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Jimmy Carter's relationship with the Allman Brothers Band helped him become president

ADRIAN FLORIDO, HOST:

We've been hearing about the legacy of former President Jimmy Carter over the last several weeks - his work to negotiate peace in the Middle East, the Iranian hostage saga, his post-presidency. For the next several minutes, we're going to learn how Carter's love of music and his friendship with The Allman Brothers helped him get elected. Something he recounted in the film "Jimmy Carter: Rock & Roll President".

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JIMMY CARTER: It was The Allman Brothers helped put me in the White House by raising money when I didn't have any money.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE ALLMAN BROTHERS BAND SONG, "JESSICA")

ALAN PAUL: This is Alan Paul. I'm biographer of The Allman Brothers Band. When Jimmy Carter began his campaign for president - and it was a real long shot - he had virtually no money at the start. What he did have was really good relationships with Phil Walden, who was the manager of The Allman Brothers Band, who were riding high. In 1974, they were the most popular band in the country, had their first big hit - "Ramblin' Man".

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RAMBLIN' MAN")

THE ALLMAN BROTHERS BAND: (Singing) Lord, I was born a ramblin' man...

PAUL: Phil Walden had built this music empire in sleepy Macon, Ga., had, to say the least, not been embraced by state political authorities. They were very leery of these sort of hippies. The Allman Brothers were a biracial band. They had two Black members. They were well known for their consumption of drugs. And the political establishment in Georgia did not embrace them at all until Jimmy Carter did. Jimmy Carter really did love this music. In January 1974, Bob Dylan did his first national tour in eight years, backed by the band.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DON'T THINK TWICE, IT'S ALL RIGHT")

BOB DYLAN: (Singing) And it ain't no use to sit and wonder why, babe, if'n you don't know by now.

PAUL: And they were going to be playing two nights at the Omni in Atlanta. Jimmy Carter went to the first night, and he invited everyone in the band over to the governor's mansion afterwards for a reception. Carter also invited all of The Allman Brothers Band members and their management. They had the reception. No one from The Allman Brothers Band showed up. Now, Gregg Allman was down in Macon, which is 90 miles south of Atlanta. He was rehearsing for an upcoming solo tour. He looked up at the clock, oh, it's 11 o'clock, let's go up there. So they piled into a limousine. They drove up to the governor's mansion. The lights were dark. He told the security guard, I'm Gregg Allman, I was invited to the party. Please tell the governor I came and I'm sorry that I missed him. And as he went to go back into the car, the security guard called after him and said, Mr. Allman, Governor would love to see you. He came out to the porch. He greeted Gregg. He said, thanks for coming, shook his hand, and he started quoting him his own lyrics. This guy is actually a fan. He actually listens to the music. And Governor Carter said to him, I have a new Elmore James record, come on in and we'll listen to it.

(SOUNDBITE OF ELMORE JAMES' "PICKIN' THE BLUES")

PAUL: You know, Gregg at this point was still pretty young, but he had been a working musician since he was 16. And they opened up a bottle of J&B Scotch. Governor Carter said they had one drink, which is what he limited himself to. Gregg said they finished the bottle. In any case, they sat and had some scotch. And at some point, Governor Carter said to him, by the way, I'm running for president. He just couldn't imagine that this guy drinking scotch in a T-shirt next to him and listening to Elmore James would ever be a serious candidate for president. But he said, OK. You know, he said that Governor Carter said to him, there may come a time when I need your help to raise some money. And he said, I'll take it to the guys in the band, just let me know when you're ready. And he told Kirk West, The Allman Brothers Band archivist, in a 1987 interview that he just liked Carter.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GREGG ALLMAN: So it wasn't a thing of friendship.

PAUL: And he probably would have helped him raise money, whether - if he was raising money for a used car lot.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ALLMAN: He was going to say - if he told me, well, hey, I'm going to buy these four used car lots...

KIRK WEST: Right.

ALLMAN: ...And I need some money. I'll do what I can.

WEST: Yeah.

PAUL: The biggest direct lift that The Allman Brothers Band gave to the Jimmy Carter campaign was this benefit concert that they had in Providence, R.I., at the Civic Center on November 25, 1975, just a couple of months before the Iowa caucuses.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ALLMAN: I'd like to present a very special guest, the star of "Good Morning" and "Good Night America."

(CHEERING)

PAUL: So Geraldo Rivera was the emcee of the night. He introduced Carter to the crowd. He called him an honest, open, progressive politician.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GERALDO RIVERA: In an era when people are sick to death of politicians from Watergate, and the country's tired of all the jive that we hear coming out of Washington, Governor Carter's like a breath of fresh air coming out of Georgia.

PAUL: Jimmy Carter's like a breath of fresh air coming out of Georgia, and he's sweeping the country, people. And then Jimmy Carter came walking out on the stage. Tom Beard, who was working with him, that afternoon had reminded the candidate, Governor Carter, the people are coming to see The Allman Brothers. Remember, don't talk too long.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CARTER: Thank you.

PAUL: You know, mostly, people didn't buy tickets to come to the Jimmy Carter benefit. They bought tickets to come see The Allman Brothers.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CARTER: I'm going want to say four things.

PAUL: He held his fingers in the air - one.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CARTER: First of all, I'm running for president.

PAUL: He had the second finger up in the air.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CARTER: Secondly, I'm going to be elected.

PAUL: He held a third finger up in the air.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CARTER: Third, this is very important. I need your help. Will you help me?

PAUL: He held a fourth finger up in the air.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CARTER: Thank you. And fourth, I want to introduce to you my friends and your friends, the ones that are going to help me get elected along with you - the great Allman Brothers.

(CHEERING)

PAUL: Crowd erupted in cheers.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ALLMAN: One, two, three, four...

PAUL: The money that they raised was really important. They then put an influx of money into TV ads in Iowa.

(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL AD, "JIMMY CARTER PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN")

CARTER: I see an America poised not only at the beginning of a new century, but at the brink of a long new era of more effective and efficient and sensitive and competent government.

PAUL: Since the 1976 campaign, we've become used to the idea of celebrities and musicians campaigning, performing, raising money, raising awareness for candidates. It was entirely rare at that time.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: On November 2, vote for Jimmy Carter.

PAUL: In late June of 1976, just about 4 1/2 months before the election, Gregg Allman testified in a drug trial, and he was castigated by the rock and roll industry. Rolling Stone magazine even suggested he might never be able to perform again. And the one person who did not ever abandon him was the person who arguably had the most logical reason to do so, which was Jimmy Carter. He wasn't going to abandon a friend for convenience, even in the heat of an election, even when his friend was, you know, arguably America's most famous drug user, as Gregg Allman was. In researching my book, "Brothers And Sisters," I spent a great deal of time at The Carter Center going through the archives, and I just gained a tremendous amount of respect for him as a person, as a politician. People often talk about him as if he was some sort of bumpkin who stumbled into being president. And of course, that's not true. Nobody becomes president of the United States without a great deal of confidence, a great deal of ambition. But in his relationship with The Allman Brothers Band and with Phil Walden, I think what you see reflected is that he also was a truly loyal friend. And I think that that's something that everybody should be able to salute and honor.

FLORIDO: That's writer Alan Paul. His book on The Allman Brothers, "Brothers And Sisters", is out this summer.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE ALLMAN BROTHERS BAND SONG, "YOU DON'T LOVE ME") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Courtney Dorning has been a Senior Editor for NPR's All Things Considered since November 2018. In that role, she's the lead editor for the daily show. Dorning is responsible for newsmaker interviews, lead news segments and the small, quirky features that are a hallmark of the network's flagship afternoon magazine program.