Five Things Extra: Welcome To Muscle Shoals, Hit Recording Capital Of The World

“David, little David, help me now, c’mon little David…”

ShoalsSign

Excerpts from David Hood Q&A, Soho Hotel Cinema

Audience member: Do you have a theory about what the magic of Muscle Shoals was?
DH: I think it’s a group of young people who wanted to make good music, that was the driving force. We never thought we’d be famous, we never thought we’d be Beatles or anything like that… always my role has been a supporting role. I was always the guy by the drummer playing and trying to do whatever I could to make the artist sound good… we all had the same goal and that was to play great music and to hear it on the radio. And that was a thrill… it’s still a thrill.

I was interested in the fallout of Aretha’s appearance in the Shoals and her sudden departure after Rick Hall and her husband, Ted White, came to blows. Was there a difference in feel, working in New York, where the sessions relocated, compared to the Shoals?
DH: Well it was a lot more formal. There were union guys saying You can’t unplug that amplifier, we gotta have someone come in. We did the Letterman show three weeks ago in New York and we’re setting up and I wanted to move my amplifier, and… In Muscle Shoals, we were the guys, that’s the thing. [But in New York] once we got in there, got in our positions, playing the music, it was the same, then…

Our little studio, 3614 Jackson Ave., when Paul Simon came and recorded there, he came to record “Take Me To The Mardi Gras”, because he had heard “I’ll Take You There” and wanted those black Jamaican musicians to play, so he came and booked the studio time. He booked four days for that song and when he came in it was raining and the studio leaked… I don’t know if it’s polite to say this but the sound engineer [Jerry Masters] taped tampons across the back of the control room roof, because the water was dripping on the control board. We got “Take Me” on the second take, so we had three more days – Paul Simon’s not going to give up the studio time he’s paying for so we cut “Kodachrome” and those other things… [those other things included “Loves Me Like A Rock”, “One Man’s Ceiling Is Another Man’s Floor” and the luminous and delicate “St. Judy’s Comet”, showing the deft touch that made them perfect collaborators. Just listen to Pete Carr’s guitar fills, Hood’s super-melodic bass and Barry Beckett’s cool vibes. The Rhythm Section also cut “Still Crazy After All These Years” and “My Little Town” with Simon].

So, very primitive facilities that we had… but it’s the sound of the musicians – it’s not the room, it’s the musicians. Many, many accidents happen in music. At the end of “Kodachrome” you hear Paul Simon go “OK” – that’s when he’s trying to get us to stop, to do it again, and we keep playin’ and it sort of becomes the record, so you never know on things like that.

My friend Alex: Often in the film Rick Hall comes across as an eccentric and sometimes brutal character – is that a fair depiction?
DH: That’s some true depiction – to this day. The session where you see [in the film] Candi Staton  recording ”I Ain’t Easy To Love”…

Alex: He’s all over it, isn’t he…
DH: He was so typical Rick Hall. He was still as awful as he ever was. “No man, that’s no good! That’s not what I want…”

Audience member: Is it a love/hate thing?
DH: Mostly love [audience laughs]. He gave me my start, I would be nowhere without him… I tell him that every time I see him. It’s a small town where we are. You either love each other or kill each other!

Other than the fact that I missed MSTthere being any mention of Eddie Hinton (add your own non-hitmaking Shoals denizen here), the film captures something of the time and place that those wonderful records came from. Read Mick Brown’s lovely piece on the Telegraph’s site, that tells you what you need to know.

I caught up with David after 25 or so years – the last time we talked was in his office at 1000 Alabama Avenue. I wore the T-Shirt the studio had given us, and Alex took a picture on his phone.

Quote at the top: Mavis Staples’ exhortation to David Hood in “I’ll Take You There”. Sign photograph taken by me in ’87.

Five Things I Saw & Heard This Week: Wednesday 11th July

Poliça/Dark Star
Reasons to Hate: Huge amounts of reverb. Achingly trendy/Hipster friendly. Arty Double tracked female vocal. Iconic Grateful Dead title. [Dangerous to pilfer Iconic Grateful Dead titles]. Reasons To Love: Wonderful live drumming with a huge open-room sound. Sometimes there’s nothing better than a pummeling four-on-the-floor (hey, even Take That’s Shine has a fabulous drum track, all Rak Studios, circa Mickie Most). Cracking tune. And the arty double-tracked vocal really works, weaving in and out of unison. It reminds me of Al Green singing around and off himself in How Can You Mend A Broken Heart? Add all this to some great twanging bass and slightly out-of-focus horns and it’s a winner. Granted, this could end up wearing thin over more than a few tracks, but Dark Star and Lay Your Cards Out (for another great melody and truly insane drumming) are absolutely terrific.

Seven Is The Magic Number
A review of a new version of Sophocles’ Antigone by Anne Carson (Antigonick) in the New Yorker printed this fine single-verse version of the siege of Thebes: “Seven gates/and in each gate a man/and in each man a death/at the seventh gate.” Seven is a very lyrical number— especially in country blues. There’s Muddy Waters, singing Willie Dixon’s Hoochie Coochie Man: “On the seventh hour/On the seventh day/On the seventh month/The seven doctors say/He was born for good luck/And that you’ll see/I got seven hundred dollars/Don’t you mess with me.” Or Dylan’s Ballad Of Hollis Brown: “There’s seven breezes a-blowin’/All around the cabin door/Seven shots sound out/Like the ocean’s pounding roar/There’s seven people dead/On a south Dakota farm/Somewhere in the distance/There’s seven new people born.”

Nora Ephron (and Susan Edmiston) interview Bob Dylan, Albert Grossman’s office, late summer, 1965
But negro rhythm and blues has been around underground for at least twelve years. What brought it out now?
The English did that. They brought it out. They hipped everybody. You read an interview asking who the Beatles’ favourite singer was and they say Chuck Berry. You never used to hear Chuck Berry records on the radio—hard blues. The English did that. England is great and beautiful, though in other ways kinda messy. Though not outside London…”
In what way messy?
There’s a snobbishness. What you see people doing to other people. It’s not only class. It’s not that simple. It’s a kind of Queen kind of thing. Some people are royalty and some are not.” Plus ça change…

Best Thing I Read About The Gracelands Controversy
Following Stuart Jeffries’ Guardian review of the 25th anniversary documentary, where he concluded that Paul Simon should have left the music alone:—“it gave the chance to hear unsullied the South African music that thrilled Simon 25 years ago. How lovely to hear, for instance, accordionist Forere Motloheloa laying down a groove without Paul Simon singing over it. If only it had remained the music Simon loved, rather than the music he, having loved, used.”*

Widlow, on the Guardian’s blog, answered with this: “Paul Simon clearly was a politically naive, contrary, slightly obsessive, perfectionist artist, who may have thought himself above such things as needing permission from the ANC. But what he produced was akin to Jesse Owens at the 1936 Olympics: a body of work that incarnated the exact opposite of the Apartheid philosophy, that sang out “Mixing cultures is good”, that proclaimed “These musicians are virtuosos and their culture is vibrant”, that put Black and White people into the same studio and had them eating and drinking together and using the same toilets and calling each other Brother…”

*This footage of the original 1985 sessions was extraordinary. There were children and babies sitting on the studio floor as the guitarists danced around the backing singers, vaulting their legs over their guitars (!) with the monumental bass and accordian lines of what became Boy In The Bubble booming out…

Leaving On A Jet Plane
Photo found in PA Photos: Britain in the 60s. British pop groups, bound for the USA on a tour which will yield half a million dollars. They are the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Eric Burdon and the Animals, The Alan Price Set and Eire Apparent. Eire Apparent?

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