Frank Fenter’s legacy in the music industry is undeniable.
As a booking agent in London in the early ’60s — the roots of the “British Invasion” — he worked with the likes of the Rolling Stones, Manfred Mann and the Animals.
Later, as the top executive for Atlantic Records in London, he discovered such groups as Led Zeppelin and Yes.
When he came to Macon in 1969, it was to partner with Phil Walden in the newly launched Capricorn Records label, which would end up being the home of the Allman Brothers Band, Wet Willie, the Marshall Tucker Band and many others in the Southern rock genre.
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Though not as well known to the public as Walden, Fenter’s stepson Robin Duner-Fenter would like to see Fenter join Walden as a member of the Georgia Music Hall of Fame.
Duner-Fenter has started a campaign to get Fenter on the ballot next month for induction in 2010 and is enlisting the support of many of Fenter’s music industry associates for that campaign.
“He absolutely should be in there, in my opinion,” said Chuck Leavell, who played keyboards with the Allman Brothers and the Rolling Stones and is a 2004 inductee. “He was a huge part of Capricorn Records. He made a huge impact.”
Fenter died in 1983 at age 47 while trying to revive the Capricorn label in a deal with Warner Brothers Records after Capricorn went bankrupt a few years earlier. Duner-Fenter said he believes his stepfather’s short life may have caused his contributions to be overlooked.
“Basically, I’ve always had the sense that Frank passed away very young,” Duner-Fenter said. “Because of that, he never got the recognition with Southern rock and his participation with Capricorn Records. I see his recognition as long overdue.”
Best salesman in the world
Fenter, a native of South Africa, met Walden in Europe during the “Hit the Road Stax” tour in 1967. Fenter was still with Atlantic Records while Walden was managing some of the acts that nade up the tour, including Otis Redding and Sam & Dave. The two became fast friends.
Fenter had an opportunity to move to New York to become an executive with the main part of Atlantic Records, but he instead chose to join with Walden, who had just formed Capricorn with his brother Alan.
Alan Walden, a 2003 inductee, soon moved on to form his own management and music publishing company, but maintained a good relationship with Fenter. Fenter was the only Capricorn executive who was a fan of Lynyrd Skynyrd, which Alan Walden managed.
“He was just as eager as I was to listen to new songs,” Alan Walden said. “He was the only person who shared my belief in Lynyrd Skynyrd. ... He brought a whole new image to Capricorn. He could make you believe it was sunshine when there was buckets of rain. He was the best salesman in the world. He was the perfect partner for my brother Phil.”
Willie Perkins, the former road manager for The Allman Brothers, said the two men were the perfect complement to each other in running the company.
“Frank was more of the administrator, more of the nuts-and-bolts type,” Perkins said. “Phil was more of the creative type. They worked together hand-in-glove with each other.”
Fenter’s knowledge of the music industry was critical for Capricorn’s growth.
“He brought a knowledge of the record business that none of us had,” Alan Walden said.
Fenter’s congeniality helped attract a lot of artists to the label, said Rick Hirsch, former guitarist for Wet Willie.
“He was just very eloquent,” Hirsch said. “He had a lot of grace. You were drawn to him because of his demeanor. He was not intimidating. It could be very daunting to meet a record executive when you’re a young musician, but Frank was a kind person with a lot of humility. He had a lot of great ideas.”
Respect for musicians
Leavell said Fenter often acted as a go-between among the artists and Phil Walden.
“On a personal level, I got on a lot better with Frank,” Leavell said. “He was more approachable on matters. ... I was a young musician, just 17 or 18, but Frank always treated me with respect.”
Fenter wasn’t just a matchmaker in the music business either, Leavell said. When Leavell was first dating the woman who would become his wife, Rose Lane Leavell, Fenter encouraged him to become serious.
“He told me she is ‘one of the finest ladies I have ever met,’ ” Leavell said. “ ‘If you are serious and grab hold of her, there’s no better woman in this area.’ ”
Fenter also contributed to the culinary scene in Macon, opening the European-style restaurants Le Bistro and Le Brasserie here in the 1970s.
Capricorn went bankrupt in 1979, leading to some lean years. But Phil Walden and Fenter tried to keep the label alive, and Fenter had worked out a distribution deal with Warner Brothers, Duner-Fenter said. But the day before he was to fly to Los Angeles to sign the contract, Fenter died of a heart attack and the deal fell apart.
Duner-Fenter said some of his best times growing up were listening to new albums with his stepfather, who liked to gauge the reaction of teen listeners to new songs.
Duner-Fenter has created a Facebook page to help the hall of fame campaign for Fenter.
He also has been gathering biographical materials and testimonials from dozens of music industry veterans in hopes that his stepfather will be inducted into the hall of fame.
“It’s long overdue,” Alan Walden said. “He should have been recognized long before now.”
To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.