Southern Agenda

Blues Cues

Long before Lynyrd Skynyrd and Aretha Franklin recorded at Muscle Shoals Sound Studio, W. C. Handy grew up in the late nineteenth century making music in the Shoals area along the Tennessee River. Northwest Alabama still celebrates its Father of the Blues with a museum at his birth site in Florence and a ten-day blowout, the W. C. Handy Music Festival (July 21–30). William Christopher Handy, who ultimately had to skip town to make music because his minister father called his guitar a tool of the devil, went on in 1912 to write “Memphis Blues,” regarded as the first blues song. “Our schoolchildren learn about him early. He’s beloved and well celebrated,” says Judy Hood, the wife of bassist David Hood, the last living member of Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, a.k.a. the Swampers. Judy, who chairs the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio foundation, says festivalgoers can expect small concerts and jams all over the area—on street corners, at the library, and in parks, bars, restaurants, churches, and stores. “Everywhere you turn, there’s music.”