Celebrating 70 years of surviving Macon music

Special to The TelegraphMay 17, 2013 

In just a few short days, my dad, Alan Walden, will turn a milestone 70 years old. In rock ’n’ roll years, that’s no small feat. In fact, according to him, he’s the longest living male member of his family he’s ever known.

When you take into account all of the relatives, work associates, friends and artists he’s lost along the way, there’s no doubt he’s giving a special word of thanks for another decade, another year and the greatest gift of another day.

He was an Opie Taylor-faced, whipper-snapper of a boy when he found himself smack dab in the middle of the music business at the age of 19. His big brother trusted him enough to give him the keys to his office of Phil Walden Artists and Promotions, located in what is now Macon’s Robert E. Lee Building on Mulberry Street.

His tasks were to keep things running and assist the main attraction (and business partner) Otis Redding on his climb to fame while Phil served overseas in Germany.

From that tiny office in downtown Macon, a true story unfolded that was better than any fairy tale. A friendship was formed that was better than a brotherhood. It would last a lifetime. For Redding, that would only be until his 26th year. For my father, a day wouldn’t pass by without missing his friend for 46 more.

Next came the decade of Southern rock. In the ’70s, dad went rogue, setting out to prove he wasn’t a one-hit-wonder in the business by discovering and managing Lynyrd Skynyrd.

His career later crossed paths with the Outlaws band. And that’s about that time he came face-first with fatherhood.

He got his way and named me Jessica, after the Allman Brothers Band song. One of my favorite mementos is a note my mother wrote on my dad’s reaction to feeling me kick inside her belly for the first time. “Boy, you can really tell he’s going to be a Walden,” he commented.

So, I wasn’t the boy he was hoping for. But I made a good sidekick, where I have remained for more than three decades.

Growing up with a “cool dad” wasn’t easy. He’ll be the first to say that it sometimes required me to be the parent if we were to get anything done.

In the ’80s, just when a young girl starts caring about these sorts of things, dad went through a phase where he looked like Willie Nelson’s hairier hippy brother. He’d pick me up from school in a ’78 Lincoln Town Car with a mannequin -- dressed like a cross between a gaucho and an Outlaws fan riding shotgun. I was mortified then. I miss those days now.

Dad struggled to survive during that decade and well into the ’90s. The decadence of his industry had gotten the best of him. He stumbled with sobriety many times until just before the dawn of the new millennium when something finally clicked.

While interviewing my dad, he once told me, “I learned more about God at AA than I did church. I had made the statement that if I had built my company on the principles of AA, then I would be a billionaire. If it had not been for alcohol and the influence of drugs, there were times we could do no wrong.”

Today, my dad is rocked, rolled and retired. He became a dad again in 2000 to my brother, his spitting image. And now that he’s reached his 70th milestone, he’s been to the mountaintop, back down and up again. We made it, dad. Happy birthday to one of Macon’s surviving music men.

Jessica Walden is the director of communications for the College Hill Alliancey. Contact her at rockcandytours@gmail.com or 955-5997.

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