Jimmy Johnson, studio musician who backed the Stones, Aretha Franklin and others, dies

Randy Lewis, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

The split created considerable bad blood between the Swampers and Hall, who believed that the new studio took his considerable lineup -- from Bob Dylan to the Rolling Stones -- and even hired away his secretary.

Simon's experience working with Johnson and the other Swampers at Muscle Shoals Sound Studio on his 1973 album "There Goes Rhymin' Simon" was emblematic of the efficiency and creativity on which they prided themselves.

Like the Funk Brothers, the Wrecking Crew, and Booker T. & the MG's, the Swampers knew that time was money.

Simon was interested in doing something with a similar feel to what he heard on the Staple Singers' recent hit "I'll Take You There" on Stax Records in Memphis, and called the label's co-owner, Al Bell, to arrange to work with the same musicians. As it turned out, that group was the Swampers, which led Simon to Muscle Shoals.

"When Simon arrived at the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio, he figured the young white guys sitting around the studio console were employees or visitors," Simon biographer and former L.A. Times music critic Robert Hilburn wrote in "Paul Simon: The Life" (2018). But they were, in fact, the band.

"The musicians were, in turn, surprised when Simon told them he might need the studio for a few days to do a single track, 'Take Me to the Mardi Gras.' They prided themselves in finishing even the most challenging track in an hour," Hilburn wrote. "Despite no history with reggae, they picked up on the sound when Bell played them a Jamaican instrumental, 'Liquidator,' by the Harry J. All Stars, just moments before the session. And sure enough, the rhythm section finished the joyful, reggae-gumbo hybrid in what was fast even by their standards, a half hour."

"Simon," Hilburn added, "was so pleased with the result that he rewarded the band with a co-producer credit on the track, as well as the same credit on four other tracks."


That experience was also representative of the color-blind collaborations in the Deep South between black and white musicians in an era racked with civil strife, something that wasn't lost on a dyed-in-the-wool New Yorker like Wexler.

"Jerry was totally taken by the way we cut records," Hall wrote. "(He) could never get over the fact that five or six white musicians and a white engineer and producer from this tiny little town of 5,000 people could sit down with four or five black horn players and cut these giant records that were selling like hotcakes across America."

In addition to his son Jay, Johnson is survived by his wife, Becky, daughter Kimberly Tidwell, stepdaughter Alana Parker and a grandson.

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