercury Records, due to the enthusiasm then Mercury president Danny Goldberg had for the Capricorn roster, which had grown to include 311, CAKE, and Gov't Mule among others. Walden was also the first to sign a then unknown country singer, Kenny Chesney. In early September, 1991 after reading an article about a memorial ceremony for blues guitarist Robert Johnson in Billboard Magazine, Walden contacted Mt. Zion Memorial Fund founder Skip Henderson who had produced that event and commissioned a bronze sculpture mounted on a granite headstone in honor of Elmore James whose catalog was then owned by Capricorn. The memorial was placed on James' grave in the Newport Baptist Church Cemetery in Ebenezer, Mississippi on December 10, 1992 with several members of the Mississippi State Legislature in attendance along Walden, members of James' family, and many others.
In 2000, Walden sold the majority of Capricorn's catalog. 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, Philip Jr., daughter, Amantha, and nephew, Jason.
"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.