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#24 Sweet home Alabama's swamp magic

I recently watched a documentary called Muscle Shoals that my friend recommended. There was so much to take away from the story about a town in Alabama and the recording studios there. For me, the fundamental message was to believe in yourself and have faith in the people around you when you are working in a team.

Muscle Shoals is a tiny town in Colbert County, Alabama, which is home to Fame Studio and Muscle Shoals Sound Studio. These modest studios spun out some of the most influential and successful music of all time, including Kodachrome by Paul Simon and Brown Sugar by The Rolling Stones. Fame Studio is credited for transforming a struggling Aretha Franklin into the "Queen of Soul".

The documentary revolves around a group of session musicians named the Swampers (a funky, soulful, "swamp" sounding group), who had such a buzz about them they attracted chart-topping musicians to the small studios to get amongst their magic.

It describes the Swampers as a bunch of white guys "who looked like they worked at the grocery store", which I love. It's a reminder never to judge a book its cover. One key ingredient to creativity is to let yourself go with the flow. In this case I imagine the unassuming group and the unpretentious studio space would have been a breath of fresh air for the chart-topping musicians who visited.

I thoroughly enjoyed the section describing the background of the young Lynyrd Skynyrd band, who at the time were broke and ate only peanut butter sandwiches every day. One day they walked into the studio to find their roadie (Billy Powell) playing a piano solo, and were astonished by his performance. They had no idea he was a concert pianist. They liked the solo so much that they used it to finish a song they were working on. Free Bird is a beautiful piece running just over 9mins. The big record labels refused to release the track unless the band and studio cut it down to 3.5mins for radio. They refused. Lynyrd Skynyrd eventually gained fame by touring with The Who. Once famous, Free Bird gained popularity in the 9min form originally recorded. The record label got it wrong. Free Bird is a cathartic track and the origin of a wonderful story.

We're often told our ideas or ways of doing things are wrong. I love the message: when you believe in something you need to stick to your guns! Imagine if we never heard the 9min track? What a huge loss that would have been.

As I was listening to Free Bird tonight I was thinking about my mate Stu Haslett who passed away a few years ago. The song was played at his funeral. Life is so short. I now understand that the best way to live is to ‘Go where the magic is’ - just like the musicians who travelled to Muscle Shoals to get a piece of the magic.

If you open yourself up to magic it will find you.

"When the student is ready, the teacher will appear."