Thursday, April 27, 2006

Phil Walden (1940-2006)

Phil Walden was a 27-year-old manager and booking agent for musicians when his main meal ticket, R&B singing great Otis Redding, died in a plane crash in 1967.

The music business being a fickle mistress, the death of Redding (shown with Walden in photo) should have short-circuited his burgeoning career, but lightning struck a second time when he recalled hearing the sensational guitar work of a session musician on Wilson Pickett’s “Hey Jude” and asked the producer who it was.

“He said it was some long-haired hippie guy down in Muscle Shoals,” Walden recalled years later. “I said: 'I'm going to Muscle Shoals. I'm gonna sign him and put a group around this guy.' "

The guitarist was Duane Allman and the group Walden signed to his new Capricorn Records label was The Allman Brothers Band, whose first (and subsequent) albums went platinum.

The rest, as they say, was history, but actually more of a short story when Duane Allman was killed in a motorcycle accident in October 1971, and another of Walden’s meal tickets crashed out early.

Walden, who died this week at age 66, went on to manage and promote other artists and bands from the Deep South, including The Marshall Tucker Band, Wet Willie, Elvin Bishop and The Dixie Dregs, earning him the moniker of “the father of Southern Rock.”


None of Walden's groups approached the success or sheer talent of Duane Allman and his band.

I was fortunate enough to see Allman twice before his death, which was pure serendipity considering that I was trucking around the Far East for three years until early August 1971 and Allman died only two months later.

Fortunate does not describe the experience of seeing Duane Allman live.

“Skydog,” as his friends called him, was indisputably one of the greatest rock ‘n’ roll guitarists of all time and a master of the slide guitar, but I treasure him most for his extended jams (with rhythm guitartist Dick Betts, brother Greg Allman on keyboards, Berry Oakley on bass and twin dynamos Jai Johnny Johnson and Butch Trucks on drums and percussion).

Over the years, Walden had to deal with bankruptcy and alcohol and cocaine problems. The Allmans, claiming that he had underpaid them for album sales, sued him in the late 1970s and won.

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For more on the Allman Brothers, see the Kiko's House Disk Picks for April below.

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