The presidential campaigns of yesteryear were very different from the race unfolding today — and one in particular had musical backing. Who knew that in 1976 the Allman Brothers Band helped push little-known Georgia Sen.Jimmy Carter into the White House?
Or Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson for that matter?
Reminded that these legends helped make a peanut farmer president, Mary Wharton and her producing partner Chris Farrell knew this was a story to tell and they named it, “Jimmy Carter Rock N Roll President,” which will be in theaters and virtual cinemas Wednesday.
“This touches on a lot of things,” Wharton said. “We use Carter’s connection to music as the lens through which we view his story. Hopefully, it’s kind of a new way of looking at Jimmy Carter.
“The power of music to change people’s minds, to change the world really, is so evident in Carter’s story — that was what was so exciting me.
“It’s multilayered and an interesting story hiding in plain sight in a way. It was no secret,” she continued, “it was all right there! But I had never heard it in spite of all my years working as a music documentary maker.”
The Allman Brothers’ first Carter benefit in Rhode Island led to the others, generating immediate cash to buy TV spots.
“We paint a portrait of Jimmy Carter through this lens of music,” Wharton said, “and come away with an understanding of who he is as a man.”
“To find solace during the challenging situations he was dealing with every day,” Wharton added, “he would retire to his office and listen to gospel music. Specifically, Willie Nelson’s gospel record.”
After Carter quoted a Bob Dylan lyric in a campaign speech, the two met. On film Dylan says, “That was the first time I realized my songs had reached into the Establishment world. It made me uneasy. He put me at ease by not talking down to me.”
That summer Gregg Allman was busted buying pharmaceutical cocaine; to avoid prison he testified against the band’s roadie. Carter refused to distance himself from his friend. In fact, Allman and his then-wife Cher were guests at his first White House seated dinner.
“One of the things that was so great about that story is it’s a fantastic example of what we were trying to accomplish with the movie,” Wharton enthused. “It shows you something fundamental of who Carter is as a man.
“He stood by his friend in spite of the fact that this would be seen by everyone as political suicide. Everyone was telling him to distance himself from this longhaired, drug-abusing, rock star.
“That’s who he is — and that’s what I hoped to do. Use these cool musical stories to show you a portrait of this man.”