Wade on Birmingham

Archive for July, 2015

the meltening

Friday, July 31st, 2015

The molecular
structure of all things breaks down
in this goddamn heat.

• • •

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the pizza accords

Thursday, July 30th, 2015

First party agrees
to extra cheese, while second
party requests ham.

• • •

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concrete rain

Wednesday, July 29th, 2015

Bits of freeway fell
in storms of debris as cars
shook the bridges loose.

• • •

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the neighborhood crank

Tuesday, July 28th, 2015

A loner with an
agenda finds almost no
support for changes.

• • •

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The Birmingham channel: Such sights to behold

Monday, July 27th, 2015

A look at Birmingham in videos …

Keep Birmingham weird? From Igor N. Rykov.

An Oxmoor Landing homeowner deals with flooding. From Lisa Antoine.

Skateboarding around town in the late 1990s. From Haoyan of America.

The first Sloss Music and Arts Festival, filmed on a GoPro Hero 3 and an iPhone 5s. From Anagrace Salem.

Birmingham City Schools Band Camp 2015. From Magic Moody Films.

Swedish folk duo First Aid Kit performs “Emmylou” at Sloss Fest. From Seth Nelson.

The Avett Brothers performs “Walking for You” at Sloss Fest. From Donna Gobbell.

Attendees of the first Magic City Con this weekend at the Cahaba Grand Conference Center share their experiences. From Starnes Publishing.

Celebrating Birmingham Black Marriage Day in March at the Harambe Room downtown. From CaptuREAL Photo and Design.

Soca artist Island Rooster performs at Caribbean Day in June at Linn Park downtown. From Island Rooster.

A look at WWE Smackdown earlier this month at the BJCC Legacy Arena downtown. From SmackTalk420.

Attempting to fly into the Birmingham airport through a major storm. From Brandon Snider.

The competition during June’s Magic City Mega Bowl disc golf tournament at George Ward Park. From The Disc Golf Channel.

Promo for OnBoard Birmingham, a program to help regional employers recruit and retain young professionals. From Birmingham Business Alliance.

Brandy Wood talks about her guide dog, Rascal, and her work at the Southeastern Blind Rehabilitation Center on Southside. From Starnes Publishing.

A look ahead to the Birmingham Bowl’s 10th anniversary celebration on Dec. 30. From Birmingham Bowl.

Michael Greer lacrosse highlight reel. From Susan Bryan.

Promo for art pieces on Railroad Park from photographer Ginnard Archibald and painter Joseph Longoria. From Ginnard Archibald.

Speeches from a rally for Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders earlier this month at Good People Brewing Company on Southside. From Left in Alabama.

Jim Adkins of Jimmy Eat World performs “Polaris” and “The Kill” earlier this month at Saturn in Avondale. From Thomas Kreutzer.

A family’s summer outing to the Birmingham Zoo. From Ken Lee.

Tennessee country artist Shelby Lee Lowe performs in the Battle of the Bands earlier this month at Tin Roof in Lakeview (our vertical video of the week). From Dollar Bill Lawson.

Primus performs “My Name is Mud” at Sloss Fest. From Mike Wallace.

Artist Yaacov Agam signs his recently restored “Complex Vision,” a massive kinetic sculpture on the side of the Callahan Eye Hospital on Southside. From UAB News.

More. Sloss. Fest. From Pedroam Marashi.

Support group UAB Connections holds Dinner in the Dark in June, giving blindfolded diners an opportunity to experience a meal with a visual impairment. From UAB News.

• • •

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among the charlatans

Monday, July 27th, 2015

A sense of purpose
may never ring true yet can
guide us to safety.

• • •

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Books: Excerpt from Blake Ells’ ‘The Muscle Shoals Legacy of FAME’

Sunday, July 26th, 2015

Blake Ells

The following chapter is an excerpt from Birmingham author Blake Ells’ “The Muscle Shoals Legacy of FAME” [aff. link]. He is a public relations professional and music journalist, having written for AL.com, the Birmingham Post-Herald, the Birmingham News, Weld for Birmingham and Birmingham magazine.

His book looks at FAME Publishing, the epicenter of the musical revolution coming out of Muscle Shoals starting in the 1960s.

