I grew up in north Alabama. It was early on that I, like all good Alabamians, heard the song Sweet Home Alabama. I remember riding down back roads in a beat up Ford Mustang with a cheap radio. I had a cassette (Google it if you don’t know) with that Lynyrd Skynyrd classic on it. I rambled through the hills without a care in the world, singing about The Swampers in Muscle Shoals. I sang it with a sense of authority, since I am from Alabama. I carried on that farce for a few decades. A few months ago I watched a documentary on Netflix about Muscle Shoals. It was then I realized that I didn’t have a clue. So I decided to travel west a bit and check it out.
Muscle Shoals is around ninety miles northwest from my country home. I was excited about this because I knew we could make that a day trip. The family loaded up early Saturday morning and headed out. It only seemed fitting to me that our first stop would be the Alabama Music Hall of Fame. We arrived there right after they opened. I declared with Griswold enthusiasm that we were the first ones there. That was shot down quickly from one of the know-it-alls in the backseat. Ok, so second wasn’t so bad. I was amazed when we got inside and read about all of the musical talent that originated from Alabama. My son was amazed by a gold Pontiac convertible. It had pistols mounted all around it. Delilah said the guns made it ugly. The boy maintained that was what made it so cool. There was something there we all liked. I always consider that a success, especially when it is my idea to stop at a place.
Our next stop was a coon dog cemetery. I am not a coon hunter but I have known a few. I have been exactly twice. The first time we got lost. The second we started without a light. This was remedied quickly when one of the party got a headlight out of a junk car and hooked it up to a car battery, which he ran through the woods all night with. Sometimes learned people do not recognize how resourceful the Alabama hillbilly can be. It should also be said here that, if you don’t already know it, do not mess with a man that can run all night through the woods carrying a headlight and a car battery. Coon hunters are passionate about their sport. You can get a taste of this passion if you visit a coon dog cemetery. We enjoyed reading the names. Some of the headstones looked fairly expensive. I know what you are thinking so let me put it to rest. We did not see Reese Witherspoon there.
We spent the afternoon touring the music studios that made Muscle Shoals famous. I will not go into details here. The names of artists that have been through those places is incredible. The fact that people would travel so far to have a record produced there is a testament to the quality of work that went on. I tried to imagine as we toured the studios what it must have been like when those people created the songs that influence so many lives. I could not do it. You can not see something like that. I guess you had to be there. The beauty of what went on in the Shoals in that time is this. You can still feel it in the music. That is how you know something special took place.
I know now that the Swampers, or The Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, were a group of local studio musicians that played on some of the greatest songs ever recorded. The pictures I saw of them looked like they could be someone I went to church with or had seen waiting in line at the local barber shop. I think that is what I like about them. Sometimes we in Alabama can entertain an inferiority complex, especially if our football team has a bad year. It is good to ride up the road a piece and see some local folks that did well. It shows that maybe any of us small town folks can make it. This is a big world we live in. I want to see it all. I learned a lesson on this day trip. You do not have to travel the world to be inspired.