Tourism Tuesdays Sept. 10, 2019

Swampers guitarist, engineer, producer, Jimmy Johnson dies at age 76

Birmingham Civil Rights Institute on MSN’s “ultimate U.S. bucket list”

New historic trail honoring Tuskegee-area civil rights trailblazers

The Alabama mountain town you need to visit this Fall

Iconic I-65 farm survives and so will its floating Christmas trees

Alabama Tourism Department’s 2019 Fall tourism workshop

“Partner Pointer” for the tourism industry website


Swampers guitarist, engineer, producer, Jimmy Johnson dies at age 76
From the article by Russ Corey and Bernie Delinski on

The first time David Hood met Jimmy Johnson, he was a junior high school crossing guard, wearing a yellow helmet and holding a flag.

Little did they know they would become lifelong friends and be part of a group of musicians that helped create some of the best loved popular music ever.

The Sheffield natives completed junior high and graduated high school together. They worked as session musicians in Rick Hall’s FAME Recording Studios, along with keyboardist Barry Beckett and drummer Roger Hawkins, until the four decided to open their own studio — Muscle Shoals Sound.

Hood said he was able to spend some time with his friend Thursday morning, about an hour before Johnson died at Northwest Alabama Medical Center. He was 76. He had been in the hospital since Aug. 31.

“Jimmy encouraged me to be in music from the start, before anybody else did,” Hood said. “I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing today without Jimmy Johnson’s encouragement.”

Johnson’s son, Jay, said through a Facebook post that his father had entered the hospital on Aug. 31 with multiple health issues. Judy Hood said Johnson died from complications related to kidney failure.

Rodney Hall, owner of FAME Recording Studios and son of the studio founder, the late Rick Hall, said in addition to being a member of the studio’s rhythm section, Johnson was his father’s first assistant.

“There’s going to be a hole in Muscle Shoals music that can’t be filled,” Hall said. “Jimmy continued to be a friend and a great session musician for all of us. He’s going to be sorely missed, for sure. He was so passionate about Muscle Shoals and his music and the area. If it weren’t for guys like him staying here, none of us would be here.”

In 1969, Johnson, Hood, Hawkins and Beckett struck out on their own and opened Muscle Shoals Sound Studio at 3614 Jackson Highway in Sheffield. The late Denny Cordell, the late Leon’s Russell’s producer, dubbed the rhythm section “The Swampers” because of their “swampy” sound.

The music world became reacquainted with Muscle Shoals music, FAME, Muscle Shoals Sound, Johnson and the other Swampers after the 2013 release of the music documentary “Muscle Shoals,” which was produced by Stephen Badger and directed by Greg “Freddy” Camalier.

“Jimmy was a gentleman and a scholar, a picker who would lock and carry a groove, a man who truly cared about others, and someone who always made you feel better having spent time with him,” Badger said. “I will miss him.”

Spooner Oldham, another legendary Muscle Shoals musician, has fond remembers of Johnson since his early days.

Oldham remembers playing with him on numerous occasions, including in the early years with Hollis Dickson and the Keynotes. He said Donnie Fritts, who died Aug. 27, also was in that band.

“Jimmy was a real trooper with the recording and playing,” Oldham said. “He had a long, great career. He was just always so interesting to be around.”

He said Johnson was a natural in the studio.

“He knew technological stuff and loved gadgets,” Oldham said.

Debbie Wilson, executive director of Muscle Shoals Sound Studio, said there was a hollow feeling in the studio Thursday.

“We’re just overwhelmed,” Wilson said. “We’re all figuring out how to process it. He and his wife, Becky, are like family. We’ve been getting condolences pouring in from all over.”

She said Johnson often dropped by the studio to spend time with the tour guides and visitors.

“He loved to interact with the tour guides,” Wilson said. “That was one of the big things that stuck out with us. It’s just not going to be the same.

“He always had a smile for us and people loved it when he walked in. He always engaged with them, and now he’s gone. A big part of the music has stopped. It’s like it’s gone silent today.”

