In learning this sad information, my mind takes me back to a time of amazing opportunity. Opportunities are strange little buggers. Generally, when it is happening, you have no idea how important the experience is until you are looking back on the event.
This is true for me.
FAME STUDIO, HERE I COME!
In 2000, I recorded an album at the legendary FAME studio. It was a 10 song country flavored CD featuring David Hood on bass and Walt Aldridge on acoustic guitar, mandolin, and background vocals. A couple of Walt’s songs were on the album as well.
For those not acquainted with the aforementioned name dropping, let me fill you in on their awesomeness.
David Hood is a “Muscle Shoals Swamper.” His credits include playing in the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section where he played on albums by Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin, Clarence Carter, Arthur Conley and Etta James. In 1969, the swampers started the studio Muscle Shoals Sound. For the mouth dropping list of credentials for David, visit this site.
Then, there is Walt. Here is a link to UNA’s website for more information about Walt. He is an award winning song writer with an impressive list of credentials. This guy is, to this day, one of those folks who bring a warmness to my heart in my memories of our time together in the studio.
Both, though I was a small town nobody, treated me like a queen. Their belief in my abilities surpassed my expectations.
And I had no idea the gravity of their musical success or prowess. I’m glad for it. Otherwise, I would have been a coward.
The rest of the session players were outstanding! It was amazing to watch!
Walking in the studio, I felt my heart fall to my feet. I could see Aretha standing there belting her heart out. It took a minute to regain my balance. The thick fog of true mastery filled up the room in a ghostly haze. I am surprised I didn’t pass flat out. It was a moment of “I want to cry” and “I want to throw up” all at the same time.
The week was filled up. I was in the studio day and night cutting the album. My voice was tired, my soul was depleted, and my excitement never faded.
I was prepared. The producer, Jack Denton, and I had worked hours on perfecting the songs for about 4 months. We tried dozens of songs before coming up with the final list.
When the CD was complete, I was proud. It was amazing.
A CD release party was set for Hale’s Tavern in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. The owner was, and is, a good friend. He made sure everything was set.
The diamond in it all was David Hood. He agreed to come to play bass for the gig. How dedicated to the craft is David? The morning of the show, David had a root canal. He drove from Muscle Shoals to Tuscaloosa for the show, and he was in significant pain. I’ll never forget it. I’ll always appreciate it.
The CD was somewhat successful. There was one reason it didn’t gain more success: I didn’t want it. The strenuous lifestyle of a traveling singer/songwriter was not for me.
The experience, though. Wow.
LIVING IN THE SHOALS
A year or so later, I moved to the shoals to go to UNA. I was able to reconnect with David and Walt. In no way was I in the circle of greatness, but I attended a few parties where I could hob-nob with them again. I also met many other legends like Rick Hall and Bobby Whitlock. I spent much time with Bobby. The stories he tells….wow.
A surprise for me was becoming friends with Jimmy Johnson, the guitarist of the swampers. There was not one hint of snob in this fella. He was genuine with smiles for miles. I never felt small around he nor David or Walt.
During my time living in the Shoals, I spent much time in Muscle Shoals Sound studio. A guy I knew owned the place. He was an ok dude, but I went there to “feel” the place. I took naps on the couch where the Rolling Stones hung out, knew every inch of the studio, and, maybe this is TMI, but went to the bathroom where “Wild Horses” was written. Yep. Sure did.
Even though David, Walt, and Jimmy most likely don’t know my name anymore, I know theirs. Moreover, I know their hearts. They have good ones. It’s nice to know legends who exhibit qualities I admire. Fame can’t teach you how to have a good heart, but a good heart can withstand the fame and come out warm and accepting on the other side.
RICK HALL AND OPPORTUNITY
The funny thing about opportunities is you don’t know the depths of the experience until it is over. It has been almost 2 decades since I began the journey. Today, I look back in fondness. The memories remind me of the accomplishments of my life thus far. It also teaches me to pay attention to the opportunities of today. Make good memories. Be present. In a decade, I want to look back on this time with the same joy as I do the time I spent in the Shoals.
The whole thing was pure magic.
Rick Hall’s passing reminds me of the brevity of life. It is fleeting. What he has taught me is that I want to make a positive mark on this world before my time is over. He certainly did! Right now, I am listening to a station playing music recorded in the Shoals. All of this started with a dream. He made his mark, and in some ways, he will never die.
To all of those in the Hall family, I send you my sincere condolences. Thank you for sharing him with the rest of the world.