Down on Jackson Highway

 Originally  posted March 23, 2007

No matter how much you know, you can always learn.

That sounds like something my dad might have said over pizza and beer. But it’s true. That was borne out to me just a few weeks ago. I was wandering around the music blogs and came upon one, Mojophenia, that had posted a single cut, “I Walk On Guilded Splinters,” from an album Cher had recorded in 1969 at the famed Muscle Shoals Sound studios in Alabama.

Cher? In Muscle Shoals? Doing a Dr. John voodoo number?

I downloaded the cut, listened to it and sat back for a moment. It’s a great cut, slinky and spooky, sliding along in just the right swampy southern groove. I played it a few more times over the next couple of days and started digging online for information.

I wrote a few weeks ago that my path to embracing the music that came from both Rick Hall’s FAME studios in Florence, Alabama, and the music from the Muscle Shoals Sound studios was a result of my buying an Eric Clapton record. After I posted that piece, I thought some more about it, looked at the chronology of my LP purchases, and realized it wasn’t quite that simple. I bought Clapton At His Best in 1972. As I wrote, that record led me to Blind Faith and then to Traffic, and to Delaney & Bonnie & Friends. I also wrote in the earlier post that the path led also through Derek & the Dominos to Duane Allman and the Allman Brothers to Boz Scaggs and then to the sounds of Muscle Shoals.

Well, the path did go that way, but it wasn’t a fluid progression; there were some stops and starts. And there was a period of what I can only call immersion, and that came during my academic year studying in Denmark. For that year, St. Cloud State had rented a youth hostel in the city of Fredericia. About half the students would start the year living with a Danish family; the rest would live at the hostel, and we’d switch places if we wished at about the midpoint of the year. One of the first investments our student council made was to buy a tape player for the lounge at the hostel.

I didn’t spend a lot of time at the hostel during the time I lived with my Danish family. The hostel was on the other end of town, and the American girl I was dating was also living with a family. But the few times I did visit and listened to the music, I realized it was, for the most part, stuff I did not know.

Most of us had brought tapes. I had J.J. Cale, Clapton, CSNY, Chicago, the Rolling Stones, some Bee Gees, some Beatles, Buffalo Springfield, some Delaney & Bonnie and probably a few other things I’m forgetting. And I moved to the hostel in January and entered a whole new universe.

A few of the fellows – one of them a spectacular guitarist whom I happily got to play with in a recreational band during the 1990s – had brought Eat A Peach, the last Allman Brothers album that included Duane Allman’s work, as well as The Duane Allman Anthology. A friend back in the States mailed them a copy of Brothers & Sisters when it was released. And I doubt that a day went by without at least one of those tapes in the player in the lounge. (The same was true for Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon.)

I’m not sure if I would have found my way to Duane Allman and his work at Muscle Shoals if it had not been for that four-month immersion in the Allman Brothers and the anthology. It certainly would have taken longer, I think. As it was, Brothers & Sisters was the first record I bought after my return to the States. And over the next few years, I collected everything the Allmans did as well as the two Duane Allman anthologies. And when I started seriously collecting records starting in the late 1980s, the work from FAME Studios and the Muscle Shoals Sound studios were high on my list.

As I bought, I researched, reading as much as I could find about those studios and musicians and their work. I thought I had a pretty good grasp of who recorded at those studios over the years, at least of the major performers in the music world. That’s why learning that Cher had recorded an album there was a surprise. As I said, there’s always something to learn.

So I began to research Cher’s album, 3614 Jackson Highway (named for the street address of the Muscle Shoals Sound studios). I learned it was evidently the first record produced at the studios after Barry Beckett, Roger Hawkins, David Hood and guitarists Eddie Hinton and Jimmy Johnson set up their own shop after years of working at Rick Hall’s FAME studios. And I learned from a web page somewhere (I am unable to replicate the path I took through the turns of the Web) that 3614 Jackson Highway is one of the rarities in the world of rock and pop music, that the CD is long out of print and commands a price of more than $100 and the LP is generally priced at more than $50.

Having read that, I went to GEMM to take a look for myself. And those prices I’d read on the Web were true . . . except there was one copy of the LP graded at Very Good Plus that was listed for about $14. That LP now sits on my table and is today’s share.

It’s pretty good. I’m not a Cher devotee, though I liked some of the hits she had with Sonny in the 1960s, despite their occasional clunkiness. But she did a pretty good job down in Muscle Shoals (with production from the Atlantic Records veterans Tom Dowd, Jerry Wexler and Arif Mardin). Her take on “For What It’s Worth,” which opens the record, is intriguing, and she does a nice job on two of the three Dylan covers: “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You” and “I Threw It all Away.” I was less impressed with “Lay Baby Lay,” her gender-inverted version of “Lay Lady Lay.”

Of course, the boys from Atlantic dress things up with strings here and there, filigree not at all needed, considering the band Cher had behind her. (That happens not only on this album, but on many, and I can’t help wondering: Why do so many producers sweeten and soften the grease and grits sound that they seemingly went south to find?) Overall, the record’s eleven cuts are pretty good, the best being that slinky take on “I Walk On Guilded Splinters.”

As an aside, it’s suspected that Duane Allman plays on three cuts on the record: “For What It’s Worth,” “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You,” and “Cry Like A Baby.” I can’t necessarily tell from listening to the last two, but it certainly sounds like Duane Allman and no one else on the dobro on “For What It’s Worth.”

Track listing:
For What It’s Worth
(Just Enough To Keep Me) Hangin’ On
Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You
I Threw It All Away
I Walk On Guilded Splinters
Lay Baby Lay
Please Don’t Tell Me
Cry Like A Baby
Do Right Woman, Do Right Man
Save The Children

Cher – 3614 Jackson Highway [1969]


One Response to “Down on Jackson Highway”

  1. It’s Too Good Not To Be True « Echoes In The Wind Archives Says:

    […] covers. Some of the interesting names in the list are: Bonnie Bramlett, Cher (on her 1969 album 3614 Jackson Highway), Aynsley Dunbar, Bill Evans, Keb’ Mo’, King Curtis, Miriam Makeba, Melanie, the Muppets, […]

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