In this excerpt, we see the start of FAME and how Muscle Shoals has felt some, but not all, of its place in music history …

• • •

Chapter 2, FAME

There are a few Muscle Shoals stories of fame. There’s that one, the tale of a community at a crossroads hoping to age gracefully but not knowing how. There’s the fame that existed before the Quad Cities became known as the “Hit Recording Capital of the World,” the foundation that was built by Dexter and Ray Johnson, James Joiner and W.C. Handy’s blues before them. And there’s Florence Alabama Music Enterprises (FAME), the publishing company that evolved into a recording studio founded by Rick Hall, Billy Sherrill and Tom Stafford in 1959.

The original FAME Recording Studios was located above City Drug Store in Florence, Ala., the birth of the acronym that became a proper noun. The partnership dissolved, and the facility moved to another location on the south side of the Tennessee River briefly before Hall built the current studio at its Avalon Avenue location in Muscle Shoals. Arthur Alexander’s “You Better Move On” had achieved immeasurable success, having been covered by the Rolling Stones, and Hall’s empire was born.

The session musicians at FAME were known as the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, and the first version consisted of Norbert Putnam, Peanut Montgomery, David Briggs and Jerry Carrigan. It was the second Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section that Lynyrd Skynyrd immortalized as “The Swampers” in “Sweet Home Alabama”: David Hood, Jimmy Johnson, Barry Beckett and Roger Hawkins. Junior Lowe, Spooner Oldham and Duane Allman also spent time in this version of the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, but the first four men were the partners who would leave in 1969 to found their own Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in Sheffield. Lowe bridged the divide to the first FAME Gang (a later incarnation of FAME’s rhythm section), Oldham largely stayed until he left for Memphis and Allman would leave to form an eponymous Rock and Roll Hall of Fame band of his own.

The group backed hits recorded by Wilson Pickett, Candi Staton, James and Bobby Purify, Clarence Carter, Arthur Conley, Etta James and, most notably, Aretha Franklin while under Hall’s roof. It was a famous, alcohol-soaked confrontation between Hall and the latter’s husband, Ted White, that is largely responsible for the collaboration’s demise. White was heavily intoxicated, and conflict emerged between himself and a trumpet player on the session. Hall’s efforts to defuse it didn’t help, and Franklin left Muscle Shoals. The Swampers joined her to finish her record and record a few more, including “Respect.” Shortly after their return from New York, their own studio was born, the location that welcomed Cher, Paul Simon and the Rolling Stones.

“In the ’60s and ’70s, there were periods every two or three months that we would have 10 percent of the Hot 100 in the world from our studio,” Jimmy Johnson said. “I think about it now, and I shake my head. I don’t even think we realized what we were doing. We were paying $50 a month for rent on that building. We started cutting some hits. That was the whole key. No hits? No business. We didn’t have to advertise. They’d look at Billboard and Record World and Cashbox, and that’s how they came. Based on the charts. That’s how we got known.”

But the departure of the Swampers wasn’t the end of FAME. Not even close. In 1971, Billboard named Hall “Producer of the Year” as he soldiered on with other incarnations of the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, backing several styles of music into the new millennium. The Fame Gang carried on FAME’s tradition throughout the ’70s and ’80s with at least two formal versions but probably three or four: Junior Lowe, Harrison Calloway, Jesse Boyce, Aaron Varnell, Ronnie Eades, Mickey Buckins, Harvey Thompson, Clayton Ivey and Freeman Brown composed the first version, while Ralph Ezell, Chalmers Davis, Walt Aldridge, Jimmy English, Owen Hale and David Barone were the second, but definitive lines of where one group’s tenure finished and another began were blurry.

“I think it was FAME Gang Four or Five, actually,” joked Chalmers Davis.

A 2009 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, Dewey Lindon “Spooner” Oldham Jr. isn’t usually remembered as being a part of the Swampers. The entirety of his stay in the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section was under the FAME roof, throughout most of the ’60s. He left for Memphis in 1967 to join his songwriting partner Dan Penn. It’s his organ heard on “When a Man Loves a Woman” by Percy Sledge and “I Never Loved a Man” by Aretha Franklin. With Penn, he penned “I’m Your Puppet” by James and Bobby Purify and “A Woman Left Lonely” by Sledge. His departure from Muscle Shoals paved the way for Beckett’s full-fledged membership into the group.

“My songwriting partner, Dan Penn, had moved to Memphis to work in a new studio called American,” Oldham said. “He was gone a year before I decided to join him there. I was missing the songwriting partnership that we had at FAME. I didn’t want to abandon Rick Hall, and I was loyal to Barry Beckett. He had come up from Pensacola. We were walking from the studio to the grocery store one day to grab a soda pop, and he asked me if he could get some session work, and a light bulb went off in my head. Because [Beckett] could do anything that I did. So he came here, and I went to Memphis.”

