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Walden remembers soul legend Sledge as ‘one special guy’

The first time Alan Walden met Percy Sledge, the soul legend was working as an orderly in an Alabama hospital, which meant plenty of unsavory tasks.

After giving one patient an enema, Sledge snatched off his rubber gloves and shook Walden’s hand.

“If I’m going to be a star, will I be able to quit this job?” Sledge asked Walden, who wanted to sign Sledge to a music contract.

“I signed him 10 days later,” Walden said. “He went from making about $100 a week to making $10,000 a week.”

Sledge, 74, probably best known for his classic “When a Man Loves a Woman,” died Tuesday in Louisiana from natural causes while in hospice care.

Walden, a member of the Georgia Music Hall of Fame, served as Sledge’s booking agent and manager at the beginning of the singer’s career. Walden said Rick Hall of the legendary FAME Studio in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, sent him a demo of “When a Man Loves a Woman, and that prompted Walden to fly in to try to sign Sledge.

The song became the first No. 1 hit for Phil Walden Artists and Promotions, the company Alan Walden ran with his brother.

Walden had a lot of emotion in his voice talking about Sledge.

“I’ve been trying to prepare for this day for a long time, but I’m just not ready for it,” he said. “He was a kind, loving, wonderful person. He was as good as they come.”

The Walden brothers also managed soul legend Otis Redding, and when he died in a plane crash in 1967, Alan Walden said Sledge helped him through the tragedy.

Sledge was actually set to move to Macon in 1968, having just bought a house near Joycliff Road in the part of the city that used to be in Jones County. But two days before he was scheduled to move in, the house was torched.

“Apparently, some of the people there didn’t want a black man in the neighborhood,” Walden said.

The arsonists were never caught, he said. When Sledge gave his last performance in Macon in 2013, Walden said he wanted the investigation reopened, but Sledge told him to move on.

“He said, ‘Alan, I’ve already forgiven them, so let God forgive them now,’ ” Walden recalled.

Sledge performed the Second Sunday concert in Washington Park in October 2013. Jessica Walden, Alan’s daughter and spokeswoman for the College Hill Alliance, said that show is still the best-attended performance in the series.

Sledge had several No. 1 hits during his career, including “Warm and Tender Love,” “It Tears Me Up,” and “Out of Left Field,” which Walden said is his favorite Sledge song.

Sledge is a member of the music halls of fame in both Alabama and Louisiana. He had surgery for liver cancer in January 2014, but continued to tour after that.

“He was one special guy,” Walden said. “I loved him. He was right up there with Otis. He was a great guy to work with.”

Information from The Associated Press was used in this story. To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.

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