Phil Walden, Father of Southern Rock, Dead at 66

Veteran Record Executive Also Gave Kenny Chesney His First Record Deal

The father of Southern rock has died. Phil Walden, whose Capricorn Records label birthed Southern rock music, passed away Sunday (April 23) in Atlanta after a long battle with cancer. He was 66.

Walden began his career booking concerts while still in high school and went on to discover and manage soul singer Otis Redding. After Redding was killed in a plane crash in 1967, Walden founded Capricorn Records in Macon, Ga., and signed the Allman Brothers and guided them to worldwide stardom. Other Capricorn acts in his pantheon of Southern rock artists included the Marshall Tucker Band, Wet Willie and others.

In an interview for CMT American Revolutions: Southern Rock, Walden said he really appreciated the significance of giving Southern artists the opportunity to be heard.

“These groups,” he said, “as diverse as they are, there was one big difference. For the first time in rock, Southern guys were making the music and living in the South. They were making music in their own environment. This was really an expression of their region, their environment, their culture.”

Walden also got into politics when his friend, Jimmy Carter, ran for president in 1976. Walden helped the foundering Carter campaign with a series of fundraising concerts by the Allmans and other Capricorn bands that kept the Carter ship afloat.

“Jimmy Carter came along,” Walden told CMT, “and he was a guy I respected ever since he was governor when he announced that the days of segregation were over with. And that was the first governor that had ever done that in Georgia, and it was a new day in Georgia, and people were going to be treated equally and fairly. And then I later met him, and when he asked me to be a part of his campaign, I jumped at the opportunity. It was a great opportunity, and I brought the bands into the situation.”

For a time, Walden said, Carter in effect became the Allmans’ opening act. He was introduced, gave a short campaign speech and then introduced the band — in the process raising his profile with young voters all over the country. And raking in campaign funds.

Walden’s own career suffered its ups and downs, and he was in and out of bankruptcy. For a time in the early ’90s, he ran the label in Nashville and gave the young Kenny Chesney his first recording contract. When Capricorn again slid into bankruptcy, Walden, believing in the young singer, was able to get Chesney a deal with BNA Records in Nashville.

Funeral arrangements were pending at press time.