Oldham eventually moved to Los Angeles. He backed Bob Dylan, Joe Cocker, Jackson Browne, Bob Seger, the Everly Brothers, J.J. Cale and Frank Black. He recorded Neil Young’s Harvest Moon and Amos Lee’s Last Days at the Lodge. He joined Drive-By Truckers for 2007’s The Dirt Underneath tour. He was a nomad.

“I remember touring with Dylan, and he called me in my hotel room one day, which he never did,” said Oldham. “We’d talk at the gigs and ride to the shows together on the bus. He would sit in his seat, and we’d sit in ours, and you didn’t talk a whole lot. But we were in Boston, I believe. And he said, ‘Would you walk with me to the record store? They want me to sign some records, and I’ve never done that.’ This was in ’80 or ’81. It was winter. I was cold, and I had on a long overcoat, and I said, ‘Bob, I’m cold.’ And he said to me, ‘I like it. It makes me feel alive.'”

In the half century that FAME has served as the centerpiece for the Muscle Shoals music scene, it has been responsible for “You Better Move On” by Arthur Alexander; “Steal Away” by Jimmy Hughes; “What Kind of Fool Do You Think I Am” by the Tams; “Hold On to What You’ve Got” by Joe Tex; “Slip Away” and “Patches” by Clarence Carter; “Mustang Sally,” “Funky Broadway,” “Land of a Thousand Dances” and “Hey Jude” by Wilson Pickett; and “I Never Loved a Man” and “Do Right Woman” by Aretha Franklin. Arthur Conley’s “Sweet Soul Music” was cut in the same room, as were a string of hits by the Osmonds, including “Down by the Lazy River,” “One Bad Apple” and “Yo-Yo.”

As disco took over and sessions slowed, Hall, like his peers at other studios in Muscle Shoals, collected a group of songwriters and shaped the sound of Nashville in the ’80s. Walt Aldridge penned hits for Ronnie Milsap (“There’s No Gettin’ Over Me”), John Anderson (“She Sure Got Away with My Heart”) and Ricky Van Shelton (“Crime of Passion”).

Although FAME sold its publishing company in 1989, a new publishing company was soon formed by Hall and his three sons: Rick Jr., Mark and Rodney. Gary Baker penned one of the biggest hits that FAME was ever responsible for in 1994, John Michael Montgomery’s “I Swear,” a crossover hit that was later covered by pop act All-4-One. Mark Hall added Tim McGraw’s “I Like It, I Love It” to the Halls’ resume in 1996, shortly before joining his brothers Rodney and Rick to buy the remaining shares of the company from their father.

Under their ownership in the new millennium, FAME has scored hits from George Strait, Kenny Chesney, Alabama, Dixie Chicks, Sara Evans, Chris LeDoux, Travis Tritt and Billy Ray Cyrus, among others. Patterson Hood of Drive-By Truckers produced Bettye LaVette’s “The Scene of the Crime” there, and his band recorded “The Dirty South” there. Jason Isbell signed a publishing deal with FAME and recorded his debut, “Sirens of the Ditch,” there before leaving to tour with Drive-By Truckers. His publishing deal with FAME covers his catalogue up to the 2013 critically acclaimed and award-winning “Southeastern.”

James LeBlanc came to town and penned a number of hits, including “Modern Day Bonnie and Clyde,” which he coauthored with Walt Aldridge. The Travis Tritt tune peaked at No. 8 on the U.S. Hot Country chart and remains the singer’s most recent Top 10 hit. He penned “Learning How to Bend,” a Top 10 single recorded by Gary Allan. And LeBlanc wrote “Relentless” with Aldridge’s disciple, John Paul White, for Jason Aldean, a song that reached No. 15. His collaborations connected the past and present of Muscle Shoals as significantly as anyone.

“I met John Paul — he was working at Sam’s [Club] selling computers,” said FAME’s Rodney Hall. “We struck up a friendship there, and I said, ‘Well, why don’t you come over and sing?’ I gave him some of Walt’s tracks, and he came over and sang them. They were country. He wasn’t what he is now.”

