Due to the fact that there is not much work this summer, I have a lot of free time on my hands. This has caused me to watch a lot more television and read a lot more books than usual.
I recently revisited a 10 part series that I taped from PBS in the middle 1990’s called the history of Rock and Roll. Each hour explores a segment of musical history, starting in the 1950’s till the middle 1990’s. The one that struck me the most was the segment on soul music in the 1960’s. As a student of race relations in America (my father helped start Ebony Magazine in the early 1950’s), I couldn’t help but be amazed at the thought that a group of white guys in Alabama (Muscle Shoals) built up a scene that helped create some of the most beautiful and lasting soul music in America.
Rick Hall built Fame Studio in Muscle Shoals, and put together a group of musicians that wrote and recorded some of the greatest music of the last 50 years. Dan Penn, Spooner Oldham and many others backed among others Wilson Pickett and Sam and Dave on some of the greatest soul and R&B songs of our time. Meanwhile, up north a short way, Stax Records was founded in an old movie theater in Memphis. The house band was Booker T and the MG’s who wrote with and backed among others the great Otis Redding.
My favorite story of the time was when a Jewish guy from New York City (Jerry Wexler) brought a young black woman (Aretha Franklin) to Muscle Shoals, Alabama in the 1960’s to record one of the greatest albums of all time (I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You) with a group of young white southerners. This paved the way for Atlantic Records to quickly become one of the most important labels in the world
I wonder if that kind of vision can exist today. There are many people trying to copy what went on in that era (Amy Winehouse, for example).
On July 4th of this year, I saw a show that opened with a set by Booker T. Jones. Leader of that great Stax house band of the 1960’s. He was backed by a group of young southerners that call themselves Drive By Truckers, led by a young guitar player by the name of Patterson Hood. After their set, they were hanging around backstage, and Mavis Staples walked by. Patterson said, “Excuse me, Mavis, I don’t know if you remember me, but my father brought me to the studio to watch you record when I was seven years old.” See, his father was David Hood, one of the original musicians from that Muscle Shoals and Stax group from the 1960’s. It gave me hope for the future!
It should also be noted that several very important people in the history of music passed away this week:
Jim Dickenson, noted Memphis producer and piano player (Wild Horses by the Rolling Stones) leaves a great legacy of American music. His legacy carries on through his sons Luther and Cody and their group North Mississippi All Stars.
Jim and the All Stars:
Les Paul, the man who invented the solid body guitar and the process of multi tracking in the recording studio after having a major recording career with his wife Mary Ford.
Two nicer people you will never meet.