Band musicians rehearsing

The Un-Sung Heroes of our Lives

‘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 feelin’ blue.

Now how about you’

– ‘Sweet Home Alabama’, Lynyrd Skynyrd

 

I watched a great documentary the other night about the music that came out of two studios in a little town called Muscle Shoals, Alabama – a place made famous in a line from the hit song’ Sweet Home Alabama’ by the band Lynyrd Skynyrd.

I never understood the line – seemed to get third billing behind references in the song to Neil Young and the Watergate scandal, not to mention an amazing melody and some terrific guitar riffs. Apparently I wasn’t the only one who was at first confused about the reference to ‘Muscle Shoals and the Swampers’. In the documentary Gregg Allman relates that some other members of the band asked his brother, Duane Allman, what he was referencing with ‘the Swampers’.

Ends up the The Swampers were a unique group of studio musicians that helped Lynyrd Skynyrd create the song. The Swampers were a legendary group of background players and musicians who were groomed to be disciplined studio musicians by a successful record producer, Rick Hall, the founder of famed FAME studios. Eventually they struck out on their own to start their own studio across town chafing somewhat under the strict tutelage of Hall. However in their quest to chart their own course they took with them the foundation and discipline for what it takes to help famous singers and bands create and record amazing hit songs.

These were studio musicians who remained virtually anonymous behind Mick Jagger struts, the Lynyrd Skynyrd piano solo, Percy Sledge’s hypnotic voice from ‘When a Man Loves a Woman, and helped generate ‘just a little bit, just a little bit’ of Aretha Franklin’s R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

I found the documentary compelling as there were appearances from some of the greats of music – from Lynyrd Skynyrd, Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, all the way through to the Rolling Stones. It was the work of legends, yet The Swampers were always there – yet very much in the background. Their passion came through in the documentary. They spoke about getting in the ‘groove’ and tuning into the way a particular band, or artist, created a song. They would get going with ‘the flow’ to create great rhythms and harmonies to some the most memorable songs of the past 50 years.

Looking rather unconventional, and decidedly plain, this group of musicians, like a group of music Sherpas, helped some of the greatest bands and singers climb the Everest of their industries. Quite frankly it gave me shivers.

I turned off the TV and I lay awake thinking that night about the ‘unsung heroes’ of our lives, and of my life, who dutifully do things every day without complaint. Those who achieve great things in their day to day work in the most ordinary of ways.

I think about those hockey moms, those hockey managers and administrators who support all the sports organizations because they want to see their families and their children thrive in the world.

I think about the truck driver – the guy who always shows up on time – isn’t ‘high maintenance’, like his truck, which he keeps in good condition. He isn’t loud or many times noticeable. And of course too many times unappreciated.

Then I thought about our company – the Sandy’s, the Behnaz’s, the Mark’s, the Erick’s, the Johnny’s of the world who aren’t the first ones to speak up especially when the ‘boss’ is talking or when the sales and marketing types are expounding on things – the folks who make our business run, the people who don’t complain and are sometimes reticent to offer their opinion no matter how welcome or desired it is by others.

When I think about them – these are ‘the Swampers’ of our trucking software business. These are the folks who make and support the software we market and sell, those who are creating the wonderful melodies and music that the rest of us sing to.

Today I think about how important it is for us – those ‘up front’ in the business who hear the feedback the voice of the customers – who hear the happy conversations of customers who are grateful that it has solved their problems – that we show restraint and respect and certainly not strut knowing that it wasn’t us who made the number #1 hit.

That we don’t get to full of ourselves – that we recognize the sweat and toil of all of these people in the Muscle Shoals of our company – and that sometimes it takes a trip to the rural part of the Alabama where you could get away from all the touring and partying, from all of the distractions of a life on the road, and get in touch with our soul and our love of our craft. That we engage with the essence and purity of our work and gain the sustenance necessary to jump back on stage again. Yes, you can ‘Start Me Up’… but first I must go back home.

‘Sweet Home Alabama

Where the skies are so blue

Sweet Home Alabama

Lord, I’m Coming Home to You’