Tuesday, August 21, 2012
Muscle Shoals has a hold on me. I've often said it, and always feel it. It tugs at my heart and my mind. Its rhythm is in my hips and my head...and my blood. There is something so special and deeply affecting for me about the particular brand of soul music recorded there at FAME, Muscle Shoals Sound, and 3614 Jackson Highway. It speaks to me like no other body of recordings. I've been asked to return to the WC Handy Festival, having appeared in 2011 with The Decoys. My soul brothers, The Decoys are the reigning kings of the Muscle Shoals scene, the current "Swampers", and they GROOVE, all day and night. It's a joy and an honor to be on stage with Kelvin Holly, Scott Boyer, NC Thurman, Mike Dillon and David Hood--any time, anywhere. We're booked into the Marriott Conference Center ballroom for a Thursday night show to benefit the Muscle Shoals Music Association. This year, wonderfully, I've also been asked to be the special guest of The Blind Boys of Alabama. And as if wonders will never cease, the internationally-distributed "Muscle Shoals To Music Row" (www.ms2mr) has decided to make my Marriott show THE broadcast of this year's festival. Rising at 4 am (3 am Shoals time) on a Tuesday, I head out, freshly beehived, to the airport. Tuesday evening's festival concert will be by the super-fine songwriter Donnie Fritts at Spring Park in Tuscumbia, a sweet town with a main street full of interesting shops that is the fourth "corner" to the classic tri-city area of Muscle Shoals, Florence and Sheffield. The Decoys are Donnie's backing band, so I know the groove will be on. Donnie (a/k/a "Funky Donnie Fritts" a/k/a "The Leaning Man From Alabam") has become a friend and compatriot. I drive up from Birmingham and meet my soul sister Kim Stovall (Kim was the instigator of my first-ever visit to the Shoals in 2009 and has been my music partner-in-crime ever since). We head out in the 100-degree haze. At the park, I start to soak up the music from the first note, and by the time I take the stage to sing Eddie Hinton's "Cover Me" with Donnie (who co-wrote Dusty Springfield's "Breakfast in Bed" with Eddie--but more on that later), I'm home. My concert is attracting some attention, it turns out: there's a snowball rolling with The Beehive Queen's name on it. On Wednesday I'm booked for not one but two radio appearances at Jerry Phillips' (of the Sun Records Phillips family) 100,000-watt radio statio Q107. Jerry has been SO supportive, a true friend, and since the first day of The Deep End's release, Q107 has been cranking out "Love Make You Do Stupid Things", turning it into a Shoals anthem. My thanks to all the staff there: Jeff Thomas, Chris Michaels, Sabrina Eaton, Leisa Johnson, Nick Martin, Greg Pace, Jimmy Oliver (Jimmy O's morning show has been taken over by Jeff because he's running for City Council...go, Jimmy!!!!). I've also got a date with the NBC TV affiliate, so I run back over to the Marriott for that. Meanwhile, my brothers-in-arms, The Decoys, have been busy rehearsing over at Tonya Holly's Cypress Moon Studios, formerly Muscle Shoals Sound (the outline of that original sign is still on the front door) and I join them in this studio formerly owned by David Hood and the members of the Muscle Shoals rhythm section (the ORIGINAL "Swampers") that is steeped in so much history. I'm moved just to be there, in one of the cradles of American popular music. Donnie is there, too, and we hatch a scheme to perform "Breakfast In Bed" together. He's never performed it live, it turns out, and I know Thursday night's audience will love and appreciate it. Too, I've recently had lunch with my friend Vicki Wickham, long Dusty Springfield's partner, in NYC. I want to be able to tell her that I've taken up the torch, and I want Donnie to be a part of that. It's his song. Thursday night is something I'll remember always. God bless The Decoys, who back me on a bunch of Christine Ohlman & Rebel Montez songs, including a heartrending version of "Empty" off the Strip CD. It's a hip-shakin' thing all night long, as we pay tribute to the Shoals with classics like "You Better Move On," "Cover Me," "Slip Away," and "I'm Your Puppet" (Spooner Oldham is on his way home from the West Coast and has to miss this one. Next time, Spooner!). We do Jerry Lee's "Night Train To Memphis" to bring it all back home (Sun Records, after all, is playing a part in a way in sponsoring the broadcast). And of course, "Breakfast In Bed." Donnie takes the stage and it's a gorgeous moment, the two of us holding hands by the time it's through. If there's a sexier song than "Breakfast in Bed," show it to me! The ballroom is packed to the rafters and the broadcast goes off without a hitch. The audience, The Decoys and I all find ourselves within that great, deep, wide circle of American popular song, together, and it's a beautiful, beautiful thing. I want to thank M. Fletcher Brown for being our Muscle Shoals To Music Row emcee. The evening ends with friends gathered on the top floor of the Marriott in the Sam Phillips Suite...as fine a night as I've ever had. Friday is a day for fun. I visit Jimmy and Angi Nutt at their fab studio The Nutthouse. It's the new kid on the block of Shoals studios, and it's a knockout. Beautifully decorated with a mixture of kitsch and Beatle memorabilia, it's Jimmy and Angi's labor of love. Jimmy, David Hood, Terry Pace, and Suzanne Bolton all serve on the board of the Muscle Shoals Music Association, and I must also take a minute to thank Bart Black and Johnny Belew of the Handy Festival Board. All provided me with their outstanding support. Friday night, it's Travis Wammack time!!! I met Travis in 2010 when I made an autumn visit to sit in with the Decoys (source of my first Shoals blog here, back then...) and Travis, to my delight, showed up. He is an American treasure: a triple-threat singer/songwriter/guitarist, peerless at all three. He and his crackerjack band play a succession of killer cuts including "Tell You About My Girl" a soul-drenched classic which just missed being covered by Otis Redding and, of course, "Scratchy." I'm honored to be asked to sit in. Kim, her mom Brenda and stepfather Ronnie and I all have a sweet time, just hangin' in that Wammack groove! On Saturday evening I have the supreme, unsurpassed pleasure of joining the Blind Boys of Alabama--Jimmy Carter, Ricky McKinney and Benjamin Moore--to sing on Danny Flowers' Nashville gospel gem "I Was A Burden." Their guitarist/MD Joey Williams and I have prepared everything in advance, so there is nothing to do but enjoy the moment, and enjoy it I do, gowning myself in my most colorful vintage piece, a dress I call "The Butterfly", and floating onto the stage. What a gift, the chance to sing that song with those great men! Later, I reunite with Spooner Oldham and his wife Karen, just returned, and that is another joyful moment. Sunday is the icing on the Festival cake. Dear, dear Dick Cooper, muse to and photographer of everyone connected with the Shoals scene, from Jerry Wexler, Duane Allman and Jason Isbell right on down, throws me a party. With music!! A bunch of the Decoys are there with their beautiful wives, and guitarist Will McFarlane and Donnie and Kim and so many others... We all get up and play and sing and have a time. Jerry Henry of the Alabama Music Office is there to conduct video interviews for the Office's archives, and I participate: http://www.musicalabamablog.alabamamusicoffice.com/2012/08/christine-ohlman-interview-at-dick.html?spref=fb . Writer James Carson created a video of the day which can be seen at: http://youtu.be/VRMy2R2O1Yc . The party is just superb in every way, causing me to become homesick even before I've left which, the next morning, I must do. Yet....The Shoals is in the blood of this beehived adopted daughter, now and forever.