Remembering Jimmy Johnson: Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section Spotify Playlist
Legendary session guitarist Jimmy Johson died on Thursday, September 5 at the age of 76. An integral component of the rich history of music made in recording studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, Johnson contributed to scores of hits throughout his influential career.
Johnson first gained notoriety in the early-1960s while playing guitar during recording sessions held at renowned producer Rick Hall’s FAME Recording Studios, where he was the first employee. Prior to that, the guitarist was a member of the Alabama-based group The Del-Keys with drummer Roger Hawkins. Johnson engineered Percy Sledge’s 1966 hit “When A Man Loves A Woman” and the pre-Allman Brothers Band group Hour Glass (Johnson also participated in recording sessions in Muscle Shoals with Duane Allman).
Johnson and the other session musicians at FAME were informally called The Swampers. They later trademarked the name the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section. Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin, Etta James, Clarence Carter and many other acclaimed R&B and soul musicians recorded hits with The Swampers backing them.
Johnson, Hawkins and fellow Swampers David Hood and Barry Beckett left FAME to form the nearby Muscle Should Sound Studios, which opened with the support of Atlantic Records’ Jerry Wexler in early-1969. The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Willie Nelson, John Prine, Leon Russell, The Staple Singers, Cher, Rod Stewart, Bob Seger, Boz Skaggs, Bobby “Blue” Bland, Jimmy Cliff and scores of others recorded at Muscle Shoals Sound Studio with Johnson often serving as engineer. Lynyrd Skynyrd, who Johnson recorded, referenced The Swampers in the lyrics to their 1974 hit “Sweet Home Alabama.”
The Muscles Shoals Rhythm Section – Johnson, Hawkins, Hood and Beckett – were inducted into the Alabama Music Hall Of Fame in 1995. According to the Alabama Music Hall, “the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section appeared on more than 500 recordings and more than 75 gold and platinum hits.” The 2013 documentary film, Muscle Shoals prominently featured Johnson and The Swampers.
Below is a 45-song sampling of some of the countless records Johnson and The Swampers contributed to in the early-1960s and beyond. Stream it here: