For tonight’s tunes, we’re going to turn the music over to those guys who stay in the shadows- the backing musicians who have brought some of our favorite songs to life. Known as session or studio artists, it’s these folks who have completed the talents and skills of those well knowns we’ve come to enjoy so much.
One of the first sessions groups that comes to my mind is from Muscle Shoals Alabama, specifically the Fame Studio and Muscle Shoals Sound Studio where the best Rock, Blues and Rhythm bands came to record some of their music.
And of course I also think of
While Lynyrd Skynyrd always comes to my mind, others included Greg Allman, Rolling Stones, Wilson Pickett, Willie Nelson, Joe Cocker, Paul Simon, Aretha Franklin and Rod Stewart among so many.
But what was it about the studios that made such an impact? Adaptation is the key to any great session musician. He or she can play virtually any genre of music.
Fame Music was established in 1959 by Rick Hall, known as the Founder of Muscle Shoals Music. The studio was owned by Hall until his death in 2018, and is still active today.
Muscle Shoals was created in 1969 by the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section and were in competition with the FAME Studios. The four founders of the studio, Barry Beckett (keyboards), Roger Hawkins (drums), Jimmy Johnson (guitar) and David Hood (bass), affectionately called The Swampers, were one of the best-known “house bands” or session musicians. The “Swampers” are what Lynyrd Skynyrd refers to in their song Sweet Home Alabama are the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section.
The Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section was the first group of musicians to own a studio and to eventually run their own publishing and production companies. They provided musical backing and arrangements for many major hits by Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin, and the Staple Singers; a wide range of artists in popular music also recorded hit songs and complete albums at the studio. Their initial successes in soul and R&B led to more mainstream rock and pop performers who began coming to record at Muscle Shoals Sound Studios, including Traffic, Elton John, Boz Scaggs, Willie Nelson, Paul Simon, Bob Dylan, Dr. Hook, Elkie Brooks and Millie Jackson .
There are so many other session artists and studios who have contributed so much to the music industry that it’s hard to name so many. They work behind the scenes and rarely achieve individual fame in their own right as soloists or bandleaders. However, top session musicians are well known within the music industry, and some have become publicly recognized. Duane Allman comes to mind as he got his start as a session musician at Muscle Shoals.
Many session musicians specialize in playing common instruments such as guitar, piano, bass, or drums. Others are specialists, and play brass, woodwinds, and strings. Many session musicians play multiple instruments, which lets them play in a wider range of musical situations, genres and styles. Examples of “doubling” include double bass and electric bass; acoustic guitar and mandolin; piano and accordion; and saxophone and other woodwind instruments.
From Wikipidia a couple of other notable Sessions musicians and groups include,
- The Nashville A-Team (Nashville, 1950s–1960s)
- Studio musicians who recorded during the Nashville sound era. Their contributions began in the 1950s with artists such as Elvis Presley. The original A-Team includes bassist Bob Moore; guitarists Grady Martin, Hank Garland, Ray Edenton, and Harold Bradley; drummer Buddy Harman; pianists Floyd Cramer and Hargus “Pig” Robbins; fiddler Tommy Jackson; steel guitarist Pete Drake; harmonicist Charlie McCoy; saxophonist Boots Randolph; and vocal groups The Jordanaires and The Anita Kerr Singers. Cramer, McCoy and Randolph, along with later A-Teamer and producer Chet Atkins, would later emerge as part of Hee Haw‘s Million Dollar Band in the 1980s.
- Booker T. & the M.G.’s (Memphis, 1960s–1970s)
- The house band at Stax records in Memphis during the 1960s and 1970s, playing behind Otis Redding, Eddie Floyd, Sam and Dave, Isaac Hayes, The Staple Singers, and others. MGs guitarist Steve Cropper co-wrote many of Redding’s hits and the MGs produced albums and hit singles such as “Green Onions” in their own right while being the house band at Stax.
And a few more notables include Drummer Hal Blaine, Guitarist Chet Atkins, Guitarist and sound engineer Scotty Moore, Bassist and Band Leader Bill Black, Drummer DJ Fontana, Saxophonist King Curtis, Hall of Fame Pianist Floyd Cramer, Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame guitarist James Burton, Drummer Earl Palmer, Drummer Jeff Porcaro and “Surf” Guitarist Dick Dale.
I think folks get the idea, although Walter, who inspired me for this idea probably knows more than Wiki or I can tell you about.
Whatever your favorites, post them so we can hear them, and we’ll dedicate this Tuesday Tunes to “Rock’s Invisible Elite”!