This all happened — well, most of it — at a building on the corner of Woodward and Avalon Avenues in Muscle Shoals, Ala. And it’s still happening. The centerpiece, the foundation, the FAME that gave the community fame is a modest structure that has had little renovation and little updating over the majority of its 50 years. It’s nearly hidden now, as a CVS Pharmacy covers it to the Woodward Avenue side. Predictably, a Walgreens faces the historic studio from the other side of Avalon Avenue, while a Pizza Hut and Sweet Peppers Deli surround the building’s eastern side. There’s a mall, Southgate, that is barely surviving nearby, and Muscle Shoals High School isn’t far, either.

But the rest of Woodward and Avalon Avenues are covered with fast food restaurants, liquor stores, check cashing storefronts and doughnut shops. Back then, there was even less. There are affluent people in the community, but there aren’t enough jobs to ensure that there are many. There are teachers, lawyers, bankers and doctors, as there have always been. And there’s the Tennessee Valley Authority, which became the area’s largest employer after Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Tennessee Valley Authority Act and brought new life to an area devastated by the Great Depression. But the businesses that line the highways of Muscle Shoals proper line the highways of every blue-collar town in America. It’s far less romantic than the sounds it has created, sounds of which the community was unaware.

“In my household, all those songs that David and Roger and Jimmy and Spooner and Dan and all those guys played on, I had heard them a thousand times,” said Greenhill native Jay Burgess, lead singer of Muscle Shoals-based, Single Lock Records product the Pollies. “But I didn’t know that was Spooner playing piano. I didn’t realize that was David playing bass. I didn’t know that that was them. I knew I liked the songs, and I listened to it. I grew up here. I can remember being a kid and driving by FAME, and I’d ask Mom what it was, and she’d just say, ‘It’s a recording studio.’ It wasn’t that big of a deal for these guys — they walked around constantly. You’d see them everywhere. Those two words, ‘Muscle Shoals,’ were never really that big of a deal to me. That was one of the four cities. That’s all it was.”

Musicians came to Muscle Shoals because it wasn’t self-aware, and only now is the community beginning to realize its own appeal. It took outsiders to do that. It took the 2013 documentary “Muscle Shoals” and Billy Reid. It didn’t happen when the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, the Swampers or Fame Gang One, Fame Gang Two or Fame Gang Four or Five cut the biggest hits in the world. And if it didn’t happen when Mac McAnally and Donnie Lowery penned “Old Flame” for Alabama, it sure wasn’t going to happen when Patterson Hood tried to make it with a rock ‘n’ roll band with a punk rock attitude in 1991.

It didn’t happen when rumors would fly of acts like the Backstreet Boys sneaking into town during the height of their career, and it hasn’t happened when Alicia Keys has done the same.

Today, Court Street is the center of the Muscle Shoals arts community, but Court Street is in Florence. Rivertown Coffee is a block away on Seminary, and on any given Tuesday, you’ll find John Paul White or Donnie Fritts spending uninterrupted hours sitting at a table enjoying a cup of coffee. Some of it is because the community is polite, but most of it is because the community has no idea the magnitude of celebrity that calls it home.

Athens, Ga., residents won’t hesitate to remind you that they have 60 bars in six blocks. Seattle knows that it was the center of the grunge universe. Austin’s economy has always received a significant boost as the home to South by Southwest. But only recently have Muscle Shoals, Florence, Sheffield and Tuscumbia begun to realize their own appeal.

“If you acted too good, you were bullied,” said John Paul White at the 2013 Billy Reid Shindig. “To our detriment, we don’t want to sing our own praises. Who are we? Who are we to do that?”

Since 1982, the community has hosted the W.C. Handy Music Festival each summer in honor of its namesake native son. And each of those years, the festival, which engulfs every bar, restaurant and street corner in the Quad Cities, has seen musicians who have played on some of the biggest hits that were ever recorded — those hits that were recorded at FAME — jamming on cover versions at parks (like Wilson Park) and chain restaurants (like Red Lobster or Outback Steakhouse). These days, that’s a normal Thursday on Court Street.

David Hood, Scott Boyer, N.C. Thurman, Mike Dillon and Kelvin Holly have spent several years performing as the Decoys. Barry Billings will join half of Jason Isbell’s backing band, the 400 Unit (Jimbo Hart and Chad Gamble), on weekends at DP’s in Sheffield. Rob Malone, who recorded and helped write the first three Drive-By Truckers records, including “Southern Rock Opera,” often performs with Rob Aldridge at bars like On the Rocks. These artists are around, and it’s been that way for 50 years.