She said staff members spoke Thursday about their fondness of Johnson.

“The staff is devastated,” Wilson said. “They are absolutely beyond words. He was such a great mentor. They looked up to him. We also want to make sure Becky knows we love her.

“It’ll never be the same, but we’re so fortunate we have the music that he made and that we’ll continue to share it with the world,” Wilson said. “He was an influence throughout the world and that will never change. He was clever and witty and left a legacy.”

Wilson said Johnson’s death also reminds them of the importance of continuing to share the story of Muscle Shoals music.

“It makes us that much more determined to tell his story and the Muscle Shoals story,” she said. “He loved sharing it. He loved the music. He was a part of that guitar. He was a part of that control board. It was in his heart and soul and mind. He was determined to make it, and he did.”

The tracks that Johnson either played guitar on, engineered or produced are some of the most significant songs in popular music.

“Mustang Sally” and “Hey Jude” by Wilson Pickett; “Respect” by Aretha Franklin; “Tell Mama” by Etta James; “Take A Letter, Maria” by R.B. Greaves; “I’ll Take You There” by the Staples Singers; “Kodachrome” by Paul Simon; “The Harder They Come” by Jimmy Cliff; “Mainstreet” by Bob Seger; “Brown Sugar,” “You Gotta Move” and “Wild Horses” by the Rolling Stones are just a few in his massive discography.

Johnson was scheduled to be co-engineer for The Stones’s visit to the studio in December 1969, but ended up being lead engineer due to a work visa issue.

“Jimmy and I co-produced things together, Blackfoot, and a few other things,” Hood said. “He taught us, not only me, but Roger and Barry, about the music business because he had worked with Rick. He brought the knowledge he got from Rick to our business.”

Shoals Theatre manager and local music promoter Steve Price said his brother graduated high school with Johnson.

“I’ve known Jimmy forever,” Price said. “I don’t know what to say. I don’t know how to process this one.”

Johnson’s death came just nine days after the death of Fritts, whose legacy dates back to the early days of the Muscle Shoals music business.

Price said he was glad the theater hosted birthday shows for Fritts, Johnson, Oldham and Hood.

“For years, we always took them for granted,” he said. “They were part of our community. We wanted that one night when we didn’t take them for granted.”

Shoals guitarist Kelvin Holly said Johnson gave him his first studio gig when he arrived in the Shoals. The session was with blues artist Bobby “Blue” Bland.

“He believed in me enough to throw me a session like that,” Holly said. “He believed I could do it. He was a great producer and a great friend.”

Johnson was a member of the Alabama Music Hall of Fame and the Musicians Hall of Fame in Nashville, Tennessee.

“The Alabama Music Hall of Fame is certainly mourning the loss of one of the most talented and famous inductees today with the loss of our very own Jimmy Johnson,” Alabama Music Hall of Fame Director Sandra Burroughs said. “We were all so sad to hear that Jimmy had passed away, but our minds immediately took us to Jimmy playing in Heaven this afternoon. He will never be replaced, but he will always be remembered as one of the greatest to ever play.”

“What can I say about Jimmy Johnson?” Hood said. “He was a big part of my life for 60 something years.”

For the complete article please see


Birmingham Civil Rights Institute on MSN’s “ultimate U.S. bucket list”
Editor’s Note:  The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute is included in travel writer Ella Buchan’s “ultimate U.S. bucket list” in her latest article on MSN.

Other attractions on the bucket list include Walt Disney World, Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon, the Statue of Liberty, the Golden Gate Bridge, Mount Rushmore and the White House.

Ella has visited Alabama several times on state tourism department press trips over the past two years.  Her previous articles on the state have appeared in Rough GuidesCNN Travel and Travel Weekly. Ella was just named one of the finalists for the Specialist Travel Writer of the Year at the 2019 Travel Media Awards being held next month in London.

From the article “The ultimate U.S. bucket list” by Ella Buchan on

Tour Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, Birmingham
Birmingham was the site of some of the worst violence carried out against civil rights protestors, and the city meets its past head-on with a series of interactive and unflinching exhibits in this museum. It overlooks Kelly Ingram Park, which has a statue of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and sculptures depicting horrific attacks on child marchers.

