First Listen

Hear Lost Music from the Original Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section

A new album of previously unreleased tracks finally gives the Swampers their due

Photo: © Dick Cooper

The Swampers. From left: Roger Hawkins, David Hood, Jimmy Johnson, and Barry Beckett.

In 1969, after years of working as the house band for the late Rick Hall at the legendary FAME Studios, where the likes of Aretha Franklin and Wilson Pickett recorded, the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section struck out on their own. Affectionately known as the Swampers, the band set up their own studio, Muscle Shoals Sound, at 3614 Jackson Highway in Sheffield, Alabama, and they didn’t have to wait long for artists to seek them out. Cher, Paul Simon, Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, Bob Seger, and other superstar acts came to town to get a helping of the Swampers’ funky, soulful Southern “swamp” sound.

But unlike other celebrated studio musicians such as Booker T. and the MG’s, the Swampers never put out a record of their own material. Until now. On Friday, Muscle Shoals Has Got the Swampers will finally see the light of day. The title is taken from the shoutout given to the band by Lynyrd Skynyrd in “Sweet Home Alabama,” and the album includes fourteen previously unreleased instrumental tracks, mainly from 1969-1978, that sizzle with precision and groove.

“We were never known as soloists because people gave us so much work,” says Swampers bassist David Hood. “Everyone would ask, ‘When are you guys gonna make an album?’ We just didn’t have time.”

Photo: © Dick Cooper

The Swampers at Muscle Shoals Sound Studio.

Eventually the Swampers—which also includes guitarist Jimmy Johnson, drummer Roger Hawkins, and the now-deceased keyboardist Barry Beckett—tried to make a record with a couple of singers, but as Hood says, “It sounded like the singer, not us.”

Unearthed by Jackson, Mississippi–based Malaco Records, many of the album’s tracks came out of studio jams the foursome would play while sitting around waiting for whatever legend was ready to record. A few of the cuts, including “Muscle Shoals Malmo Express,” were recorded specifically for a friend in Sweden who needed theme music for his public radio show. All told, the collection is a vital snapshot of music history and stands as a testament to the deep influence the band had on modern music. “I’m happy this is finally coming out,” says Hood, one of the more modest and unassuming music legends around. “I’m really proud of what we’ve done.”

Garden & Gun is thrilled to premiere Muscle Shoals Has Got the Swampers. Take a listen and prepare to get funky.