Tuesday, June 16, 2009

R.I.P. Barry Beckett

You might not know the name right off the top of your head but if you've listened to rhythm & blues, country, or rock in the late 60's until now you have no doubt heard Barry Beckett's playing.

The Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, also known as The Swampers, are a group of American soul, R&B, and country studio musicians based in the Alabama town of Muscle Shoals. These musicians, one of the best-known groups of session musicians, crafted the "Muscle Shoals Sound." They were inducted into the Alabama Music Hall of Fame in 1995 for a "Lifework Award for Non-Performing Achievement" and into the Musician's Hall Of Fame in 2008 (the performers inducted into the latter were the four founding Swampers -- Barry Beckett, Roger Hawkins, David Hood, Jimmy Johnson -- plus Pete Carr, Clayton Ivey, Randy McCormack, Will McFarlane, and Spooner Oldham). The nickname "The Swampers" was given to the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section by singer/songwriter Leon Russell, who recorded with them. (Thx to Wikipedia for the quick bio.)

From The New York Times:

June 16, 2009

Barry Beckett, Muscle Shoals Musician, Dies at 66

Barry Beckett, an Alabama-born keyboardist who helped create the distinctly Southern amalgamation of rhythm and blues, soul and country that became known as the Muscle Shoals sound, and who as a producer recorded a wide range of music with Bob Dylan, Kenny Chesney, Bob Seger, Dire Straits and others, died on Wednesday at his home in Hendersonville, Tenn., north of Nashville. He was 66.

The cause was complications of a stroke, his son Matthew said.

As a studio musician in the 1960s, Mr. Beckett played in the band affiliated with Fame Studios, the production house that turned an unlikely Southern town, Muscle Shoals, Ala., into a center of indigenous American popular music. The band, known as the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section and also called the Swampers, split from Fame in 1969 and, helped by the producer Jerry Wexler, created its own studio, the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio, in nearby Sheffield.

Either with the Rhythm Section — which also included the guitarist Jimmy Johnson, the bassist David Hood and the drummer Roger Hawkins — or on his own, Mr. Beckett played behind a remarkable list of performers. They include Aretha Franklin, the Staple Singers, Percy Sledge, J. J. Cale, Boz Skaggs, Paul Simon — he played the organ solo on Mr. Simon’s “Kodachrome” — Bob Seger and Leon Russell. The Swampers were immortalized in Southern rock ’n’ roll when the band Lynyrd Skynyrd tipped hat to them in the 1974 hit “Sweet Home Alabama”:

Now, Muscle Shoals has got the Swampers

And they’ve been known to pick a song or two

Lord, they get me off so much

They pick me up when I’m feeling blue

Now, how about you?

Barry Edward Beckett was born in Birmingham, Ala., on Feb. 4, 1943. His father, Horace, was an insurance salesman who also dabbled on guitar and for a time hosted a local radio program. He attended the University of Alabama, where, according to The Times Daily of Florence, Ala., he first heard the music of two of the Swampers, Mr. Johnson and Mr. Hawkins, who were then playing in a band called the Del-Rays. He was working with a blues producer in Pensacola, Fla., when he was asked to join the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section.

In the 1970s Mr. Beckett began producing as well as playing. Among many other projects, he produced or co-produced the hit singles “Torn Between Two Lovers” (1976) by Mary MacGregor, “Smoke From a Distant Fire” (1977) by the Sanford-Townsend Band and Mr. Seger’s “We’ve Got Tonite” (1978), as well as, with Mr. Wexler, Bob Dylan’s albums “Slow Train Coming” (1979), on which he also played keyboards, and “Saved ” (1980).

In the mid-1980s Mr. Beckett moved to Nashville, where he worked for a time producing records for Warner Brothers, including Hank Williams Jr.’s album “Born to Boogie,” which reached the top of the Billboard country chart in 1987. He later became an independent producer, working with rock groups like Phish, and country artists like Kenny Chesney and Alabama.

In addition to his son Matthew, who lives in Nashville, Mr. Beckett is survived by his wife of 43 years, Diane, whom he met when he was playing at a club in Pensacola and she was in the audience; another son, Mark, of Hendersonville, a drummer who plays on Mr. Chesney’s current hit, “Out Last Night”; and a grandson.

“There’s no way I would be where I am today in my life if it wasn’t for Barry Beckett,” Mr. Chesney, perhaps country music’s top male star and whose first two albums were produced by Mr. Beckett, told the newspaper The Tennessean in an interview last week. “He was one of the first people in Nashville to believe in me, on any level.”