Wishbone's Gossip Bench
March 6, 1976, marked the 44thanniversary of the first recording session at Wishbone. Current Wishbone owner Billy Lawson called to remind me on the anniversary. Lots of memories there… Most of them good. In so many ways, it was a great place to “start” in the music industry.
Through my career I’ve worked or visited many of the music industry communities. Stockholm. Los Angeles. New York. Hamburg. Paris. London. Memphis. Chicago… they all liked to tell me that what set them apart from the others was, “Here, it is all about the music.” That may have been what they thought, and it may have been what they actually believed. But the truth is, Muscle Shoals was the only place I ever worked where it was truly, “all about the music.” A big reason for that is, we did not have the music “business” at our back door. Other than Rick Hall’s FAME Records; or Muscle Shoals Sounds distribution deal with Capitol; Or Wishbone’s brief relationship with Motown, there were no record labels, or booking agents, or managers or performing rights organizations, or other music “businesses” in Muscle Shoals. Just recording studios. The closest were in Nashville – two hours away. The “business” never got in the way of making the music.
Sometimes a recording session comes together, and sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes, you just can’t capture the “magic” that translates into a hit. And at Wishbone when those things happened, we would take a break to go play basketball (more shoot hoops, than an actual game), or maybe we would go to the lake… But when we came back… After we’d got away from it for a few hours, you came back in with a new frame of mind and in a few minutes a groove had been found. I never saw that process – the “ignoring the clock” – in other music centers like we enjoyed in Muscle Shoals.
My “break” came in the Fall of 1975. That semester Joan Carol Butler, who was not only a classmate and friend in high school, but also a songwriter and recording artist for Wishbone’s production company (she actually had a release that summer on Capitol Records) talked me into taking a class her producer, Terry Woodford, was teaching on music publishing at the University of North Alabama. What I did not know was UNA was launching what would be the first four-year degree program pertaining to the music industry. I was hooked by the third time the class met. Later that semester I read where Terry and his partner, Clayton Ivey, were building a studio out by the Muscle Shoals airport. I went up to him during a break at the next class meeting and told him I would work for free; painting, stuffing insulation, whatever they needed done, and he told me to come out to the new studio that night after class. My goal: to make myself indispensable. To prove I was a hard, dependable worker, and they should hire me (at what? – I had NO idea) when they opened the studio.
Let me put this in perspective for you… At this time, I was taking the publishing course as an elective. My chosen career path was dentistry, and I was on a pre-med path double majoring in Biology and Chemistry. The semester this all took place I was taking Invertebrate Zoology and Organic Chemistry (I was the only music degree graduate at the time that had had those subjects as “electives,” and probably still am!) and I was working part-time (about 15 to 20 hours a week) at a grocery store. But when I got off at 8 or 9 at night, I would go out and work at the studio until about 2 or 3 in the morning, and then be up for an 8:00 class. It was not easy and looking back I’m not sure how I did it. But I accomplished my goal. When the studio opened, I was asked to come on board as the “Go-fer.” I gladly accepted and quit my job at Big Star.
As I recall, there were Terry and Clayton, and three other employees: Melissa Adamson (executive secretary, and publishing administrator), Donna Byrd (receptionist and secretary) and Steve Moore (engineer). Tommy Brasfield was there doing odd jobs and songwriting. Joan was still under contract as a songwriter. Jesse Boyce, although a Nashville resident, was a songwriter there and was part of a band called Bottom and Company, which was also signed to Wishbone/Motown.
Terry and Clayton had formed Wishbone in 197-. They would later sign an exclusive production deal with Motown – the first white producers to do so. While there they produced such artists as The Supremes, The Temptations, The Commodores, Marvin Gaye, Jerry Butler, David Ruffin and others. For whatever reason, they got out of the Motown deal and built their own studio – well, maybe not in that exact order. I suppose they started building the studio while they were exiting Motown… I recall being involved with some dealings with Motown and their music publishing companies, Jobete and Stone Diamond, when I first started working in the Wishbone publishing companies, Song Tailors Music Company then later I’ve Got The Music Company. But I’m jumping ahead of myself.
I worked from the mid Fall semester through the Christmas vacation and on into January and February doing the various odd jobs I was assigned for free. I had decided during that Fall semester that a career in music was for me, and in the Spring semester changed my course direction to a Commercial Music degree – the only music industry degree UNA offered at that time.
Which brings us to that first session on March 6, 1976. There was an MC I 24 Track Recorder (it was only set up as a 16 track recorder, but Terry and Clayton thought they mightwant to upgrade to 24 tracks someday) which used 2 inch tape (I want to say in those days we recorded a 30 ips) and an MCI 400 series console. There was no noise reduction – that would be added years later as DBX Noise Reduction. There was an EMT plate echo unit in the maintenance room, and a 13,000-gallon gasoline storage tank buried behind the studio with a mic and a speaker in it that served as our echo chamber. We mixed to one of two Scully half track tape machines which set adjacent to the MCI muti-track recorder to the right of the console.
I don’t recall being there for that first session, but I recall being there afterwards. I had classes and had missed it. I think it was a demo session. At that time Clayton was using Roger Clark on drums, Lonnie “Butch” Ledford on bass and Jerry Wallace on guitar, and I assume that is who played on that first session. Oh, and of course Clayton Ivey on keyboards. (Later the rhythm section would be Bob Wray on bass, Roger Clark on drums and Larry Byrom and/or Mac McAnally on guitar) I remember asking Steve how it had went and he said fine. I think there were some overdubs done after I got there…. But that was it. Wishbone was up and running!