The birth of the music genre Southern Rock. Duane Allman in Muscle Shoals, Alabama.
|The Birth Of Southern Rock: Duane Allman in Muscle Shoals
In 1968 the Muscle Shoals area of Northwest Alabama had become the recording Mecca for soul, rhythm & blues. It was an unlikely scenario in an unlikely place, during an unlikely time. What image does rural Alabama in the sixties conjure up? A governor standing in a school doorway; police dogs and fire hoses? That certainly was true for many parts of the south, but something different was happening in the sleepy little interconnected towns known as the Shoals: Muscle Shoals, Tuscumbia and Sheffield on the southern side of the Tennessee River; Florence on the north side.
This tiny little corner of Alabama seems to have music in it’s soil and in the running waters of the Tennessee River. The native Americans that populated the area; the Choctaws, Cherokees, Chickasaws and Creeks called it the “Singing River”. Those that heard and responded to the “Singing River” included some of the most influential figures in modern music.
W.C. Handy, “Father of the Blues” was born and raised in Florence. Sam Phillips, “Father of Rock ‘n Roll” and the man who discovered Elvis Presley, born and raised in Florence. Buddy Killen, the music publisher, songwriter, record producer and musician who became one of the most influential figures in the Nashville entertainment business---yep, from the Shoals area.
As the fifties gave way to the liberating sixties, you had pockets of hit making power in places like Detroit, Memphis and Philadelphia. Black singers and black musicians breaking into the white dominated pop charts with that “sweet soul music”. But an odd thing was happening in Muscle Shoals. It was black and white musicians integrating, the love of music bringing them together; while things were still quite segregated musically in Detroit, Philly, and even New York.
Rick Hall, who had tried to break into the music business in Memphis and Nashville, decided he’d make his own mark in his hometown. He opened up FAME recording studios on Avalon Avenue in Muscle Shoals. The influences of Memphis R&B and Nashville’s country blended together in a unique country soul in Muscle Shoals. Hits began pouring out of FAME from Arthur Alexander, Jimmy Hughes, Percy Sledge. Outside artist began to come to town; Tommy Roe, The Tams, Joe Simon, and Joe Tex.
Soon Muscle Shoals attracted the big leagues---Jerry Wexler and Ahmet Ertegun of Atlantic Records. They brought in Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin and Muscle Shoals was dubbed the “Hit Recording Capital Of The World”.
As the sixties turned into the seventies, more studios would open and the music recorded in the area would broaden to include pop, rock, and country. A diverse group of musicians, singers, and songwriters would be drawn to this rural country of North Alabama. One of these would become revered as one of the all-time guitar greats, Duane Allman.
Duane Allman recorded in Muscle Shoals as a studio musician from November of 1968 through March of 1969, when he then returned to Jacksonville, FL to start the Allman Brothers Band. He would return frequently to The Shoals to lay down guitar tracks on several recording sessions, right up until the tragic motorcycle accident that would claim his life.
Muscle Shoals would be the place Duane would catch the ear of some the industry's most powerful men, including Rick Hall at FAME, Jerry Wexler of Atlantic Records, and record producer and executive Tom Dowd. In Muscle Shoals he'd play on records by Wilson Pickett, Arthur Conley, Clarence Carter, Otis Rush and many more. Duane would get the opportunity to travel to New York with the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section to record with Aretha Franklin. It would be right here in this sleepy little corner of Northwest Alabama that the formation of the Allman Brothers Band would have its roots.
Duane and brother Gregg's first connection to Muscle Shoals actually dates back to 1966 when they were playing in a band called the Allman Joys. Florence native Buddy Killen had moved to Nashville before the boom of the Muscle Shoals music industry. Buddy would become a giant in the Nashville record industry. In 1966 he was working with Dial Records. He caught the Allman Joys playing at one of the clubs on the southern circuit and they would eventually record several songs for Killen's label in Nashville. Only one single was released though, a cover of Willie Dixon's "Spoonful" backed with "You Deserve Each Other". Apparently Killen wasn't too impressed. After hearing the material the Allmans had recorded, he advised the band "to go look for a day job".
The two brothers would persist with the Allman Joys for several more months until the band imploded while playing in St. Louis. Once again North Alabamians would play a pivotal role in the Allman story. Duane and Gregg joined forces with drummer Johnny Sandlin and keyboard player Paul Hornsby from the group "The Five Minutes" out of Huntsville, AL. The new band played Nashville and made a return trip to St. Louis where the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band stopped in to catch their gig. The Dirt Band's manager convinced the band they could make it nationally if they would move out to California. So the newly christened "Hour Glass" relocated to L.A. in the spring of 1967.
The situation was not the pretty girls, fast cars and stardom that the brothers had hoped for; and things went from bad to worse as the band felt they were misled by their record company, Liberty Records. Liberty was calling all the shots and picking the material for the band, which turned out to be a terrible blend of psychedelic and soul.
The self titled debut "The Hour Glass" was released in October of 1967 and the follow up "Power of Love" was released March of 1968. Neither record sold and the band was in debt to Liberty. Once again, Muscle Shoals enters the Allman history.
