"Promotion Man"  Chapter 3, Cont. iii


By 1976 the rise to success at Capricorn Records was overwhelming the staff of the small company, the venture paid off big time, the artists were headliners and Southern Rock was ubiquitous on world radio stations. But success was taking a toll.  

That year, Elvin Bishop signed a production deal with Capricorn and Frank Fenter began playing a track from the new Elvin session over and over in his office, knowing well that Dick would hear it in his office next door. This was Frank's usual "not so subtle" way of letting Dick know what songs he thought should be promoted. After a full day of Frank's good natured brainwashing, Dick got the message and admitted he liked the song too, but told Frank the album track needed rearranging because it wasn't structured right as a single for radio airplay.

Dick took Frank's cassette and played around with the arrangement for a couple of days, arranging and rearranging, trying to find the sweet spot that would best fit the radio formats of the day. Satisfied with a final arrangement, Frank sent it to the producer for the final edit. Dick and Frank then flew to LA as they'd done successfully before when they played the raw cassette tracks of the Marshall Tucker Band to the Burbank brass.

The Elvin Bishop track was played for WB President Mo Ostin, VP Ed Rosenblatt, head of Promotion Russ Thyrett... they loved it. Once Warner Brothers' great staff got behind it "Fooled around and fell in love" quickly became the number one single on all trade publication's Top 100 singles charts.

Everything at Capricorn was clicking. The little Macon Georgia record company that proved you didn't have to be in New York or Los Angeles to make it in the music business. Reporters from Rolling Stone, Newsweek and Fortune were on the phone or camped out in the offices constantly, everyone in the company felt like a star.

Capricorn artists were in demand worldwide, everyone wanted them on a project. At our annual company picnic that only a couple of  years before had been a simple office barbecue at the lake for employees, was now attended by the major music executives, movie stars, politicians and iconic celebrates like; Cher, boxing promoter Don King, comedian Richard Prior, Andy Worhol, Bette Middler, 60 Minutes' Ed Bradley and future president Jimmy Carter. Macon's airport was crowded with their private jets and reporters hung on every word, but the pressure cooker atmosphere was building and would resolve in a way no one could have predicted.

Drugs played an important roll in the culture of 70's music, it was in the recording studio, in the office and in our social life, it was as essential as gin in a martini. Everyone did drugs, some to keep pace, some to escape the pace and some to keep their demons at bay. The ever-increasing demand from all corners was for Capricorn to become bigger, better and faster, it took a piece of flesh from everybody in the company.

The price of success exacted an especially heavy price on Phil Walden, his demon was alcohol and cocaine addiction. With the success of Capricorn his problems were exacerbated and finally raged out of his control, it manifested in embarrassing public tantrums that kept our lawyers busy putting out fires and it keep everyone on edge. Phil's infamous temper outbursts were becoming more frequent and explosive, it was impossible to tell when something might set him off and when it did, friends and family alike made themselves scarce, and the company employees ran for cover in their offices.

Frank Fenter and Dick found themselves in a no-win situation, at the end of the work day at Capricorn their duty now included saving face for the company by smoothing over hurt feelings, repairing damaged friendships and covering the trail following Phil's alcohol and drug-fueled tirades. After one particular ugly incident Phil committed in the parking lot of Franks LaBistro restaurant, a felony assault charge was filed against him by a well-known Macon businessman, the local newspaper had a field day.

In his home town of Macon, Phil was becoming an object of scorn by some and was pitied by others as his addiction became public knowledge. Only the quick intervention of an expensive lawyer and a large cash settlement to the businessman kept the violent incident out of the national news. Phil, seemingly undaunted by the escalating consequences that followed his public outbursts and continued to fed his addiction as his unhinged behavior continued to embarrass anyone close to him. 

Dick opined, "when drugs take over someone's life they go into a state of denial and there's not a damn thing you can do, especially if they're on top of the world". I'd seen friends succumb to drug use before, most lived through it, some didn't, but all went down broke and when they did they took their business associates with them.

"I discussed my deep concerns about Capricorn's future with my family and told them to be prepared for a change. In spite of Capricorn artists being on top of the charts, the office atmosphere was becoming more unbusinesslike by the day, I saw the handwriting on the wall. Phil became more disengaged from the company and I knew the long ride for Capricorn could not last much longer." 

Success is fun, but it's not as soul satisfying as people think, many times it was just boring, grinding out one new promotion after another. Dick felt this way after Elvin Bishop had a number one hit single, two Allman Brothers albums were near the top of the charts and two Marshall Tucker albums were climbing the charts. The long days of  promoting radio stations, endless nights in the studio or at clubs with bands, then up early for work. Dick was exhausted by the four year grind and ready for a change... after all, the fun is in building the business, not in running it..

The bright side was, there would never be a better time to start a new venture. Dick was on top and decided to take a chance there would be a silver lining after guiding three of  Capricorn's artists to the top of the charts that year, so in 1976 Dick resigned as Vice President of Capricorn Records.

Professional courtesy dictated that Dick stay on for a few weeks after making it clear to Frank and Phil he was leaving, and also to insure a seamless transition for a successor, and his own conscience dictated to never let on that he knew the Capricorn Records party was ending.

Reflecting on the four years since Dick moved his family to Macon to build Capricorn Records, the growth could hardly have been imagined. Capricorn in four short years had sky-rocketed from three guys in a funky little thread bare two-room office, into a Southern Rock Empire with sixty employees and a roster of great artists that sold millions of albums worldwide and had annual sales of $30 million. "It had been one sweet ride" Dick recalls.

As Vice President of Promotions at Capricorn from 1972 to 1976 Dick helped launch several million-selling artists including: The Allman Brothers Band, Marshall Tucker Band and Elvin Bishop. Other artists launched into the national spotlight included; the great Southern Blues band: Wet Willie, comic-singer-actor Martin Mull, venerable singer-songwriters and "Eric Clapton's favorite band"
Cowboy, the legendary Southern Rock band Grinderswitch, young Bluesman John Hammond, Jr. and rising Country Music Star Hank Williams, Jr. 

Editor's Note: (a) After Dick left Capricorn Records in 1976 they never launched another major artist and began a decline into bankruptcy facing lawsuits for unpaid millions in royalties to the Allman Brothers and other artists and local vendors. Shortly after Capricorn's bankruptcy, the meteoric life of Frank Fenter, a great record man ended long before his time at the age 47. Phil Walden eventually regained control over his alcohol, cocaine addiction and reopened Capricorn and in 2006 lost his long battle with cancer. (b) Capricorn Album Discography.


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