Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section
Barry Beckett: February 4, 1943 - June 10, 2009
Roger Hawkins: October 16, 1945 -
David Hood: September 21, 1943 -
Jimmy Johnson: February 4, 1943 -
Hailed as four of the finest studio musicians in the world, the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section – made up of keyboardist Barry Beckett, drummer Roger Hawkins, bassist David Hood and guitarist Jimmy Johnson – has appeared on classic recordings by top-name artists in virtually every musical genre.
Members of the group began their careers in the hitmaking house band at Rick Hall’s legendary FAME Recording Studios in Muscle Shoals, where they appeared in various combinations on Southern soul standards by Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin, Clarence Carter, Arthur Conley and Etta James. Hawkins also played drums on Muscle Shoals’ first No. 1 smash, Percy Sledge’s “When a Man Loves a Woman,” a single recorded at Quin Ivy’s Norala Studios in Sheffield with Johnson engineering.
In 1969, with the support of Atlantic Records and producer and label executive Jerry Wexler, the musicians left FAME and established their own studio, Muscle Shoals Sound Recording Studios, at 3614 Jackson Highway in Sheffield. The historic venture marked the first time that a cohesive core group of studio musicians – now known as the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section – embarked on a multi-dimensional music venture that include joint ownership of a recording studio and publishing company.
The musicians scored their first smash hit in their new studio with R.B. Greaves’ “Take a Letter, Maria” before their studio hosted a series of sessions by the Rolling Stones (resulting in the Stones standards “Brown Sugar” and “Wild Horses,” both engineered by Johnson). For the remainder of the 1970s, the versatile group went on to record multi-million-selling hits with an outstanding array of top-name artists, including Paul Simon (“Kodrachrome,” “Loves Me Like a Rock”), Bob Seger (“Main Street,” “We’ve Got Tonight,” “Old Time Rock ’n’ Roll”), the Staple Singers (“Respect Yourself,” “I’ll Take You There”), Traffic (the album Shootout at the Fantasy Factory), Willie Nelson (“Bloody Mary Morning”), Luther Ingram (“If Loving You is Wrong, I Don’t Want to Be Right”), Mary MacGregor (“Torn Between Two Lovers”), Rod Stewart (“Sailing”), Leon Russell (“Tightrope”), Joe Cocker (“High Time We Went”), Dr. Hook (“Sharing the Night Together”), Jimmy Cliff “Sitting in Limbo” (featured in the film The Harder They Come), Tony Joe White (“The Train I’m On”) and Lynyrd Skynyrd, who immortalized the Rhythm Section as “The Swampers” in the fourth verse of their 1974 Southern rock anthem, “Sweet Home Alabama.” The name – a reference to the group’s funky, soulful Southern “swamp” sound – had been given to the musicians by Denny Cordell during the Leon Russell sessions at Muscle Shoals.
Members of the Rhythm Section soon branched out in production, with Beckett and Hawkins producing Mel and Tim’s “Starting All Over Again” and Johnson producing the early Lynyrd Skynyrd recordings that were eventually issued on Skynyrd’s First … and Last after the 1977 plane crash that claimed lead singer Ronnie Van Zant and two other band members.
In 1978, the Rhythm Section left its original home and moved into more spacious quarters in an old Naval Reserve building overlooking the Tennessee River near downtown Sheffield. Wexler and Beckett co-produced Bob Dylan’s born-again Christian album Slow Train Coming, which featured the Grammy Award-winning single “Gotta Serve Somebody.” Establishing Muscle Shoals Sound Records through a distribution deal with Capitol Records, the Rhythm Section scored its first significant label hit with Delbert McClinton’s Top 10 smash, “Givin’ It Up for Your Love.” The group went on to record albums with James Brown, Glenn Frey, Dire Straits, Julian Lennon, Carlos Santana, Eddie Rabbitt, the Oak Ridge Boys, John Prine and the Amazing Rhythm Aces.
In 1985, the group sold Muscle Shoals Sound Studios to Malaco Records, a Jackson, Mississippi, blues, gospel and R&B label founded by Tuscumbia native Tommy Couch. Beckett moved to Nashville, where he established himself as one of Music City’s top producers with albums by Hank Williams Jr., Etta James, Confederate Railroad and many others. Hawkins, Hood and Johnson remained in Muscle Shoals, continuing to play on recordings at Muscle Shoals Sound and other studios all over the world.
The Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section appeared on more than 500 recordings and more than 75 gold and platinum hits. The group was inducted into the Nashville-based Musicians Hall of Fame in 2008.