By the Way

Talking music, life and Alabama football with a Swamper and members of Wet Willie

Jimmy Hall and Muscle Shoals Revisited play Ocean Springs Live on Saturday, July, 2, 2016.
Jimmy Hall and Muscle Shoals Revisited play Ocean Springs Live on Saturday, July, 2, 2016. Jeff Clark

I grew up in Monroe County in a small town about 30 miles south of Tupelo, which is about 90 minutes from Muscle Shoals, Ala.

I knew about the Muscle Shoals music scene from an early age because when there was a big dance at the country club or one of my parents’ class reunions, The Decoys were usually the band that played at those events.

The Decoys are from Muscle Shoals, and David Hood is the band’s bass player. Hood is a member of the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, which also became known as The Swampers.

Jimmy Johnson, an original Swamper

Leon Russell named the studio musicians — Hood, guitarist Jimmy Johnson, drummer Roger Hawkins and keyboardist Barry Beckett — but The Swampers became a household word when Lynyrd Skynyrd mentioned them in “Sweet Home Alabama.”

The Swampers were famous for being an all-white backing band that performed on some of the biggest soul hits of the 1960s and 1970s, including “Mustang Sally,” “Respect” and “I’ll Take You There.”

They also engineered and produced tons of hit songs. Johnson was the man behind the console for three of the songs on the Rolling Stones album “Sticky Fingers,” including “Brown Sugar” and “Wild Horses.”

If you haven’t seen the documentary “Muscle Shoals,” now is the time to watch it. It’s on Netflix, and it is awesome.

Here’s a Spotify playlist of some of the magic created in Muscle Shoals:

Ocean Springs Live

Johnson was in Ocean Springs on Saturday playing guitar in Muscle Shoals Revisited behind Jimmy Hall. The show was the second installment of Vicki Applewhite’s free summer concert series Ocean Springs Live.

Applewhite has done a fantastic job with these shows held once a month in Rosetti Park.

Here’s what you need to know about the show: Jimmy Hall is the greatest living blues singer. He led the band through some of the popular Muscle Shoals songs and some Wet Willie classics backed by his sister and longtime Wet Willie bandmate Donna Hall.

They closed the show with “Keep on Smiling,” which has been the national anthem of the Gulf Coast from New Orleans to Florida. I even took a moment during “Smiling” to take a selfie with Gulfport Mayor and music fan Billy Hewes.

‘Roll Tide’ to your neighbors

Before the show, I spent about 90 minutes with Johnson, Jimmy Hall and Donna Hall.

This was a career highlight for me, as Johnson is a walking music encyclopedia and I’ve always been a big fan of Wet Willie and the Halls.

We talked about music and family and Alabama Crimson Tide football. The four of us reminisced about the Bear Bryant TV show and pondered about the 2016 season and what coach Nick Saban has planned.

I covered the Tide for a couple of seasons and I happily answered any questions anyone had about the team.

Donna Hall told me a great story about teaching some French musicians how to say “Roll Tide.” I told them I give a “Roll Tide” to anyone I see wearing Alabama gear in South Mississippi because they are few and far between.

I’ve always loved the music and culture of Muscle Shoals and I’ll argue with anyone that Wet Willie is the most underrated band of the 20th century. It was nice to befriend some people whose work I have long admired.

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