Many times – but not all the time – but many times you can find everything that you need and all that you want to become the best you right in your own backyard. And, that is the message of this article. It may seem like an unexpected message coming from someone who has made seven interstate moves looking for the next opportunity, but it will make more sense by the end of the article. The idea and inspiration for this article was based on a conversation with a patient from Muscle Shoals and the movie, Muscle Shoals, available on NetFlix. I highly recommend watching the movie – if you’re a music lover.
What is Muscle Shoals?
Now Muscle Shoals has got the Swampers
And they’ve been known to pick a song or two
Lord they get me off so much
They pick me up when I’m feeling blue
Now how about you?
The above lyrics are from Lynyrd Skynyrd’s hit song Sweet Home Alabama. Have you ever wondered what Muscle Shoals is? And, what exactly is a swamper? And, what is a shoal anyway? I’ve wondered that. It took a long time before I even knew that Muscle Shoals is a town in northwest Alabama near the Tennessee River. What a fascinating name for a town. Once I knew that I said I want to meet someone from there. So I put that on my bucket list. It’s unique on my list because I felt I had little control in making it happen. To check that off my list would take pure luck as I certainly saw no reason to travel to Muscle Shoals.
Muscle Shoals is one of those towns that if you find yourself there you most likely took a wrong turn, or were desperately trying to get there. There is no in between.
Little did I know that I would be able to check it off my bucket list.
Musicians typically don’t mention towns in songs unless they carry some relevance. So what is the relevance of Muscle Shoals? I finally learned its place in history this past May when a couple from Alabama moved to Columbus, Ohio due to a transfer, and they came to my office to establish medical care.
I asked jokingly did they moved to Columbus to see a better brand of college football, and the gentleman chuckled politely. I asked where they were from. And, he said, “Muscle Shoals”. I said, “You are kidding me?” and thanked him for allowing me to check that off my bucket list. Before we got into their health problems I asked him to tell me about Muscle Shoals – what is so important about the town that Lynryd Skynyrd mentions it in song? He gave me a brief history lesson that held my intrigue especially since I have spent some time being a “yankee” living in the Deep South, but I did not know the history that follows.
The Magic of Muscle Shoals
My new patient told me Muscle Shoals is/was a mecca for Rhythm and Blues music – that musicians came from all over to record, not just songs, but hit songs, and to learn more about the unique sound that emanates from that region. Such artists include the Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, and many more. In a town today of approximately 13,000 there were once five music recording studios. Chances are everyday as you listen to the radio you will hear a song recorded in Muscle Shoals, Alabama.
According to Yuchie tribe of Indians the nearby Tennessee River is called Nunnuhsae, or The River that Sings. Legend says an indian princess lives in the river and you can her here sing and those songs inspire the musicians in the region. Apparently, before the river was dammed the flowing water in the shallow parts (the shoals) created various sounds.
It’s rather amazing that this little town became a mecca in the music world. And, if that can happen in Muscle Shoals why can’t such a phenomenon happen everywhere and anywhere? Why is the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota and not Minneapolis or Rochester, New York? What makes the Silicon Valley the Silicon Valley? Why was the first sports medicine hospital in the world built in Columbus, Georgia not Columbus, Ohio, or Atlanta, Georgia?
What does it take to become a center, or hub, or a mecca of something? And, can a mecca of some type be built in your town or in my town? Is all that it takes to build such a nexus readily available in each of our own backyards?
Visionaries and Swampers
To build a mecca or to accomplish something of significance first takes a visionary – someone who sees the future – sees what does not yet exist yet possible. But, it also takes a group of committed and talented people to turn a vision into reality. The music industry in Muscle Shoals was built by the hands of local talent.
In Muscle Shoals the visionary was Richard Hall who opened FAME Studios. He was a local and built his studio from the ground up. He saw talent. He heard unique sounds. He hired his own studio musicians to record many of the songs his studio produced. Ironically, though the music he recorded was rhythm and blues and funk his musicians were nearly all white. One such group of musicians became known as the Swampers. They are the creators of the unique sounds that made many songs hit recordings.
The Swampers were a small local group of creative musicians who were/are passionate about their work and loved what they do. They made and played the music for many singers. Perhaps most importantly, they had that special chemistry – that unique quality that is hard to describe yet readily visible. And, chemistry of a group usually trumps the collective individual talent. The Swampers to some degree represents a group of unsung heroes.
We can think of a swamper in broader terms. As I just mentioned swampers frequently are the unsung heroes. They are vital, yet don’t receive the credit they deserve. They are the ones that do the actual work. They are the ones that roll up their sleeves. They are the ones that do the nitty-gritty. They are the ones that bring things to light.
A swamper is frequently someone who works behind the scenes. While the Muscle Shoal Swampers gained some notoriety, the artists they played music for received much of the attention and publicity. But, it’s really the Swampers that were most responsible for the sound that made many songs that we all get to enjoy hit recordings.