For the complete article please see

New historic trail honoring Tuskegee-area civil rights trailblazers
If you ask someone to name a famous person with ties to Tuskegee, chances are names like William Mitchell, Sammy Younge, Charles Gomillion or Julius Rosenwald won’t top the list of replies.

They should, though, and a newly established civil rights and historical trail in the City of Tuskegee to be dedicated on Friday, Sept. 20 will help to preserve the contributions of many storied figures whose names are in danger of being lost to history.

In all, 13 newly erected Tuskegee Civil Rights and Historical Trail markers located throughout the city and the Tuskegee University campus honor the memories of and contributions by individuals, groups and sites of notable significance during the civil rights era.

“Each of the subjects of our trail markers were chosen for their individual and unique aspects, which provide us and generations to follow the opportunity to learn and cherish the unforgettable role they — and the Tuskegee community — played in the American Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s,” said Tuskegee University Archivist Dana Chandler, who along with Archives staff and volunteers, identified the subjects of and locations for the markers.

The Sept. 20 dedication program — scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. in the Tuskegee Municipal Complex at 101 Fonville Road — will feature representatives of the community, university and state historical organizations. The event will also recognize the many partners who have made the historic and civil rights trail possible. Chief among those, and funding the production of the 13 trail markers, is the Jewish American Society for Historic Preservation.

“My father, who was liberated from the Buchenwald concentration camp, said ‘Silence at your neighbor’s oppression will mean silence at yours,’” said Jerry Klinger, the Jewish American Society for Historic Preservation’s president and founder, of the organization’s motivation to support this endeavor and the need to document the struggle for civil rights recorded through the trail’s markers.

Other partners include the Tuskegee University Libraries, Museums and Archives, Macon County Bicentennial Committee, the Alabama Bicentennial Commission, the National Park Service, the City of Tuskegee, and the Macon County Commission.

Following the dedication ceremony, guests can take a bus tour that will visit the 13 markers comprising the Tuskegee Civil Rights and Historical Trail. A reception at the Tuskegee Municipal Complex will follow the conclusion of the bus tour.

The Tuskegee Civil Rights and Historical Marker Trail will join other local campus and community historical destinations. It also joins six other Alabama trail sites that comprise the U.S. Civil Rights Trail.

For more information please see

The Alabama mountain town you need to visit this Fall
From the article by Jenna Sims on

Fall is an ideal time for a getaway to the Alabama mountain town of Mentone whether you want to escape for just a day or for the weekend. There’s no shortage of small-town charm or breathtaking views of fall color. Located in northeast Alabama, Mentone is conveniently located less than a two-hour drive from Birmingham, Atlanta, and Chattanooga. You’ll see the first signs of fall color on your tree-surrounded drive up Lookout Mountain, and you’ll know you’ve reached town when you see the stone welcome sign on the left-hand side of the road.

What to do
The main attraction during the fall is the scenery and for that, DeSoto State Park is a must-visit destination. Hints of color will begin at the end of September and last into November with the peak historically hitting anywhere from the third week of October into the beginning of November. Take a stroll down the Talmadge Butler Boardwalk trail and you’ll find yourself surrounded by leaves of every color. A short drive from the main area of the park, just off the Lookout Mountain Parkway, you’ll find DeSoto Falls. As you walk along a paved pathway to the 107-foot waterfall, you’ll see beautiful fall scenes reflecting off the water below.

Located approximately 30 minutes from downtown Mentone, Little River Canyon National Preserve offers an 11-mile scenic drive that has a series of overlooks for viewing fall foliage. Picnic tables along the route also provide a good spot to enjoy a packed lunch. You’ll also want to visit the boardwalk just off the State Route 35 bridge that will lead you to Little River Falls.

In addition to the parks, take a stroll down main street to enjoy the scenes and shopping that Mentone has to offer. Lastly, at sunset, you’ll want to make plans to enjoy the view from Brow Park, located about a quarter mile from the town center. It offers unobstructed views of the sun setting over the brow of Lookout Mountain.

