When Jimmy Carter’s White House was a tour stop for long-haired, ‘torpedo’-smoking rock outlaws

Near the beginning of “Jimmy Carter: Rock & Roll President,” the new documentary that explores the 39th president’s connection to the music community during his four-year term, President Carter offers a revelation involving one of his children, country singer Willie Nelson and what Nelson once described as “a big fat Austin torpedo.”



Jimmy Carter et al. sitting on a bench: Jimmy Carter relaxes with Willie Nelson. (Carter Presidential Library)


© (Carter Presidential Library)
Jimmy Carter relaxes with Willie Nelson. (Carter Presidential Library)

Asked about Nelson’s account of smoking marijuana on the roof of the White House at the tail end of Carter’s term in 1980, the former president lets out a chuckle.

Nelson, Carter explains in the film, “says that his companion that shared the pot with him was one of the servants at the White House. That is not exactly true. It actually was one of my sons.”

It’s a brief exchange, but the coy interaction sets the tone for this affectionate, revelatory film about the ways in which a Georgia peanut farmer, on a mission in 1976 to upend American politics, tapped a kind of political action committee of artists, stoned or otherwise, to make his long-shot run at the presidency. Once victorious, Carter opened his doors to musicians, their art and at least one illicit joint.

Directed by Mary Wharton and produced by Chris Farrell, “Jimmy Carter: Rock & Roll President” celebrated its theatrical release on Tuesday, part of an extended rollout that will see it move from theater to on-demand in October to, ultimately, CNN at the beginning of 2021.

At one point in the film, Carter sits next to a turntable with Bob Dylan’s “Bringin’ It All Back Home’” cued up and says matter-of-factly, “The Allman Bros. helped put me in the White House by raising money when I didn’t have any money.”

Across Carter’s term, artists including Nelson, Charles Mingus, Loretta Lynn, Bob Dylan, Sarah Vaughan, Cecil Taylor, Linda Ronstadt (who had campaigned against Carter with her then-boyfriend Jerry Brown), the Staple Singers, Cher (and her then-boyfriend, Gregg Allman) and Tom T. Hall either visited or performed at the White House. Crosby, Stills and Nash once dropped by the place unannounced. Carter made time for them.

The musicians’ very presence was a grand shift. Inheriting a Vietnam War-embattled White House that for the eight years prior had been occupied by Richard Nixon and, after his resignation, Gerald Ford, Carter and first lady Rosalynn Carter treated the center of power not as a fortified bunker but as a kind of People’s Park. Members of the Woodstock generation were out of college and getting haircuts. The war was over, and with it the Selective Service draft.

“We thought we were celebrating victories that we had won,” says Nile Rodgers, producer and founder of funk band Chic, of the Carter presidency. “This is at about the height of the Black Power movement, the height of the women’s movement. The gay rights movement has come out.”

“Musicians are always looking for the truth, right? That’s kind of what they do as songwriters,” says director Wharton.

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New documentary details Jimmy Carter’s beat-backed road to White House

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?



a group of people standing in a room: President Jimmy Carter kisses singer Cher as her husband Gregg Allman stands by, second from right, during a reception at the White House in Washington, Jan. 21, 1977 held by the Carters for the Georgia Peanut Brigade, a group of campaign workers. (AP Photo/Peter Bregg)


© Provided by Boston Herald
President Jimmy Carter kisses singer Cher as her husband Gregg Allman stands by, second from right, during a reception at the White House in Washington, Jan. 21, 1977 held by the Carters for the Georgia Peanut Brigade, a group of campaign workers. (AP Photo/Peter Bregg)

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.



a group of people posing for the camera: President Jimmy Carter greets Willie Nelson, left, after watching the star country and western music singer perform in a concert at the Merriweather Post Pavillion at Columbia, Md., on July 21, 1978. Nelson performed along with country western singer Many Lou Morris for the President Jimmy Carter and Mrs. Rosalynn Carter who joined thousands of young people for the show. (AP Photo/Charles Tasnadi)


© Provided by Boston Herald
President Jimmy Carter greets Willie Nelson, left, after watching the star country and western music singer perform in a concert at the Merriweather Post Pavillion at Columbia, Md., on July 21, 1978. Nelson performed along with country western singer Many Lou Morris for the President Jimmy Carter and Mrs. Rosalynn Carter who joined thousands of young people for the show. (AP Photo/Charles Tasnadi)

“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

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