June 11, 2009 – Barry Beckett was born on February 4, 1943 in Birmingham, Alabama. His father, Horace, was an insurance salesman who also dabbled on guitar and for a time hosted a local radio program. He attended the University of Alabama, where, according to The Times Daily of Florence, Ala., he first heard the music of two of the Swampers, Johnson and Hawkins, who were then playing in a band called the Del-Rays. He was working with a blues producer in Pensacola, Fla., when he was asked to join the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section.
He learned piano in various genres and styles very early on in life and became the keyboard session musician for the studio band the Swampers in the mid 1960s. He started his career as a session musician working with Atlantic Record artists such as Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin and Percy Sledge, and others artists at Rick Hall’s FAME Studios until 1969 when Barry along with fellow session musicians, Roger Hawkins, David Hood and Jimmy Johnson formed their own session backing band, The Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, also known as The Swampers and opened their own Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in nearby Sheffield.
They were the first rhythm section to own a studio and eventually run their own publishing and production companies. Their backing and arrangements have been heard on many recordings, including major hits from Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin, and the Staple Singers, but a wide range of artists in popular music recorded hit songs and complete albums at the studio. They are referred to as “the Swampers” in the lyrics of “Sweet Home Alabama” (1974) by Lynyrd Skynyrd.
They were much in demand after Stax Records began bringing artists down to Alabama in the early 1970s. Artists who recorded with the Swampers include John Prine, Julian Lennon, Rod Stewart, Elkie Brooks, Elton John, The Rolling Stones, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Johnnie Taylor, The Staple Singers, Bob Seger, Joe Cocker, Glenn Frey, Delbert McClinton, J.J. Cale, Alice in Chains, Joe Tex, Bobby Blue Bland, Eddie Floyd, Clarence Carter, Little Milton, Sawyer Brown, Tony Joe White, Oak Ridge Boys and many more such as Boz Scaggs, Willie Nelson, Paul Simon, Bob Dylan, Dr. Hook, and others.
In 1973 they toured backing supergroup Traffic and can be heard on Traffic’s live album On The Road. Beckett can be heard on electric piano on Paul Simon’s legendary Grammy Award winning 1977 album “Still Crazy after all these years.”
Beckett was co-producing with Jerry Wexler when, in 1979, Bob Dylan called on Wexler to produce the Slow Train Coming sessions. Beckett not only co-produced the album but played piano and organ throughout. (He did not go on the road as a gospel tours musician behind Dylan, but he was back in the studio with him in February 1980 to co-produce, again with Wexler, the album Saved, on which he was replaced on keyboards by Spooner Oldham and Terry Young after the session of February 12, 1980 and so plays only on the album’s title track, ‘Solid Rock’, ‘What Can I Do For You?’ and ‘Satisfied Mind’. On the album liner notes Beckett is billed as co-producer and as ‘special guest artist’.
Beckett moved to Nashville in 1982 to become A & R country music director for Warner Bros. Records and co-produced Williams, Jr.’s records with Jim Ed Norman. Beckett produced records independently after leaving Warner Bros. Records for the likes of Graham Brown, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Dire Straits, Joe Cocker, John Prine, McGuinn-Hillman, Etta James, Eddy Raven, Delbert McClinton, The Staple Singers, Phoebe Snow, Hank Williams, T. Lorrie Morgan, Frankie Miller, Jerry Jeff Walker, Alabama Jr., Neal McCoy, Confederate Railroad, Phish, Tammy Graham, Sonia Dada, Ilse DeLange and many others.
The Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section were inducted into the Alabama Music Hall of Fame in 1995 for a “Lifework Award for Non-Performing Achievement” and into the Musician’s Hall Of Fame in 2008.
Barry Beckett died from complications of a stroke at age 66 on June 11, 2009.