It's the Saturday afternoon of the show and several Muscle Shoals musicians are warming up for a sound check. The big drawing card is rhythm and blues legend Percy Sledge, whose signature song, “When A Man Loves A Woman,” was recorded in the Shoals area. It’s a tune bassist David Hood knows well.
Hood has worked with Percy Sledge for 45 years. His job tonight is to get the band tuned up and ready for Sledge’s arrival just before show time. He says almost five decades of doing that has taught him a few things.
“I’ve gotten older and wiser and I have a sore back,” laughs Hood.
Hood’s first tune with Sledge was “Warm and Tender Love.”
“It was scary for me,” says Hood. “I was young, new in the business, but it was a gold record.And also we recorded another song “It Tears Me Up”the same day and they were gold records so that doesn’t hurt your career when you do that.”
But Hood’s garnered his own music reputation apart from working with Percy Sledge. He plays for Shoals-based R&B band TheDecoys and is a lifelong member of The Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section. They came to be better known as The Swampers thanks to Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama.”
“We worked with the Skynyrd boys from their very earliest days and they showed their appreciation for our working with them by mentioning us in their song and it’s been nice,” says Hood. “We were never really known as The Swampers prior to that.”
And having The Swampers mentioned prominently in the Lynyrd Skynrd classic helped put Muscle Shoals on the map as well, and it’s that musical history that the concert in Franklin, TN was put together to showcase. Hood says musicians who played in the Shoals knew it was a big deal—it just took the rest of the world a little while to catch on.
“It has a mystique I think, I’m not aware of it there,” says Hood. “I have to use two pieces of I.D. just to cash a check there. But when I come to Nashville or Memphis or New York somewhere, they say “wow you’re from Muscle Shoals!” and it has a great reputation.”
Nashville. Memphis. New Orleans. They’re cities close by the Shoals and make up what musicians call The Americana Music Triangle. It’s a music movement to highlight southern music in the international industry and emphasizes a partnership formed between musicians in these major cities.
Aubrey Preston is mingling with friends before tonight’s concert. He’s behind the efforts to bring the tribute show to Franklin.
“Historically there’s been so much connection between Muscle Shoals, Nashville, Memphis and New Orleans but particularly between Nashville and Muscle Shoals,” says Preston. “And so it’s just natural to have some of those folks come up here and have some of the folks here go down there and perform and make that available to the public.”
Preston says musicians in these major cities have worked together for decades, the public’s just not aware of how connected it is.
Reggie Young is one of those artists who have traveled the music triangle. He’s the lead guitarist of The Memphis Boys and is here tonight to support Shoals musicians.
“I moved here in ’72 to Nashville because a lot of the Nashville producers were coming to Memphis to get the rhythm section they would go to Muscle Shoals to get that rhythm section,” says Young. “And I knew all the Muscle Shoals guys and they knew all of us in Memphis and then we’d intermingle back and forth from Memphis to Muscle Shoals. It’s like one big band.”
After tonight’s show, Shoals musicians like David Hood will continue to travel this music triangle and share their talents outside of Alabama. But for Hood, the Shoals will always be his home and in his blood.