Where to eat
For a hearty breakfast before setting out to the parks or a midday lunch break as you’re walking around town, stop at Mentone Market. The Market also offers Mentone memorabilia as well as a selection of grocery items. If you need a snack or afternoon pick-me-up while you’re strolling in and out of the shops, stop into Tip Top Bake Shop for an afternoon treat and cup of coffee.

And finally, a trip to Mentone won’t be complete without a stop at the Wildflower Cafe. The one-of-a-kind café offers a unique dining experience that you can only get in Mentone. If you’d like to visit during dinner, you’ll want to make a reservation before you go. And don’t leave without trying the tomato pie.

Where to stay
Originally built in the 1920s, the Mentone Inn is located right in the middle of the action. Sit on the porch and take in the scene as you enjoy your morning coffee. When you’re ready to visit shops and restaurants you’re just a few steps away.

If you prefer to stay in a more remote location, DeSoto State Park offers lodge rooms, cabins, cottages, and chalets in addition to campsites. You can make reservations online at Private cabin rentals are also available at and, but you’ll want to make sure to book as far in advance as you can for the peak fall season because reservations will fill up quickly.

For the complete article please see

Iconic I-65 farm survives and so will its floating Christmas trees
From the article by Anna Beahm on

The greeting card worthy Hallmark Farm in north Jefferson County has officially been taken over by the Hallmark Farms Cooperative, a group of local governments who bought the property with plans to redevelop.

But what will happen to the picturesque barn and home on the farm? (You’ve seen it on your left as you travel Interstate 65 North in Jefferson County.) Officials promise they’re not going anywhere. In fact, cooperative officials plan to maintain the barn and home as event space and bring back the Christmas trees that once floated on the pond.

“I want to make sure that everyone knows, we are keeping the house and the barn. The house and the barn aren’t going anywhere. I know that’s been a point of contention, but it’s something when we wanted to make sure stayed,” said Jefferson County Commissioner Steve Ammons, who is president of the cooperative. “The iconic property off 65 in Jefferson County remains the iconic property off 65 in Jefferson County.”

When news of the cooperative’s creation and its purchase broke, Ammons said residents took to social media to express their concerns about the future of the beautiful farm.

Commissioner Joe Knight said the cooperative won’t make the mistake of destroying the farm.

“Many years ago, Ted and Mary Hallmark realized the beauty and the sanctity of this place. They had a vision of what it should look like and they built that vision from the ground up,” he said at a press conference Wednesday. “As we celebrate our 200th anniversary as a county, we also celebrate this day as we enter into a new era at Hallmark farm.”

The cooperative paid $7.5 million for the 565-acre property.

Officials plan to turn the 565-acre property into a mixed-use development with light industrial, retail, event space and office space. The barn and house will be available for weddings and other special events.

Ammons said the property is within 90 miles of several Alabama car plants including Mazda Toyota, Mercedes and Honda. This proximity means the property could be a future location of a light manufacturing plant supplying parts to one of those car manufacturers, he said.

Cooperative officials expect the redevelopment of the property could bring up to 720 jobs to north Jefferson County.

The first official event at the Hallmark Farms development will be the 2020 Decorators’ Showhouse benefiting the Alabama Symphony Orchestra in April 2020.

For the complete article please see

Alabama Tourism Department’s 2019 Fall tourism workshop
The Alabama Tourism Department will host its semi-annual Tourism Workshop, Wed., Oct 16. The workshop will held be in Montgomery at the Alabama Center for Commerce Building, 401 Adams Ave., from 10 a.m.–3 p.m. in room 342. The workshop is designed for new tourism industry members, event organizers and anyone else interested in enhancing tourism in their area. Many of ATD’s staff members will attend this workshop and you will have an opportunity for one-on-one time with each of them. There is no registration fee.

For additional information, please contact Rosemary Judkins at 334-242-4493 or via email at rosemary.judkins@Tourism.Alabama.Gov 

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