A swamper is someone who is driven by their passion. They love what they do and would do it even if they were not paid. They don’t set out to change the world, but change their world they do – a by-product of their passion, committment, and talent.
I believe it was either Doris Kearns Goodwin or Peggy Noonan who said something to the effect that she is more impressed, not by the individual who sets out to change the world (think politicians and world leaders), but by those individuals who focus, desire, and commitment is simply on improving their own neighborhood, or their own little corner of the world, but in the process end up changing the world (Mother Teresa).
That’s the Swampers of Muscle Shoals. They had no idea they would change the recording world and no desire to do so. But they did just by doing what they love to do, feeding off each other’s energy and creativity, and generating a magical sound that did not yet exist.
So what’s a swamper? A hard-working, committed, talented, and passionate individual willing to do what it takes to build or create something unique.
The world needs more swampers. But first we need to find them. It’s the visionaries that find them, and that’s why we need visionaries. Actually the visionaries attract them.The visionaries are the entrepreneurs. They are the risk takers. They are the industrialists. They are ones that start businesses. They are the ones that grow businesses. They are the ones that create jobs for you and me. They are the movers and the shakers.
They are the people society now finds fashionable to attack – “those greedy” people. But, without Jeff Bezos there is no Amazon. Without Fred Smith there is no FedEx. Without Herb Kelleher there is no Southwest Airlines. Without Steve Jobs there is no iMac, no iTunes, no iPhone, no iPad. And, obviously without Walt Disney there is no Disneyland, Disney World Resort, or Disney Channel. It’s shallow to think that someone else would fill the void in their absence. Some people are put here for a single purpose. And, we would be wise to remember that.
And, without someone like Rich Hall there is little music recording coming from Muscle Shoals.
Yes, we need the swampers. But, we need the dreamers to give them something to create. It’s the visionaries that attract the swampers who then turn dreams into reality.
Your Own Backyard
Swampers are few and far between, yet they can be found everywhere. They are in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. They are in Ottumwa, Iowa (home of Radar O’Reilly). They are in Spartanburg, South Carolina. And, they are in your town, too. What may be missing in your town or any town, though, are the people with the ideas. Sometimes you have to go looking for ideas.
I have made seven interstate moves mostly to learn more about innovative ways to practice medicine. Medicine, while advanced in some ways, is so far behind what is actually possible.
Each of my stops made me a better physician and a better person while gaining a deeper appreciation of history and cultural differences. But, most importantly each move has given me ideas. That may be the most important reason for moving or traveling or spending some time somewhere else – to get ideas. And, ideas are powerful. The whole world pivots on ideas. But, ideas are pretty much meaningless until they are implemented.
And, it was in search of ideas that brought musicians from all over to Muscle Shoals.
I like being where the future is heading. I have had the unique opportunity to see medicine practiced across its entire spectrum and I have been fortunate to spend time at several innovative places.
But, the places I’ve been were innovative and meccas before I arrived and continue to be since I’ve left them. And, I can’t say that I was instrumental to the overall success of these institutions. And, that’s what has been missing professionally for me – building my own practice based on my own ideas. And, that’s what prompted me to come back home to my own backyard.
Jerry Seinfeld said that an objective in writing the sitcom Seinfeld was he wanted a sitcom that made himself laugh. He didn’t care if it made others laugh – he wanted a sitcom that could make him laugh and that made sense to him. He figured if it made him laugh, others would laugh as well. And, they did!
Three years ago I decided it was finally time to take all these unique professional experiences and ideas and build a practice that made sense to me. And, I wanted to do it where I felt most at home – so I came back to Columbus where I completed most of my medical training.
To be sure it’s been a slow go getting to where I want to go, and I am nowhere close. But, slowly I have identified a few swampers – individuals who share a common philosophy and shared commitment. And, I know there are more of them out there. The nice thing is some of those swampers are now finding me.
Everything I need is right here in Columbus, but that would have been true anywhere I decided to settle. And, that’s the point of the article. Nearly everything you need is within an arm’s reach and in your own backyard. But, the ideas many times come from outside your backyard. Remember that. And, don’t be afraid to go where you can find ideas. Search wherever you need to for the ideas. But, there’s good chance everything you need to turn those ideas into reality is in your own backyard!
Yes, Muscle Shoals is a mecca, but so can your town. Yes, Muscle Shoals has the Swampers, but most likely there are swampers in your town, too – those vital individuals who can help you become the best you and help you fulfill your dream. You just need to find them – better yet – attract them. We attract that which we are.
Now for some Southern Rock! Looks like Billy Powell likes his Budweiser. To see some real swampers and visionaries jam go to 6:22 on the Freebird video. Rarely are there fat guitarists. Why is that? Hey, that’s another idea for an article!