A key event occurred in Muscle Shoals in 1969 when Rick Hall’s studio Gang number two (David Hood on bass, Jimmy Johnson on guitar, Roger Hawkins on drums and Barry Beckett on keyboards) departed from the FAME Studios organisation to set up their own studios and production facilities down the road at 3614 Jackson Highway, Sheffield, Alabama. The cause of their departure was, as ever, to do with money.
Rick Hall had signed a new deal with Capitol Records, that was rumoured to be worth $1,000,000. He then offered the musicians $10,000 each, according to Johnson. In the meantime, Jerry Wexler offered them eighteen months support and a $19,000 loan from Atlantic Records, to set up a new studio. It was a gamble, of course, but they decided to take it.
Rick Hall felt betrayed, but he acknowledged that his management of the situation had not been good enough: “I should have gone partners with them or cut them in for a piece of the action, but I think I had really come to believe that I could take any group of musicians and cut hit records. I just wasn’t smart enough, or I was too engrossed in what I was doing, to realise differently.”
The studio opened and was given the name “Muscle Shoals Sound Studios”, but Wexler didn’t stay long. He decided to move his soul artists to Miami, leaving the four session men looking for work. Fortunately, there was work on offer at Stax, enough to keep things afloat until the new studio began to attract bigger names.
The four session men became known as both The Swampers and the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section. These four gentlemen were and still are one of the best groups of musicians in the music industry, at the same level of studio excellence as Booker T and MGs, the Funk Brothers and MFSB. Each individual became a co-owner of the Muscle Shoals Sound Studios. The Soul and R&B music recorded by The Swampers had a funky, steady but grittier beat, featuring Hood’s bass line, Jimmy Johnson’s guitar riffs and Hawkin’s dynamic and powerful drum beats (which remind me of the late Al Jackson’s style of playing) combining with Barry Beckett’s strong performance on keyboards. Listen to Beckett playing the keyboard intro on the Staple Singers’ track “Respect Yourself”. That is musical heaven on another level in my opinion. I strongly believe that David Hood’s bass and Roger Hawkins’ drum performances as a rhythm section were the key elements in the success of the sound the group created.
As Jerry Wexler looked back, retrospectively assessing the accomplishments of these men, he concluded: “We had this little hideaway, this little retreat with these really terrific musicians, these white boys who played the blues so authentically that it caused a lot of head-scratching. The best part of my career was not the gold records or the Hall of Fame or awards — it was hearing the music being recorded live at that time”.
Photo: Dailynetworks 2007 (Wikimedia Commons)