Monday, September 10, 2012

Muscle Shoals Music Association Newsletter

Welcome to the MSMA Newsletter!

By Terry Pace
     The 2012 W.C. Handy Music Festival once again brought round-the-clock live music to every corner of the Shoals as Handy’s native area celebrated the lasting legacy of the Florence-born “Father of the Blues.”
     The Muscle Shoals Music Association added its own funky, homegrown flavor to the 31st annual Handy festivities as music fans of all ages filled the Marriott Shoals Conference Center the evening of Thursday, July 26, for a rousing MSMA/Muscle Shoals to Music Rowconcert by the beloved “Beehive Queen” herself – Christine Ohlman, famed vocalist for NBC-TV’s Saturday Night Live! Band – and Muscle Shoals’ all-star rock-and-soul band, The Decoys
, plus a popular new Muscle Shoals band, the Wildwood Ruminators.
     “Muscle Shoals is so deeply in my blood now – the music, the musicians, the places, the people,” Ohlman remarked after her reluctant return to her home base in Connecticut. “What an honor and a kick to be part of the 2012 WC Handy Festival with The Decoys – one of America's great bands – and as an added bonus, to benefit the Muscle Shoals Music Association. When I started my show at the Marriott Conference Center by saying how proud I am to call myself an ‘adopted daughter’ of the Shoals, I was speaking from a heart that is still, in part, back there with you all.”
     Ohlman and the Decoys performed an eclectic mix of rock and soul classics, including Muscle Shoals and Memphis soul favorites ranging from “You Better Move On,” “Cover Me” and “Respect Yourself” to Ohlman’s historic duet with the legendary “Alabama Leaning Man” – Muscle Shoals singer, songwriter and keyboardist Donnie Fritts – on the Dusty Springfield standard “Breakfast in Bed,” co-written by Fritts and the late, great Eddie Hinton.

     “That’s always been more of a woman’s song, so I’ve never really performed it live,” Fritts noted. “Christine really wanted us to do it together for this show, and I’m so glad we did. She really tore it up and did a beautiful job with it.”
     The MSMA donated $1,000 in funds raised from ticket sales to the Handy concert to the family of Heath Bain, a multi-talented Muscle Shoals singer and songwriter who died unexpectedly on July 8 at the age of 30.
     Also during Handy, the Muscle Shoals Music Association joined the Florence-Lauderdale Public Library and Pillar of Fire in sponsoring standing-room-only showings of two music-related films through the library’s year-roundScreening Room series. Two of the world-famous “Swampers” – Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section guitarist Jimmy Johnson and bassist David Hood – helped introduce a screening of the 1973 concert documentaryWattstax the afternoon of Tuesday, July 24. The film features a number of the Memphis-based Stax Records acts who recorded in the Shoals in the early 1970s.
“Not long after we went into business for ourselves and opened up Muscle Shoals Sound Studios, Stax Records in Memphis found themselves without a rhythm section,” Johnson explained. “Booker T. and the MGs had decided they wanted to be artists and didn’t want to be a studio rhythm section anymore. So Stax started sending a lot of their rhythm-and-blues acts – the Staple Singers, Luther Ingram, Eddie Floyd and others – over to Muscle Shoals Sound. That was an ideal situation for us, because black rhythm-and-blues was the music we grew up on and the style of music that put us on the map. It’s still the music we love the most.”
     On the afternoon of Thursday, July 26, the secondScreening Room presentation – a showing of the 1989 concert documentary The Legends of Rock and Roll – united legendary guitarists Travis Wammack (Muscle Shoals singer, songwriter, session musician and Little Richard’s lead guitarist at the time of the concert) and Kenny Lovelace (a Shoals area native, founding member of the early Muscle Shoals band The Five Jets and Jerry Lee Lewis’ guitarist, fiddler and band leader for the past 45 years).

“Kenny and I spent a lot of time together on the road in those days, and many times musicians from all of the bands would get together and jam after the shows,” Wammack recalled. “Also, Richard and Jerry Lee are a lot alike in the way they work onstage. You don’t really rehearse, and you never have a set list. You never know what song they’re going to do next or what direction or turn they may take in the middle of a song. You really have to stay on your toes and stay in the moment. That’s a challenge, but it’s exciting at the same time. It really keeps your adrenaline going.”   
During Ohlman’s visit to the Shoals, she also joined the Handy festival’s 2012 headliners – the Grammy Award-winning Blind Boys of Alabama, 2010 inductees to the Alabama Music Hall of Fame – to perform a soul-stirring rendition of the soul-gospel anthem “I Was a Burden” at their rousing performance at Norton Auditorium on Saturday, July 28. During that concert, Blind Boys leader Jimmy Carter lamented that the legendary group had never recorded in any of the hallowed Muscle Shoals studios.
“After all,” Carter told the crowd, “when you say the name Muscle Shoals, you’ve got to show some respect.”

