Capricorn Records - The Rise and Fall of One Man's Dream

Capricorn Records

In the 1970s Capricorn Records became well known for representing Southern rock bands like the Allman Brothers Band and Marshall Tucker Band.

Located in Macon, Georgia it was started by Phil Walden, Alan Walden and Frank Fenter in 1969 and by the mid 70s had quite an impressive list of artists including; The James Montgomery Band, Elvin Bishop, Wet Willie, Sea Level, Jonathan Edwards, Kingfish, Captain Beyond, White Witch, Grinderswitch, Cowboy, Hydra, Kitty Wells, Dobie Gray, Alex and Livingston Taylor, Travis Wammack and Stillwater.

In addition to ABB and MTB, Capricorn also managed the solo efforts of Duane Allman, Gregg Allman, Dickey Betts, Chuck Leavell and Butch Trucks. In the late 70s and seemingly overnight, Capricorn went bankrupt and closed it’s doors.

The influence that the label, the Walden brothers and it’s artists had on the industry and specifically Southern rock is quite amazing for an independent music label.

Phil Walden

Phil Walden grew up in Macon, Georgia and started his forays into the music business while attending Mercer College where he booked bands for local high schools and fraternity parties.  Walden opened his first office as a sophomore and started expanding his services all over the southeast. One of his first clients and relatively unknown at the time was Otis Redding. It was at Redding’s suggestion that he establish himself as a manager and before too long his client list read like a who’s who of some of the country’s finest rhythm and blues performers including Percy Sledge, Sam and Dave, Clarence Carter and Joe Simon.  As his client roster grew, it looked as though Walden’s focus would be firmly planted in the R&B industry – until Otis Redding’s untimely death in 1967.

With his experience in R&B along with his passion for music and the south, he approached Atlantic Records vice president Jerry Wexler with the idea of building a studio in Macon. After several ideas were presented and scrubbed, it was agreed that Atlantic Records would fund a record label to be based in Macon, Georgia. Walden and Wexler named the label Capricorn. So with a $70,000.00 advance from Atlantic, Walden set out to recruit rock and roll bands and build his Macon empire.

One of the first musicians to catch Walden’s attention was Duane Allman, who at the time was a session guitarist at Muscle Shoals Studios, but by 1969 Walden had worked his magic and The Allman Brothers Band was formed and would later become the cornerstone of Capricorn Records. While Phil was managing the Allman Brothers Band, Marshall Tucker Band, Wet Willie and Elvin Bishop, his brother Alan was managing ZZ Top, The Charlie Daniels Band and Lynyrd Skynyrd. It’s not surprising at all that each of these bands’ influenced each other with the deep rooted southern rock sound.

Walden’s pioneering spirit and determination to be all things to all artists led to the formation of various music business related ventures including;  Phil Walden & Associates, The Paragon Agency, No Exit Music, Rear Exit Music and numerous other non-music related businesses. He was building his empire, fast and steady – some say too fast but it was the 70s and it was rock and roll.

As amazing as Capricorn’s rise had been, it’s demise in 1979 was fast and furious ending in bankruptcy and sent Walden into a personal downward spiral as well. He rose from the ashes and a decade later made a fresh start after several attempts to get things going again; in the early 90s resurrected Capricorn but this time in Nashville. Walden was back, albeit with a humble start but with newly forged relationships, a new location and a growing client list including; Widespread Panic, Cake and 311. And like a broken record, it happened again and Walden was forced to sell off most of Capricorn’s assets – including the classic back catalog.

Phil Walden died in his Macon home in 2006, but his legacy and the history of Capricorn label is still very much alive and present.

"Phil was one of the preeminent producers of great music in America," former president Jimmy Carter said in a statement at the time of Walden’s death. Walden's work with Redding, the Allmans and others, Carter said, "helped to put Macon and Georgia on the musical map of the world.” Walden was inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame in 1986.

In March Backstage Auctions will host a historical event showcasing memorabilia featuring the artists that defined the Southern Rock and Soul sound of the 1960s and 1970s. The auction will be live and open for bidding from March 14 - 22, 2015.

For more information on the auction and to register for a VIP All Access Pass click here:  Auction

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