Saturday, September 18, 2010

Beehive Soul Journey: Muscle Shoals, September 2010

I'd long been invited to come to Muscle Shoals to sit in with The Decoys (legends in their own right, and Donnie Fritts's touring band) at their regular Wednesday night hang at a roadhouse outside of town. One thing led to another and months went by. Finally, I decided to just book a flight and do it. Kelvin Holly, the Decoys' monumental guitarist who's been with Little Richard for many years, was the king mixer of the week's festivities, and my dear soul sister Kim Stovall planned everything for me. You all know I collect soul music on vinyl and have for years. Going to the Shoals (this would be my second trip) is like going to church for me.

During my two-day stay, I toured FAME and the former Muscle Shoals Sound (now renamed Cypress Moon and largely a film studio, nestled beautifully on the Tennesee River; that's me sitting on the couch in front of the wall covered by moss green shag carpeting in the main office); sat in the FAME control room and met with Rick Hall; met with my friend Jerry Phillips, Sam's son, whose 100,000 watt radio station Q-107 is beaming "Love Make You Do Stupid Things" from The Deep End all over the South; saw the set for Jerry's cool new podcast "Muscle Shoals To Music Row" ( ); had coffee with celebrated photographer and local bon vivant Dick Cooper (many of the best Shoals music photos are Dick's); lunched with cool chicks Suzanne Bolton (who manages everything at FAME for Rick) and Kim Stovall; had a quick photo taken outside 3614 Jackson Highway (because no one likes the present owner, we had to sneak around); and toured through the Alabama Music Hall of Fame, where I learned that Nat "King" Cole had two other music-playing brothers (I'd thought there was only one) and saw Webb Pierce's gold-plated cadillac with ornamental guns mounted on the hood.

All this was a prelude to the gig at Sidelines II, a local watering hole out on Ford Road ("It's a joint," Kelvin had said, and he was right.) Spooner Oldham ended up missing in action (he didn't get out of church in time), but showing up to play were Donnie Fritts, a bunch of cats from Little Richard's band, and Travis Wammack. I knew The Decoys were good, but they turned out to be more than that. Mike Dillon rules the drum kit and sings his ass off, while Kelvin, Steve Vickery (sitting in for David Hood, who apologized personally for having to go to London and do Jools Holland's show) NC Thurman and Barry Billings similarly rule their corners of the stage. This was American music at its best, played with heart and soul and grit, for the pure joy of it. Everyone could sing, and sing well. They told me after I got there that there had never (not for any special reason--there just had never) been a woman in the "sitting in" spot with the Decoys, so I was honored, to begin with. But the welcome I got will stay with me for the rest of my life. We did Erma Franklin's version of "Piece Of My Heart," romped through Freddy King's "I'm Tore Down" (after Donnie Fritts and I decided Freddy is, indeed, the best King) and, when, after a swamped-up turn through "Take Me To The River," Mike Dillon announced, "She's a Decoy!", my heart was pretty full.

Donnie got up to sing "We Had It All," and I joined him on the bridge. Then The Decoys burned through the Fritts/Penn/Oldham anthem "Memphis Women and Chicken." The crowd was whooping, dancing, drinking, sweating and smiling (with Dick Cooper snapping what turned out to be 400 photos of the evening) by the time Travis Wammack quietly took the stage with his signature red 335---and just as quietly blew my mind. His 1964 hit "Scratchy" wasn't (and didn't need to be) on the bill: he was there to be part of the band. They played a couple, he shredded---and I mean SHREDDED---and then announced, "I'd like to sing a little..." as he sounded the arpeggio that introduces "When Something Is Wrong With My Baby." This was perfect, pristine country soul, sung so true, deeper than any well, and I was proud to stand up there and be part of the gospel choir that the bunch of us made (remember I said they can all sing...) at the chorus. THEN Wammack ripped into the most ass-kickin', hip-shakin' version of the Isley Brother's "It's Your Thing" that the world has ever known. I danced all over the stage, Mike Dillon and I aced the harmonies, and the Beehive Queen's soul was very, very, very, very content. So many folks came over to the table to thank me. It was I who felt grateful, and I still do, and I always will. What a beautiful thing, to be there with everyone, so DOWN in the groove, all night long. My thanks and respect to Kim, Kelvin, and all involved.

Before I left, very early on Thursday morning, I visited Jimmy Oliver's morning show on Q107 Eric Ambel, Cliff Goodwin & Andy York's triple-tremelo-guitar attack on "Love Make You Do Stupid Things" sounded mighty fine beaming out over those megawatts. And, by the way, the cotton opened up overnight, between Tuesday and Wednesday. The drive south back to Birmingham on Route 157 was through a sea of white.


RTBCurlee said...

You really put me there, Christine. Thanks so much from Puna. (saw Quack at the Red Stick Ramblers last week. she is starting rehearsals for Sound of Music)

Christine Ohlman said...

please give Quack my best!!! We miss her in NYC! and I send love.