NME Festival blog: Muscle Shoals co-founder and guitarist Jimmy Johnson dies at 76


He had worked alongside big names like Aretha Franklin and Paul Simon

Jimmy Johnson, the co-founder of Muscle Shoals Sound Studio and the guitarist of the studio’s sessioning group The Swampers, has died. He was 76.

News of his death was confirmed by his son Jay Johnson in a Facebook statement yesterday (September 5). “He is gone,” he wrote. “Playing music with angels now.” Johnson’s cause of death is not publicly known at this time.

Johnson started out his career in the early ’60s, working as a session guitarist at Rick Hall’s FAME studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. There, he lent his guitar skills to records by acts such as Paul Simon, Rod Stewart and Lynyrd Skynyrd. Johnson also went on to play sessions alongside soul and R&B icons such as Aretha Franklin, Etta James and Clarence Carter.

Johnson later left FAME with the studio’s other backup musicians Roger Hawkins, Barry Beckett and David Hood to establish the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio, where they recorded albums by Levon Helm, Russell Smith and Delbert McClinton. In 1969, the Rolling Stones recorded part of their ‘Sticky Fingers’ album at their studio. Johnson was credited as a recording engineer on three tracks on the LP, including ‘Wild Horses’, ‘Brown Sugar’ and ‘You Gotta Move’.

Muscle Shoals paid tribute to its co-founder with a heartfelt Facebook post that chronicled Johnson’s influential music career. “Recording was in Jimmy’s blood,” the post read, adding that “Jimmy was a part of the family at the studio, often stopping by during tours. He was always happy to share a story about his sessions.” 

The Alabama Music Hall Of Fame also paid tribute to Johnson, calling his passing “another sad [day] in Alabama music”.





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