The party has become a must-attend event for fans of Muscle Shoals music both vintage and new.
This year, as in the past, it was staged at Cypress Moon Studios in Sheffield on the Tennessee River, which was once the home of Muscle Shoals Sound Studios. Artists ranging from Bob Dylan and Dire Straits to Millie Jackson and Julian Lennon once recorded there.
I’m no expert at counting heads at big gatherings, but there were easily 250 or more people present. There was plenty of food and drink, and the fellowship was lively.
In Studio A, the Decoys were holding court, welcoming guests to join in the music.
While I was there, Donnie Fritts performed three songs with them, including a Christmas song he composed. Guitarist Will McFarlane joined the Decoys and was present for a brief set of songs by Patterson Hood of the Drive-By Truckers.
Then, keyboardist and songwriter Spooner Oldham sang “I’m Your Puppet,” which he cowrote with Dan Penn. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee got a loud standing ovation.
Taking all this in, it occurred to me what a rare and wonderful thing we have with Muscle Shoals musicians. The sprawling studio complex was packed with artists who have achieved varying degrees of worldwide fame who, in a big city setting, would have been mobbed by fans. Instead, they mixed and mingled with everyone in a low-key and friendly setting that has come to define Muscle Shoals.
It also made me wonder what some of the European fans of Muscle Shoals music I’ve met would have made of this evening. Things such as this don’t happen in London, Copenhagen or Dublin. On this night, however, they could have had a conversation with any one of these artists and it would have been just another MSMA Christmas party for most of us. But not for those far-away fans. It would likely have been one of the highlights of their lives.
In other news, John Neff has left the Drive-By Truckers. He made the announcement Dec. 20 on his Facebook page. Neff, a guitarist, has been with the band through various stages of their 16-year career, beginning with their first album. There is no word from him about his future plans.
Hood, on the band’s web page, said there are no plans to replace Neff, and they will begin recording a new album in the spring.
Robert Palmer can be reached at 256-740-5720 or robert.palmer@TimesDaily.com.