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The 1970's were exciting times for a young musical hopeful to be hanging in Muscle Shoals. With the likes of the Stones, Bob Seger, Blackfoot, Skynyrd, and even Bob Dylan coming in and out of town, there was always the chance that some of their magic might just rub off. But..... long before the town was dubbed "The
Hit Recording Capitol of the World", there was a group of unpretentious songwriters that gathered there with some magic of their own. Their heartfelt love for anything "southern", from Blues to Rock & Roll to Country and Gospel, gave the Shoals it's "Soul".
In the fall of '73, while on tour with the band for Polydor Records' soul singer, Ruby Winters, Russell got the call from his brother, Dennis that Muscle Shoals Sound Publishing was interested in his songs and he quickly agreed to meet with producer and
publisher, Jimmy Johnson. Although Winters' new single, "I Will", was #5 in England and expected to climb the charts in the U.S.
as well, Russell had dreams of his own and with the enouragement of Johnson, he made the move, along with hometown friend and fellow Winter’s band mate, Tommy Patterson. While at Muscle Shoals Sound, the three friends developed as a songwriters and under the wings of producers Johnson and David Hood, Russell, Tommy and Dennis joined with two other aspiring musicians, Mobile guitarist Britt
Meacham and Florence drummer, Ronnie Vance.
Jimmy Johnson gave them the name Jackson Highway,
after the famous 3614 Jackson Highway address of the renown Muscle Shoals Sound Recording Studio.
“Jackson Highway” started out playing at bars at the Alabama
State Line in order to stay close to the recording studio, continued
to write and record their demos, till finally in 1977, they
released their first LP on the Muscle Shoals Sound label.
Then began the part of their “ride” that is “legendary”. Thirteen years on the road, playing practically every town in the south
that had a club or bar, learning every inch of the “Chitlin’ Circuit” by heart, and building one of the largest cults in Southern Rock.
Johnson and Hood pitched them to every label that would lend an
ear only to be turned down, again and again. The times were
changing, skinny ties, New Wave, Disco, it all came and went, while “Highway” kept getting tighter and tighter. It was traditional
for Southern bands to “develop their chops” on the road. The Allmans did it, so did Skynyrd, and dozens of other “long haired, wild-eyed southern boys”. Finally a major label decided to take a
chance. With Jimmy and David at the controls, Muscle Shoals Sound formed a partnership with Capitol Records, and MSS/Capitol Records was born. The first record released in the venture was “Jackson Highway”, a dream had finally come true.
While with Capitol Records, the guys still worked very hard on the road, for example,one tour with the hard rock arena acts, Triumph and UFO, they did 23 shows in 25 days, all in Texas. From
McAllen to El Paso, from El Paso to Galveston, Dallas, Houston and all points in between, in a Winnebago pulling a U-Haul trailer, they drove fast and hard from one gig to the next, while the “stars” crossed the state in their Lear jet.
That was in the 1980’s, fast forward to 2012, today the members of Jackson Highway are still very active in music. Lead singer Dennis, runs a recording studio in Nashville with former Allman Brothers keyboardist, Johnny Neel, while the keyboardist Tommy still performs live and does recording sessions in Muscle Shoals with folks like Jimmy Buffett. He’s also toured with Rock and Roll legend, Little Richard. The guitarist Britt is a fixture on the Gulf Coast music scene, performs often with the national recording act, The Beat Daddys, and toured America and Japan with Blues Legend, Little Milton. Russell, well he continues to record and write, performs “acoustic swamp music” and is active in arts in education programs. Ronnie, he’s the smart one, a successful entrepreneur in Muscle Shoals.
Together, the guys are planning some dates this year, some recording of new “Highway” music, and there’s no telling what’s next. Maybe some festival in France or Europe where the name Muscle Shoals still has some “magic”.