The problem with the Hour Glass albums was, it just wasn't the Allman's music. The band was determined to develop their own sound. So they headed east to Muscle Shoals to record some demos at Rick Hall's FAME studios in April of '68. Liberty Records though had absolutely no interest in the Muscle Shoals demos. Matter of fact, by this time Liberty made it clear they were only interested in promoting Gregg as a solo act.
In May of '68 the band was fed up, called it quits and headed back home to Florida. But they were deeply in debt to the record company and after being threatened to be sued, Gregg went back to L.A. to record a solo album. As expected Liberty called all the shots and picked all the tunes.
Duane stayed in Jacksonville, FL hanging out with bands 31st Of February and The Second Coming which included future Allman's Butch Trucks, Berry Oakley, and Dickey Betts. Back in Muscle Shoals in November of ‘68, Rick Hall at FAME studio was preparing for an important Wilson Pickett session. Remembering Duane's work with the Hour Glass, he sent a telegram to Jacksonville. Duane jumped at the chance at a paying gig and headed to Muscle Shoals.
November 27, 1968 the recording session begins with Wilson Pickett. While the other musicians and studio crew went out to lunch, Duane and Wilson Pickett hang back at the studio. He persuaded Pickett to record the Beatles hit "Hey Jude". When the other musicians get back, they lay down the track that would launch the career of Duane Allman; and eventually the Allman Brothers Band.
Rick Hall called Atlantic Records Jerry Wexler and played "Hey Jude" over the phone for him. Jerry was so impressed with the song and the young guitarist that he decided to release it as a single. The "Hey Jude" single would eventually sell millions and Duane was invited to stay in Muscle Shoals.
Jimmy Johnson of the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section said of Duane's work on that song, "In my estimation, that guitar solo that Duane played on the vamp at the end of 'Hey Jude' was the beginning of Southern rock music."
Through the end of '68 Duane would also add his distinctive guitar work to Clarence Carter and Arthur Conley. December of '68 would also mark the first time Duane would work with producer Tom Dowd. Dowd would work extensively with the future Allman Brothers Band during their career. Also during this period the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section was doing outside work for Atlantic Records. In January of '69 Duane traveled to New York with the rhythm section to work with Aretha Franklin.
A pivotal point in rock n' roll history took place in Muscle Shoals early in 1969. The Allman Brothers Band would come together in the spring of '69; and in two short years reach the pinnacle of commercial success; be lauded by critics nation wide, and usher in a new musical genre called "Southern Rock". But in February of '69 Duane is in Muscle Shoals with no band. Brother Gregg is still out west in California, miserable and lonely working off the Hour Glass debt to Liberty records.
Rick Hall though is so impressed with Duane that he signed him to a recording contract with FAME Records and encouraged Duane to do a solo album. According to Allman Brother Dickey Betts, "See, Rick Hall wanted him to do a Hendrix power-trio thing. But Duane was too warm and personal for that. He needed a lot of other guys to get that full sound he wanted."
So Duane called on his friend and future Allman Brother, Berry Oakley (bass), former Hour Glass members Paul Hornsby (piano) and Johnny Sandlin (drums) for the recording sessions in late January through February of '69 at FAME. The solo recordings would go unreleased until after his death. The tracks would eventually be released on the "Duane Allman Anthology" and the Allman Brothers Box set "Dreams".
Also during this period Duane met up with another future Allman Brother, drummer/percussionist Jaimoe Johnson. Jaimoe had been working at FAME with saxophonist King Curtis. They became fast friends with Duane telling Jaimoe that he wanted him to be apart of his future music endeavors.
The recording contract that Duane signed with Rick Hall was soon purchased by Atlantic VP Jerry Wexler and then sold to Phil Walden. Walden was putting together a roster for his Atlantic custom label, Capricorn Records. So in search of those musicians "to get that full sound he wanted" and with a recording contract in hand, Duane and Jaimoe moved back to Jacksonville, FL. Soon Gregg would join them and the Allman Brothers Band was solidified.
One could make the connection that this was all put into motion because Rick Hall sent a telegram to a young unknown guitarist, that was in an unknown failing band, that just happened to pass through his studios several months before.
The Allman Brothers Band began recording and playing shows in the spring of '69, but Duane would often return to Muscle Shoals to lend his guitar work on several recording sessions. He'd work with the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section at their new Muscle Shoals Sound Studio. He'd lay down tracks for Cher on the first album recorded at Muscle Shoals Sound. On Boz Scaggs debut, Lulu, Ronnie Hawkins, John Hammond, and many more. Duane also continued to work with the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section and Aretha Franklin in New York and Criteria Studios in Miami. At Criteria not only did the Allmans record there, but Duane would get the chance to work with Eric Clapton in Derek And The Dominos.
The last Muscle Shoals session for Duane would come just two months before his death. He lay down guitar on a song called "Please Be With Me" for the band Cowboy in September of 1971 at Muscle Shoals Sound Studio.
Sadly, two months later on October 29, Duane Allman would die at the Medical Center of Central Georgia in Macon, GA after a motorcycle accident at the age of twenty-four.