The Muscle Shoals Groove

Wilson Pickett Hey JudeThe man in front of us in line said it best.  “After several days of watching a documentary or two a day with a heavy or depressing theme, I’m ready for some music.”  I knew what he meant.

Saturday evening Andrew, Claire and I had attended an excellent documentary as part of the AFI Docs festival at the American Film Institute Theatre in Silver Spring. Titled Blackfish, it chronicled SeaWorld’s treatment of their killer whales. Here’s the synopsis:

When SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau was mauled to death by a “killer whale,” the tragedy was dismissed as a freak accident. In actuality, it was one of many such violent incidents between well-meaning trainers and wild orcas, the main attractions at marine parks all over the world. Utilizing astounding rare footage and candid interviews, BLACKFISH takes an unflinching look at the disturbing practices that keep such places in business and the corporate-led efforts to protect this highly profitable industry.

It was an important film…but when Candice and I stood in line on Sunday waiting to see Muscle Shoals, we were ready for some music.

And boy, did the film deliver.

We learned of the movie from the producer’s mother.  It premiered at Sundance, and was one of the feature films at AFI Docs.  From the opening shots of the Tennessee River to the closing chorus of Sweet Home Alabama, this was a two-hour love letter to a place and its music.

Rising out of the Deep South of 1960s America, a sound emerged that began to attract artists as diverse as Otis Redding, Paul Simon, Aretha Franklin and the Rolling Stones. That sound, and the people who helped create it, would go on to leave its mark on music history. The place was Muscle Shoals, Alabama, and this is the story of how it gave birth to some of the most memorable music of our time.

The stories were as rich and wonderful as the music.  Rick Hall’s dream that led to the founding of FAME studios.  The silence in Aretha Franklin’s first session as the singer and musicians seek common ground…and then Spooner Oldham begins playing the groove that broke the logjam and set the arc of a career. Keith Richards being…Keith Richards, with some great historic footage of the Stones session. Alicia Keys putting a beautiful coda on the film.

One of my favorite moments came when the movie explored Duane Allman’s connection to the Muscle Shoals sound.  After camping out in the parking lot until Rick Hall hired him as a staff guitarist, Allman and Wilson Pickett were hanging out at the studio over lunch because taking a black man and a long-haired hippie out in Muscle Shoals in the late 1960s was an invitation for stares and more.  So when Hall and the rest of the band returned, they found Allman trying to convince Pickett to cover the recent Beatles tune Hey Jude.  Both Pickett and Hall protested, but Allman was persuasive – and then played a solo that led no less an authority than Eric Clapton to say, “I’ve never heard better rock guitar playing on a R&B record.  It’s the best.” A commentator in the film said, “This solo is where Duane Allman invented Southern Rock.”

To top it off, Wilson Pickett’s youngest daughter was in the audience, and she stood up at the microphone afterwards to tell the filmmaker that this movie was “pitch perfect” when it came to her father.  To me, the whole thing was pitch perfect.

And the good news…it has been picked up for commercial release this September with what promises to be one of the killer soundtracks of all times coming out on Rhino Records.

Be on the lookout…but until then, listen to Wilson and Duane (at about the 2:53 mark) groove to Hey Jude.

More to come…


A Great Week for Ballparks

Coors Field Sunset In my bucket-list quest of visiting all 30 major league ball parks, this week didn’t really move the needle…but it was a great week nonetheless.

Two cities and two ballparks.  That’s the way I like to travel.

Last Tuesday, I was in Denver wrapping up a set of meetings, and joined some colleagues at Coors Field for a Rockies vs. Nationals game.  Yes, my Nats were in town! This was my second visit to Coors Field – which means I didn’t get to check off another park from my list. But while the outcome was disappointing (the Nats lost this game, yet won the series), I did get to catch a wonderful Coors Field sunset over the Rocky Mountains.  Few stadiums have better views, and all of us – Nats and Rockies fans alike – marveled in the sunset.

Then on Friday, I was in Boston.  Those of you who know the schedule will say, “Hey, weren’t the Red Sox playing the O’s in Baltimore this weekend?”  Well, yes.  (I am actually catching the last three innings of the Sox and O’s as I type.)  But I still made it to Fenway, as we took our board for a private tour of this historic landmark.

Luckily, I had also been to Fenway before (as I only get to count visits where I actually see a game against my list).  With that information in hand, I got to enjoy the ride without fretting about whether this could technically count as a ballpark visit on my bucket list.

