Legendary guitarist and producer, Jimmy Johnson who founded the Muscle Shoals Sound Studios and guitarist for The Swampers, passed away at age 76. Johnson played a role with several artists like Percy Sledge, The Rolling Stones, Lynyrd Skynyrd and many others. According to the Alabama Music Hall of Fame, Johnson’s “distinctive guitar fills” can be heard on the recordings of Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, The Staple Singers and others.
Johnson achieved early acclaim in the 1960’s as the rhythm guitarist in the house band at the producer Rick Hall’s FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. His music can be heard on “Respect,” Aretha Franklin’s first No. 1 pop hit, and Wilson Pickett’s “Funky Broadway” and “Land of 1,000 Dances,” both of which reached the Top 10.
Johnson was instrumental working the controls on Percy Sledge’s historical song, “When a Man Loves a Woman” and the Rolling Stones’ “Brown Sugar”, “Wild Horses” and other hits. In a USA Today article, bassist and business partner David Hood said, “Johnson was just an all-around phenomenal music guy and a friend who became a brother and an inspiration to him and countless others in the music business.”
Another heavy loss for the Alabama music community. Legendary producer and member of The Swampers, Jimmy Johnson, has passed away. RIP. pic.twitter.com/o8JXwR2YDS
— Seasick Records (@seasickbham) September 6, 2019
In a NY Times article, “Mr. Johnson’s early years as a session musician in Northern Alabama testified not just to the power of musical collaboration but also to the kinship among black and white musicians at a time when the divide over civil rights in this country seemed all but unbridgeable.” In an interview with Southern Rambler magazine, Johnson said, “We didn’t know we were making history. Black or white, we had the same goal: to cut a hit record.”
Johnson began work as a professional guitar player at an early age and became a studio musician with Fame Studio. Hood said, in the studio that Johnson could hear things that others didn’t. “When he first signed Lynyrd Skynyrd, nobody thought anybody would want to hear that, but he believed in them, fought for them and never gave up on them.” The group immortalized the Swampers with a reference on “Sweet Home Alabama.”
Johnson’s son, Jay Johnson, wrote on Facebook: “He is gone. Playing music with the angels now.” Johnson always remained humble, Hood said, recalling how Johnson’s mother would host home-cooked dinners for “all these rock and roll people” in their small home in Sheffield.