Lynyrd Skynyrd is from Jacksonville, Florida. They wrote this song about their impressions of Alabama and as a tribute to the studio musicians at Muscle Shoals Sound Studios
, where they recorded from 1970-1972. The studios gained fame during the '60s and '70s when it became the vogue thing for bands to record there. Artists like Bo Diddley, Aretha Franklin, and many big southern rock groups recorded there. "The Swampers" was a name Leon Russell's producer Denny Cordell came up with for the musicians, and when Russell earned a Gold Record for his 1971 album Leon Russell and the Shelter People
(recorded at Muscle Shoals Sound Studios), he gave one to the guys that said, "Presented to The Swampers." (These commemorative gold records were often given to folks who helped create or market the album, and they often went to record executives or radio stations). Lynyrd Skynyrd saw the record, and when they included the line, "Muscle Shoals has got The Swampers" in this song, they popularized the nickname and brought a lot of attention to these Alabama players who worked behind the scenes on many famous recordings. To find out how the nickname originated in the first place, we asked a Swamper - bass player David Hood, who told us: "We had been working with Leon, we had been working with Denny Cordell, who was his producer. I think Denny came up with the name. We did an album called The Shelter People
. And on the album there were musicians on some tracks from Tulsa - Carl Radle and some of the guys from out there - and tracks by us. And to differentiate, he wrote down "The Muscle Shoals Swampers" on the ones we did, and the Tulsa one, I don't know what he called them, but the Tulsa people on the others. And that just kind of took.
As for Skynyrd's Muscle Shoals output, they recorded a full album there in 1972 which wasn't released until nine of the tracks were included on their 1978 album (after their tragic plane crash) Skynyrd's First and... Last
. According to David Hood, the tape from the sessions, which included their song "Free Bird
," got kinked at some point after it left the studio, and when the band's manager would play it for record companies, it was flipped and sounded terrible. The band wasn't happy with the Muscle Shoals crew at the time, but put aside any hard feelings when they found out the recordings were fine if played correctly. These early Skynyrd recordings were produced by Muscle Shoals house musician Jimmy Johnson; the band's first release was produced by Al Kooper
Some of the lyrics are a dig on Neil Young: I hope Neil Young will remember
A southern man don't need him around anyhow
Young had written songs like "Southern Man
" and "Alabama
," which implied that people in the American South were racist and stuck in the past. Skynyrd responded with "Sweet Home Alabama," a song about Southern pride and all the good things in Alabama.
The feud between Lynyrd Skynyrd and Neil Young was always good-natured fun; they were actually mutual fans. Ronnie Van Zant often wore Neil Young T-shirts onstage and is wearing one on the cover of Street Survivors
, the last Skynyrd album released before his death.
When we spoke with Rickey Medlocke
, a member of the band in their early years who returned to the fold in 1996, he said that Van Zant "loved Neil Young." Added Medlocke, "I know there has been a lot of controversy about Neil Young and Ronnie having some kind of tiff, but they really didn't."
Neil Young performed this once: He played it at a memorial to the three members of Lynyrd Skynyrd who died in a plane crash in 1977.
The guitar solo in the song is actually played in the wrong key. Producer Al Kooper noticed that Ed King played the solo in the key of G instead of D, the first chord in the progression. He was so vexed that he took to tune to California, and played it for his guitarist friend Michael Bloomfield. In fact, the song is in G, and King himself rips the exuberant, melodic blues lines in the E minor pentatonic Blues scale, which in the song functions as the G pentatonic scale. (from Guitar Edge magazine - July/August 2006)
This was the lead track on the album, and it became Skynyrd's first hit. The song was written during the sessions for the group's first album, Pronounced Leh-nerd Skin-nerd, but they decided to save it so they would have a big song to open Second Helping. (thanks, Saint - New Orleans, LA, for above 2)
At the beginning, when Ronnie Van Zant says, "Turn it up," it was not planned. He was telling an engineer to turn up the volume in his headset before recording his track. The comment sounded good, so they left it in the final mix.
If you listen carefully to the line, "Well, I heard Mr. Young sing about her," immediately following it, someone in the background sings, "Southern Man." Some people thought it was a recording of Neil Young, but it was their producer, Al Kooper, impersonating Young.
This was Skynyrd's first single to chart. They have never been a "singles" band, as their fans tend to buy the albums.
This was the first Skynyrd song to use female backup singers. The band never met the three women who sang on this, since they were recorded separately.
Guitarist Gary Rossington came up with the idea for this song. Ed King, another Skynyrd guitarist, wrote the intro, and Ronnie Van Zant wrote the lyrics. It came together quickly and easily.
The voice at the beginning that does the count-in is Ed King.
Country group Alabama did a rendition of this for a Lynyrd Skynyrd tribute album.
George Wallace was the governor of Alabama when this was released. He loved the song, especially the line, "In Birmingham they love the governor," and he made the band honorary Lieutenant Colonels in the state militia. Wallace may not have listened very carefully however, as Ronnie Van Zant explained: "The lyrics about the governor of Alabama were misunderstood. The general public didn't notice the words 'Boo! Boo! Boo!' after that particular line, and the media picked up only on the reference to the people loving the governor." Van Zant added, "We're not into politics, we don't have no education, and Wallace don't know anything about rock and roll." (thanks, Bertrand - Paris, France)
In 2002, this was featured in two movies, one that used the song as the title. In Sweet Home Alabama, Reese Witherspoon stars as a girl who must decide between her ex-husband in Alabama or her fiancé in New York. In 8 Mile, Eminem does a rap version of the song, making fun of his mother's bumpkin boyfriend and changing the chorus to "I live at home in a trailer." The version of Sweet Home Alabama on the soundtrack was recorded by Jewel. (thanks, Shawn - Loganville, GA)
This was featured in the video game NASCAR Thunder 2001. EA Sports, the developer of this game, sponsored their first NASCAR race at Talladega Superspeedway, a racetrack in Alabama. The song is normally played once during NASCAR races ran at Talladega Superspeedway, an Alabama racetrack. (thanks, Joseph - Old Bridge, NJ)
An acoustic version sung by Johnny Van Zant is featured on Lynyrd Skynyrd's 1994 album Endangered Species. (thanks, Aaron - Twin Cities, MN)
This is featured in the 1997 movie Con Air. The escaped convicts listen to it during a party on the plane after getting away from an US Marshals raid. One of the characters, a serial killer played by Steve Buscemi, remarks: "Ironic, isn't it? Flying an airplane while listening to a song played by a band whose members got killed in a plane crash." (thanks, Maciej - Lublin, Poland)
This plays in the movie Forrest Gump near the end of the film when Forest and Jenny are reunited.
This returned to the UK chart in 2008 thanks to Kid Rock's hit "All Summer Long
," which namechecks this song and borrows its guitar melody.
Al Kooper confirmed with us that near the end of the song, Ronnie Van Zant says, "Montgomery's got the answer," a reference to the Alabama state capitol. It's hard to make out what he's saying, and Q magazine, perhaps to mess with people, printed in their August 2008 issue a story that Ronnie Van Zant treated himself to a box of doughnuts before the session, which were eaten by his bandmates, prompting him to say, very angrily, "My doughnuts! Goddamn!"
In 2009 the state of Alabama began printing the words "Sweet Home Alabama" as an official slogan on its motor vehicle license plates. The state's previous plate featured another song, the jazz standard, "Stars Fell On Alabama."
Warren Zevon alluded to this song in the chorus of his 1980 track "Play It All Night Long," where he sang:
Sweet Home Alabama
Play that dead band's songs
Turn those speakers up full blast
Play it all night long