Last night I was watching "Muscle Shoals" the documentary on Netflix. If you haven’t had the chance to see it, I HIGHLY recommend that you watch it. It focuses on the “Muscle Shoals Sound,” which is featured on some of the most memorable songs in history, and delves into the history and influence of music from Muscle Shoals. One of the iconic lines from Sweet Home Alabama is “Muscle Shoals has got the Swampers and they’ve been known to pick a song or two….” What’s striking about the Swampers is that during a time of segregation, they were making music, with all people, and as Bono says in the film, “Music sees no color.” All of the Swampers were white boys from rural Muscle Shoals Alabama, yet they were responsible for the “funk” in such songs as “Mustang Sally,” by Wilson Pickett and “Respect” by Aretha Franklin to name a few.
Rewind 1 year ago: I’m invited to a viewing of the documentary in Talladega, AL at the theatre in the Town Square. My brother works in management and was a part of putting on the event. After the viewing, there was a Q&A with two of the Swampers. Jimmy Johnson, lead guitarist of the Swampers, was one of those people. Listening to him talk was like meeting a living encyclopedia. Fascinating, honest, raw, and full of the real reason why music exists, FUN! He said things like, “I’ve never had a real job in my life.” Wow! Here’s a guy who followed his passion and never quit. It was so inspiring to hear him speak. I thought to myself, I want to be like that guy.
After the show, I was booked at the bar next to the theatre for an acoustic show. Little did I know that Jimmy Johnson himself would be stopping by the show. He arrived when I was playing the song Mustang Sally, and I had the opportunity to dedicate the song to him. But it gets better.
I was staying with my parents that evening since they live in the area, and the next morning, Jimmy Johnson shows up to our house for breakfast. A-FREAKING-MAZING! I got to listen to him talk for a few hours about his life, music, and passion for the Muscle Shoals sound. He shared with me the story about how he got Keith Richards guitar sound on Sticky Fingers (He was engineering that day because the engineer was sick) and how Wilson Pickett was very hard to work with. He told me stories about Paul Simon, Mick Jagger and everything in between. I thought to myself, THAT was a once in a lifetime experience. But it gets better.
Months later, he was in the Nashville area for another showing, and he came by my house. WHAAAATTTT? Again, I got to hear from him. What was most notable about him was his humility. Here’s a guy who has created the music of legends and inspired generations and he’s thankful. He just did what he thought he needed to do. He didn’t chase pipe dreams or waterfalls. He treated people well and did the best he could do. But it gets better.
I was visiting with my brother a few weeks ago and he said, “I’ve got a message for you, I played your new CD for Jimmy Johnson and he was adamant about me letting you know that he really liked it.” WHAAAATTTT? So Jimmy, you may never read this, but thanks for inspiring generations, including me. You’ve reminded me of the true meaning of music, and being from Alabama, I couldn’t be more proud of you.