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Mixing family with business had been a hallmark of the Waldens' style long before Philip Jr. hit puberty. Following the example set by the family clothing company where his father worked, Phil Walden recruited his younger brother, Alan, to mind his growing music operation when the Army drafted Phil in the early '60s. Though in his early 20s at the time, Phil had been booking bands for years for high school and college parties. Alan also joined on as co-manager of a young, black R&B singer whom Phil had discovered in high school. Otis Redding wasn't just any singer, though, and the Waldens would take him from local talent-show champ to become one of the world's most cherished soul singers.
As Phil and Alan steered other Southern soul acts -- including Sam and Dave and Percy Sledge -- to international success, their father C.B. came to work as Redding's road manager. A few years late, a third brother, Clark "Blue" Walden, signed on as office controller.
"The family operation is what made it successful," says Alan, who went on to manage Lynyrd Skynyrd. "Entertainers in particular love to know they have loyal people representing them. For them to see a family working together meant something to them. It was something that a lot of families don't do."
Redding's death in a 1967 plane crash devastated the Waldens, both personally and professionally. Not only had Redding been maturing as a singer and songwriter, Phil and Alan counted him among their closest friends. Redding was so important to the Waldens, in fact, that four decades later his memory looms as large as ever among family and co-workers. Jucifer's Amber Valentine recalls that on her band's only meeting with Phil Walden, in 1999, he treated them to stories about his breakthrough artist.
It took two years to regain momentum after Redding's death. But Phil Walden struck gold again when he came across a gifted young guitarist named Duane Allman at a Muscle Shoals, Ala., studio. Anxious to rebuild his business around rock 'n' roll, Walden signed Allman, moved him to Macon, helped build a band around him and, with the support of Jerry Wexler's Atlantic Records, founded Capricorn Records so that he could put out records by the newly formed Allman Brothers Band.
Led by Duane and his brother Gregg, Southern boys who had grown up in Florida, the Allman Brothers suited the Walden ethos perfectly. With the two families teamed up at Capricorn, the Allman Brothers would become so huge that even Duane's death, in a 1971 motorcycle accident, didn't derail them. Their success made Macon ground zero of Southern rock. And Capricorn, then operating out of Walden's office downtown, was the genre's signature label. The Marshall Tucker Band, Elvin Bishop, the Dixie Dregs, Wet Willie and others rode the Allmans' coattails to success at Capricorn, and by the mid-'70s, Walden's Macon empire had grown to include the label, the management company, a recording studio, a booking agency, a travel agency, a string of real estate holdings and a private jet.
Even for the 1970s, long before multinational corporations ran the music business, Capricorn's down-home style was unique. The annual Capricorn Picnic in Macon was a reunion of bands, staff, friends and family, and it attracted celebrities from Andy Warhol to boxing promoter Don King to then-governor Jimmy Carter, whose run for president Walden and the Allmans supported with a series of benefit concerts.
Among musicians, Capricorn was appreciated for its laid-back, hands-off approach to music. Phil Walden may have critics who grumble about his business practices, but none say he intruded in the recording studio.
"He loves music, almost romanticizes it," record executive Danny Goldberg says. Now the head of Artemis Records, Goldberg ran Mercury Records in 1996, when it formed a joint venture with Capricorn. "He really cares about developing the artist. He's not someone who very often talks about how much money something's making. He's just always talking about the music."
But as the 1970s came to a close, disco was on the rise and Southern rock on the wane. Capricorn's operating budget remained huge and, at the height of rock's era of excess, spending was rampant. Meanwhile, drug use and infighting were splitting apart Capricorn's bread-and-butter act. When the Allman Brothers' income began falling short of expenses, they looked toward Walden -- who was the Allmans' manager, music publisher and label boss. The band sued Walden and won, the courts ruling that Capricorn had underpaid royalties.
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