Photo of Mike Mihelic
Courtesy of Mark Willcutt 

Recording Engineer Spotlight:  Mike Mihelic

     Mike Mihelic, well respected engineer and studio technician in the Muscle Shoals area, died of brain cancer earlier this summer.
     Mihelic, a resident of Saltillo, MS, worked at several studios in the Muscle Shoals area as well as engineering projects for a variety of producers and artists. Among the studios he built, wired and configured were Jimmy Johnson’s and Tonya Holly’s in Sheffield and Eddie August’s in Muscle Shoals.
     “I met Mike through his brother John, a trumpet player who owned a studio and publishing company in Tupelo, and came to FAME when I was still working with Rick,” said Jimmy Johnson. “I co-produced three records with John on Mickey Newbury, the band River Road, and a girl, whose name I don’t recall, and became acquainted with Mike at that time.”
     “Mike built my studio after we sold MSS then engineered projects I produced on Bobby Denton, Jason and the Haymakers, King Karma, Danica, The Five Jets, Ray Johnson, Phil Driscoll, Edsel Holden and others.” Johnson said.
     ” He was a magnificent guy and one we will all dearly miss,” Johnson added.
     “Since reentering music about 16 years ago, Mike has been instrumental in doing most of the engineering on all my sessions,” said Bobby Denton. “He did everything but the Christmas album, and a couple of songs I recorded at The Nutthouse Studio.
     “He was one of the most pleasant and likeable people I’ve ever met in my life. I’ll just never forget him,” Denton said.
     “Mike was a real quiet guy, but he was a genius in the studio,” said Engineer/Producer Steve Melton. “He could build it, wire it, and run it.  He knew Pro Tools as well as the guys that wrote the program.”
     Mark Willcutt, a Fulton, MS, native who worked many projects in the Shoals with Mihelic, and was a member of the Brad Austin USO Tour where Mihelic played bass, said, “He was the one guy you could call and get anything done. He was not only a great engineer and technician; he was also a musician and pilot. He could do it all. You could count on everything he said. If he told me the sky would be plaid tomorrow, I’d go get my camera.”
     Mihelic began showing abnormal signs of memory loss and confusion in the spring and by the first of May was encouraged to seek medical attention. His health declined quickly, and he died June 21.


MSMA 2012 Board

of Directors

Jimmy Nutt - President  
Rodney Hall - Vice President
Larry Bowser - Secretary/Treasurer  
David Hood - Past President

Wiley Barnard
Dick Cooper  
Nick Martin
Suzanne Bolton  
Terry Pace

Photo of Dylan LeBlanc

Big Deal

-Dylan LeBlanc releases new album "Cast The Same Old Shadow,"  Recorded in the Shoals.

-Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit record live album at Workplay in Birmingham and Crossroads in Huntsville.  The album will be released in November.

-Oak Ridge Boys record a song of Mike McGuire's called "Mary Had A Little Lamb" to be part of a Cracker Barrel Christmas record coming at the end of this year.

-Mike McGuire picked up management on former MCA recording artist Ashton Shepherd, known for her songs "Takin' Off This Pain You Put On Me" and "Sounds So Good."  Looking for songs NOW!  If you want to pitch something, email a link or mp3 to:
Photo of  The Wildwood Ruminators

In The Studio 

Spooner Oldham and Mark Narmore
Chad Nelson
Michael Richardson
Riccardo Negrelli
Giulia Matteucci
Stephen Padilla
Sean Kendrick

@G-Legacy Recording Studio and Productions

@MSMM - Donnie Gullett
Percy Sledge

@The NuttHouse
Amanda Emerson
Ben Whitlow
Will Pearson
The Wildwood Ruminators
Demos for The Secret Sisters and Coy Fulmer


@Studio 144 - Jay Burgess/John Springer
The Bear
Jon Davis

Songwriter demos for Bud McGuire, Mike McGuire, Rusty Moody, Ronny Vines, Marty Lewis, Tommy Curry, Norm DeVasure.  Jingles for Hughes Radio, Carlsbad, NM….Raycom Media, Columbus, GA….KMOO Radio, Mineola, TX.

If you would like to be included in this column, submit your information to before the 7th of each month.

Cypress Moon Studios
"Songwriting At The Moon"

Cypress Moon Studios ( will be holding its "Songwriting At The Moon" series on Monday, August 27th, from 6:00PM to 9:00PM.  The workshop will be held at Cypress Moon Studios in the famed Studio B.  The cost for the workshop is $20.00.  Reservations are suggested as space is limited.

The workshop will feature 
Muscle Shoals guitarists and songwriters Kelvin Holly and Will McFarlane as the special guests.  Professional and amateur songwriters are invited to participate.   The workshop will provide instruction on the art of songwriting.  Attendees will also be given a chance to write a song and have the special guests listen to and critique the song. 
“I am very excited about this series of workshops,” says Cypress Moon owner Tonya Holly. “Songwriting At The Moon has turned out to be a great experience.  Our past workshops featured Peanutt and Charlene Montgomery and Jenny Strickland, Donnie Fritts, Billy Lawson, Mark Narmore, Scott Boyer and Scott Boyer III.  We have seen some great songwriters perform their hits, and we are seeing some amazing new talent each month.”


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