Now Muscle Shoals has got the Swampers
They all love to pick a song or two
Yes, they do
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The Swampers outside of Muscle Shoals Sound Studio, where Skynyrd recorded
(thanks, Muscle Shoals Music Foundation)
Southern rock legends Lynyrd Skynyrd as a group composed "Sweet Home Alabama" as an answer to two separate Neil Young songs, "Southern Man"
In the past thirty years, the tune has grown to become a rock anthem, played in bars across the Western world, chronicling the pride of the South. It was written to prove that not all southern men are racist rednecks.
Often misinterpreted as a conservative song, "Sweet Home Alabama" has more in common with Springsteen’s "Born in the USA" than Toby Keith’s "Angry American" (officially named "Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue"). The lyrics poke at Young a bit: I hope Neil Young will remember, a southern man don’t need him around anyhow.
However, it is of note that Skynyrd and Young were cordial toward each other (Young even wrote a song for them to record, though they never got around to it). The truth in the song can be found in its harsh chastisement of Governor Wallace.
“In Birmingham they love the governor… Boo, Boo, Boo. Now we all did what we could do.” Ronnie Van Zant, primary songwriter and front man for the group said in a 1975 interview that the general public didn’t pick up on the boos, nor did they realize that the ambiguously phrased "we all did what we could do" is a reference to trying to vote Wallace out of office. Van Zant completely disagreed with the governor’s policy on African-American civil rights. Basically, Skynyrd is trying to explain to their audience that all southerners shouldn’t be judged on the misgivings and failures of one or two. A few bad apples…
Lynyrd Skynyrd c 1973
Shifting our attention to some of the good apples though, another lyric in "Sweet Home Alabama" mentions the Swampers down in Muscle Shoals – a cryptic puzzle for anybody either not from Alabama or a fan of behind-the-scenes music. The Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section
comprised session and studio musicians who crafted a particular "swampy" sound, backing up such renowned artists as Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, and even Bob Dylan and Paul Simon. Additionally, Sam Phillips, founder of Sun Records, lived in the area and said that the colorblind radio station WLAY (which played both Black and White music) influenced his merger of the sounds when he signed and produced Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Johnny Cash.
Van Zant utilized the Swampers in the lyrics of "Sweet Home" for one purpose: to remind other musicians (in the know) about the greatness born into the industry through this northern Alabama recording haven. After all, how on Earth could Neil Young scoff at all southern men when, if not influenced by the likes of the King and Jerry Lee Lewis, Young himself may have never had a career in rock music?
Unfortunately, the world lost a few of the good apples in 1977. Skynyrd members Van Zant, and brother and sister Steve and Cassie Gaines, as well as two pilots and one assistant road manager were killed when their chartered Convair CV-300 ran out of fuel and crashed during an attempted emergency landing in Mississippi. If Neil Young hadn’t really been on friendly terms with those Alabama good ole boys, he might have penned a response record to their response record, entitled "Sweet Home Mississippi." Like the rest of us, however, I’m sure Young was sad to lose his friends and colleagues.
~ Justin Novelli
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