“Give credit where credit is due.”
It’s the kind of idiomatic expression that any non-sociopath can cosign without thinking too hard about it. Like “Treat others the way you’d like to be treated,” or “Let’s order a pizza when we get back from the bar.” But GCWCID’s promise often goes unfulfilled, and there doesn’t even have to be a good reason why. No villain, no deliberate deception or cover-up. Sometimes credit is hiding in plain sight. Or in a Lynyrd Skynyrd song everyone in the country has heard between five and 500 times:
Now Muscle Shoals has got the Swampers
And they’ve been known to pick a song or two
Lord they get me off so much
They pick me up when I’m feeling blue
Now how about you?
“The Swampers” is another name for the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, a handful of session musicians who provided the backbone for a string of huge hits in the 60’s and 70’s. Whether you’ve heard of the Swampers or not, Muscle Shoals, the new documentary about their work, the town they hail from and the producer/studio owner who gave them an opportunity to record with some of music’s most legendary artists, is an absolute must-see.
Are you ready to play a kickass game of connect the dots? Since today’s edition largely takes place in the south, we’ll call it, affectionately of course, co-redneck-t the dots. I really think you’re going to like what we find, so let’s get started with the fine gents of Raleigh, North Carolina-based American Aquarium, who, on Friday at the Jefferson Theater in Charlottesville, Virginia, country-rocked their way through an amazing set opening for Jason Isbell, who hails from northern Alabama, just like former Drive-By Truckers bandmate Patterson Hood, whose father, David Hood, was the bass player for the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section (also known as “the Swampers” — ya know, “They’ve been known to pick a song or two”), the legendary band that recorded with some of music’s most recognizable names, like Aretha Franklin, the Rolling Stones, Paul Simon, John Prine and many, many more, all of whom, in order to record with the Swampers, had to to make pilgrimages to one of two studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, which is where American Aquarium just finished recording their new album, which was produced and recorded with the help of Jason Isbell, with additional contributions from the lovely Amanda Shires, Isbell’s girlfriend, who appeared on stage with both Isbell and American Aquarium last Friday night at the Jefferson Theater. Whew. Crazy, eh? And that run-on sentence doesn’t begin to cover how entertaining American Aquarium’s set was (a real-life love-at-first-listen experience) or the remarkable impact that Muscle Shoals has had on popular music. A few weeks back, I wrote about the idea of musical centers of energy, and Muscle Shoals most assuredly qualifies. Though the town’s population is just 13,000 or so, the area still has a tremendous amount of musical history. So many canonical musicians have been drawn to Muscle Shoals, and it’s wild to think about how the Swampers insisted on recording on their own turf. And Grammy wins for albums like the Black Keys’ Brothers go to show that the town maintains that gravitational pull to this day. Judging by the songs I heard at the Jefferson Theater, American Aquarium’s upcoming album is sure to be a hit as well, so to whet your appetite, I’m posting “Reidsville,” a song from their 2010 album Small Town Hymns that tells the story of a southern town with a very different legacy than that of Muscle Shoals. Listen below and snag the album on iTunes here.
American Aquarium — “Reidsville“