In the summer of 1983, Macon-based Capricorn Records, home of the music genre known as Southern rock, was ready to make a comeback. Co-founders Frank Fenter and Phil Walden had restructured the label, which went bankrupt in 1979, but in the midst of negotiating a new distribution agreement, Fenter, 47, died of a heart attack.
The deal fell through and in the eyes of many in the music industry, so did the memory of Fenter. Walden would later resurrect Capricorn, the label that had been home to acts including the Allman Brothers Band, the Marshall Tucker Band and Wet Willie, but Fenter’s name often went unmentioned. And though Walden and his brother Alan, another early Capricorn conspirator, have both been inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame, Fenter, who at one point owned 20 percent of the company, has never been the recipient of that honor.
His stepson, Robin Duner-Fenter, 46, has spent the past six months launching a widespread effort to make sure his late father gets his shot at the Hall of Fame.
“For sure Phil Walden should be in the Georgia Music Hall of Fame, but what about Frank? It was a big question mark. I knew at some point in my life I would want to do that. This is a labor of love for me and a fiduciary duty to let people know the history of what he has done in the music business,” said Duner-Fenter who maintains a Facebook page with more than 800 Fenter fans who have written messages of support.
The induction process for the Georgia Music Hall of Fame, an organization created in 1979 to preserve the state’s musical heritage, is overseen by the Senate Music Industry Committee and Friends of Georgia Music Festival Inc. The committee meets this month to deliberate over the applications, with four or five inductees to be announced later in the year. Chairwoman Bobbie Bailey said the committee tries not to be influenced by the number of letters supporting any one artist, but Duner-Fenter hopes the voices of his father’s fans will weigh in his favor.
Fenter, a native of South Africa, moved to Macon in the fall of 1969 with his wife and stepson. They had been living in London, where he had worked for Atlantic Records bringing British acts such as Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones to U.S. audiences. In 1967, Fenter and Walden became fast friends at the Monterey International Pop Music Festival.
Walden soon reached out to Fenter about a guitarist named Duane Allman. On the strength of what would become the Allman Brothers Band, Walden, Fenter, Jerry Wexler of Atlantic Records and Alan Walden laid the groundwork for Capricorn.
Things were tough in the early days, Duner-Fenter said. His family lived in a small house on an even smaller budget, as Walden and Fenter worked tirelessly to get the company off the ground. Not until 1971, with the release of the Allman Brothers Band’s “At Filmore East” album, did things take a better turn.
That same year, Fenter signed a group out of Mobile, Ala., called Wet Willie. The group would record seven albums with the label including the chart topper “Keep on Smilin’.”
“Frank was the liaison between the artists and the record company,” said Rich Hirsch, lead guitarist and songwriter for Wet Willie. “He brought a ton of business savvy to the label ... but beyond that, I always felt he was a genuine friend. He put a face on the record company that was extremely eloquent and approachable.”
If Walden was the brash flashy leader, Fenter was the calm collected counterpart to whom many artists turned for support.
“He would go back and cut a check for $100 for groceries,” said Chuck Leavell, keyboardist for the Allman Brothers Band and the Rolling Stones, recalling how Fenter assisted young artists.
“Frank brought so much to the company,” Leavell said. “An international flair for one thing, and a lot of experience. He helped take the company to another level when he came on board. I’m sure a lot of those deals wouldn’t have gotten done without Frank.”
Duner-Fenter doesn’t know whether his efforts will help earn his father a place in the Georgia hall, but he believes that if Fenter’s life hadn’t been cut short, history might have been different.
“I think Capricorn would have continued,” he said, “and [Fenter] would have been noted for having signed and discovered many more bands in his life.”
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