So I’ve posted a picture of the Coors Field sunset above, and a series of Fenway tour pictures below.  We got to see the “Fisk pole” (see the video below) which, since this is Boston, isn’t called the “Bucky #)(%*#&@ Dent” pole. As I emailed a few family members and friends from the “old” seats at Fenway, I was in “baseball heaven.”


More to come…


Alongside Fenway's Green Monster

Fenway from the Green Monster seats

Fenway's Fisk Pole

Fenway Seats

Happy Father’s Day, Tom Brown

Tom portrait 1948This morning, our Sunday Forum at St. Alban’s Parish involved readings about fathers.  I decided on the spot to read a portion of a post I wrote  in 2010 on More to Come… on the occasion of what would have been my parents’ 60th anniversary and days before my father’s 85th birthday.  The original post was primarily about my father, and it seemed appropriate for Father’s Day.

So here’s what I read in honor of Tom Brown.  (And yes, I teared up at the end and was thankful that Andrew and Claire were out in the hallway and weren’t embarrassed by their dad).

My Mom was generally considered to be a saint, and dying at a relatively young age from cancer only cemented that view in all our minds….My father is a bit more complicated…which also makes him very interesting.

Mother once described my father as having a mouth “always turned up in a perpetual smile” but apparently it wasn’t always so.  Several years ago Daddy sent us some thoughts he had written while on retreat, which included the following:

“When I was young I had a poor self-image.  I was skinny, not athletic, wore glasses and was not really accomplished in any area.  I did fairly well in my studies.  As a result I compensated for this by criticizing others.  This bad attitude was called to my attention in a peculiar way while I was in the Navy.  One day a man said to me, ‘Brown, why do you think everybody but you is full of shit?’  He expressed it very well.”

In that same reflection, Daddy noted that identity crises can come at various points in your life.  When he retired, he no longer worked as an engineer and was asking “Who Am I?”  It was then, he notes, that he came to see that his primary identity was “a child of God.”

Don’t think that because he’s a Christian and Baptist that Daddy is a member of the Christian Right.  Nope, he’s a card-carrying member of the Christian Left and has come to be known for his regular letters to the editor in both the Nashville and Murfreesboro papers to set his neighbors straight about Baptist history, the separation of church and state, and the Constitution.  This is a man who took out a subscription to Mother Jones when he was in his 70s.  When the church he’d been a member of since the 1960s went through some upheavals, he took a two-year sabbatical from First Baptist and went to a black Baptist church, where they “show a little emotion.”  He has e-mail pals all over the world and we all receive updates from my father about twice a week with bits of wisdom.

Daddy is a great reader and gifter (if that’s a word) of books.  When I was home last weekend, he gave me a copy of Bill of Wrongs:  The Executive Branch’s Assault on America’s Fundamental Rights by that late, great unreconstructed Texas liberal Molly Ivins.  He’d bought it at the cheap book bin – only to come home and discover he already had two copies!  This is the kind of Molly Ivins quote that my dad would find hilarious:

“I am not anti-gun. I’m pro-knife. Consider the merits of the knife. In the first place, you have to catch up with someone in order to stab him. A general substitution of knives for guns would promote physical fitness. We’d turn into a whole nation of great runners. Plus, knives don’t ricochet. And people are seldom killed while cleaning their knives.”

God, I miss Molly Ivins…but I digress.

Daddy and I were having our traditional breakfast at City Cafe in Murfreesboro on Monday morning.  We were talking about the fact that their 60th anniversary would have been this week, and then our conversation turned to a cabin in the North Carolina mountains that my sister and her husband own.  Daddy said wistfully, “Helen and I always talked about having a little cabin in North Carolina.”  I responded that he now had the cabin without the hassles of ownership, and he said quietly, “Yes, but I don’t have Helen.”

85 and still in love with the woman he married…that’s my Dad.

That’s where I ended the reflection this morning, because I couldn’t continue.  But the final two paragraphs of my original post are also worth including.  So here’s the ending:

As I was leaving Nashville, I commented to some friends via email that there were more guitars per capita in the Nashville airport than in any other airport in the world.  Three guitars and their owners passed me just as I was writing the email.  My favorite sticker on a guitar case that passed by simply said, “Don’t Postpone Joy.”

It is a sentiment my father would endorse.

Happy Father’s Day, TB.  I love you, and look forward to seeing you in a couple of weeks…and a few days before your 88th birthday.

More to come…