Muscle Shoals music legend Jimmy Johnson has died


Johnson, 76, was a member of The Swampers and co-founder of the Muscle Shoals Sound Studios.

Posted: Sep 5, 2019 3:58 PM
Updated: Sep 5, 2019 6:20 PM

The Muscle Shoals music legend, Jimmy Johnson, has died.

Johnson was a member of The Swampers and co-founder of the Muscle Shoals Sound Studios. He died on Thursday at 76 years old.

The singer and songwriter, Jason Isbell, is a native of the Shoals area and tweeted on Thursday, "The mighty Jimmy Johnson has passed. A lot of my favorite music wouldn’t exist without him, and he was always kind to me. Hard times for the folks back home."

Debbie Wilson with Muscle Shoals Sound Studio provided WAAY 31 this statement:

One of the pioneers of the Muscle Shoals music industry and co-founder of Muscle Shoals Sound Studio, Jimmy Johnson, passed away today, Sept. 5, 2019.

Johnson was 76.

He first came to prominence as a session guitarist at Rick Hall’s FAME Recording Studios, but soon developed a reputation as a crack recording engineer and producer. Jimmy’s guitar work can be heard on hits by Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin, Etta James, Clarence Carter, Paul Simon, Rod Stewart, Bob Seger, Jimmy Cliff and countless other artists.

As a recording engineer, Johnson made his mark in the business quite early. He engineered “When A Man Loves A Woman” for Percy Sledge in 1966, the first Number 1 record to emerge from Muscle Shoals.

Jimmy joined with fellow FAME session players Barry Beckett, Roger Hawkins and David Hood in the spring of 1969 to form Muscle Should Sound Studios. Within months, the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section produced a Top Ten hit with R.B. Greaves’ “Take A Letter Maria.”

While Jimmy and his business partners were recording Greaves, the Rolling Stones were in the studio for three of those nights recording the soon-to-be Number 1 hit “Brown Sugar,” along with “You Got To Move,” and “Wild Horses.”

The hits came in waves after the opening year, including Paul Simon’s “There Goes Rhymin’ Simon,” for which the Rhythm Section was nominated for a Grammy in the Production category.

Jimmy was also the first person to record Lynyrd Skynyrd. The band named-dropped the Swampers in their huge hit “Sweet Home Alabama.”

Recording was in Jimmy’s blood. His uncle, Dexter Johnson, had a primitive studio in his garage near Jimmy’s childhood home in Sheffield.

Jimmy played his first paying gig at the age of 15, earning $10 at the Tuscumbia National Guard Armory. He became Rick Hall’s first paid employee at FAME, sweeping floors after sessions and making coffee.

With his Gretsch 6120 guitar, Jimmy was a vital part of the demand and success in creating the Muscle Shoals sound. As a skilled recording engineer and producer,

his work was highly regarded in the music industry and helped keep Muscle Shoals in demand as a recording destination.

Jimmy remained active as a producer and session guitarist after the rhythm section, affectionately known as the Swampers, sold Muscle Shoals Sound Studios to Malaco Records in 1985 after moving to larger facilities at 1000 Alabama Avenue on the banks of the Tennessee River in Sheffield.

After the studio was restored with a grant from Beats! By Dr. Dre, Jimmy was a part of the family at the studio, often stopping by during tours. He was always happy to share a story about his sessions.

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