Outsiders began to discover the story of FAME, and the community has slowly become self-aware of its own fame.

• • •

Blake Ells will have an appearance Aug. 29 at the Alabama Music Hall of Fame in Tuscumbia. Visit his site for more details.

“The Muscle Shoals Legacy of FAME” (June 29, Arcadia Publishing)

Blake Ells

Also

#sundayread for July 26, 2015

Sunday, July 26th, 2015
old brown books

Photo: Charles Hackley (CC)

My picks for #sundayread for July 26, 2015:

More posts from Wade this week:

The latest #sundayread tweets

friday evening downpour

Sunday, July 26th, 2015

Skies darken, thunder
erupts and sheets of rain wash
the earth thoroughly.

• • •

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little girl lost

Saturday, July 25th, 2015

A voice, distinct and
true, silenced too soon by a
misguided lifestyle.

• • •

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fast asleep in the urban jungle

Friday, July 24th, 2015

Car alarm at 2
a.m.: Let me sing you the
song of my people.

• • •

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not hot enough for that

Thursday, July 23rd, 2015

The gluten-free ice
cream truck circled round the block
with zero takers.

• • •

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make room for hashtags, too

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2015

The Library of
Congress must build shelves to store
tweets and emoji.

• • •

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citations no extra charge

Tuesday, July 21st, 2015

Inspiration comes
from the unlikeliest spots,
like term paper sites.

• • •

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The Birmingham channel: True heritage

Monday, July 20th, 2015

A look at Birmingham in videos …

Cage the Elephant lead singer Matt Shultz goes crowd surfing during its set this weekend at the first Sloss Music and Arts Festival. From Carson Meadows.

Sarah Collins Rudolph receives an award from the Birmingham Pledge at an event commemorating the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church. From Sandy Jaffe.

Orlando Renegades vs. Birmingham Stallions on May 27, 1985, at Legion Field. Stallions win 41-17. From USFL Forever.

Singer Chris Brown performs Dec. 21 at the BJCC Arena downtown. From ChatinWitTrena.

A recap of the Chattanooga Lookouts vs. Birmingham Barons. From Big Orange TTM.

Birmingham, now whiter than ever. From the Stewart/Perry Company.

Ringo Starr and His All Starr Band performs “With a Little Help From My Friends” on Feb. 15 at the BJCC Concert Hall. From Eric Hawley.

A look inside the Negro Southern League Museum on Southside. From Alabama NewsCenter.

Art’s second trip to St. John Kame Coptic Orthodox Church in Homewood. From Art Nichols.

Singer Alvin Garrett hanging with the fellas after a recent performance in Birmingham (our vertical video of the week). From Alvin Garrett.

Desmond Gullett sings the National Anthem at the start of a Birmingham Barons game (our other vertical video of the week). From Desmond Gullett.

Time lapse of the Birmingham skyline. From Steven Nave.

Railroad crossing on 24th Street; note the mechanical bell. From freebrickproductions.

A confrontation with a Birmingham police officer over filming federal buildings downtown (our other other vertical video of the week). From Lynwood Golden.

Sloss Fest, day 1. From Sloss Music and Arts Festival.

Driving through Birmingham at night. From Eric Morgan.

Trying out the skid pad at the Porsche Sport Driving School, Barber Motorsports Park in Leeds. From Laura.

William Flowers, of the white supremacist group League of the South, speaks at a Confederate monument rally in Linn Park. From William Flowers.

A look at the Summer Engineering Experience for Kids at Avondale Elementary. From Alabama NewsCenter.

Boston rock band the Pixies perform “Velouria” on May 6 at Iron City on Southside. From treser62.

Time Inc. building more test kitchens on Homewood campus. From WIAT 42.

Music video for “Take It Away” by Bessemer gospel singer Netra. From Terri D. Smith.

A mild disagreement downtown. From LiveLeak.

Music video for “Grip” by Birmingham hip hop artist Lil Haze. From Dapper Donn.

Music video for “Don’t Close” by Birmingham singer Jou. From UAB Film.

Author John Green files an update from the Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport while touring to promote his new movie “Paper Towns.” From vlogbrothers.

Jonathan Jackson, star of “Nashville,” and Enation perform “Let the Beauty Out” June 18 at the Nick on Southside. From Outlaw Films.

John Oliver discusses the Vestavia Hills High mascot the Rebel Man on “Last Week Tonight.” From Berto Majden.

• • •

Send us links to your videos. | More videos on the Birmingham channel.