Muscle Shoals co-founder Jimmy Johnson dies aged 76

The musician and producer worked on recordings by Aretha Franklin, the Rolling Stones and George Michael

Jimmy Johnson, co-founder of the celebrated Muscle Shoals sound studios and guitarist on Aretha Franklins Respect, has died age 76. His son Jay Johnson said he died on Thursday; the cause of death was not disclosed.


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Johnson and his bandmates in the Swampers founded the studio in Sheffield, Alabama, in 1969, after leaving the employ of Rick Hall and his nearby Fame studios. They were the first group of musicians to own a studio and later run their own publishing and production arms.

As the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, guitarist Johnson, keyboard player Barry Beckett, drummer Roger Hawkins and bassist David Hood performed on hundreds of recordings, including albums by Franklin, Wilson Pickett, Paul Simon and Lynyrd Skynyrd.

Skynyrd name-checked the group in the lyrics to the 1974 hit, Sweet Home Alabama. They also appeared on the cover of Chers 1969 album 3614 Jackson Highway the studios first address. The building was a former casket factory.

Born in Alabama, Johnson cited his father and Chuck Berry as early influences on his decision to pick up the guitar. Chuck provided me with a little song called Johnny B Good, Johnson told guitar company Gretsch in 2014. When I heard that tune on our local AM radio, I absolutely had to learn how to do that.

The Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section … from left, Barry Beckett, Roger Hawkins, David Hood and Jimmy Johnson

In the early 60s, Johnson began working for producer Rick Hall, progressing from junior employee to session rhythm guitarist. After co-founding Muscle Shoals, Johnson produced artists including Connie Francis and the Amazing Rhythm Aces.

He played guitar for Lulu, Bobby Womack and Boz Scaggs, and engineered many classic tracks, including George Michaels Careless Whisper and Wilson Picketts Dont Know My Love. Johnson also engineered the Rolling Stones Brown Sugar sessions. He can be seen in the bands Gimme Shelter documentary coaching Keith Richards on the correct way to deliver the line, Yall come back, yhear in an Alabama accent.

The original Muscle Shoals studio was sold in 1979, Muscle Shoals relocating to a larger building at 1000 Alabama Avenue. The studio was sold in 2005. A year later, the original studio was listed on Americas National Register of Historic Places. In 2013, the Music Shoals Music Foundation bought the original premises to build a music museum.


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Following the sale, Johnson founded his own studio, Swamper Sound. He was a member of the board of the Alabama Music Hall of Fame.

Johnson explained the origins of the studios name in a 2014 interview. The name was based on all the water around here, the Tennessee River, you know that kind of thing and it has inspired a lot of our music.

People have always asked, Why did it happen here? Tell us why? Johnson said in a 2014 interview. And we would say, Its in the water! But we were honoured to be a bunch of southern rednecks who were able to play so many different types of music.

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