You Lost! Get Over It!
Posted by G.A. Matiasz on August 30, 2013
There is an incredible movie still playing in theaters, now on DVD, called “20 Feet From Stardom.” It’s about many of the backup singers, most of them black, who performed behind some of the best known stars of rock, soul, and rhythm’n’blues. Frequently, these women were not only the backbone of this music, their contributions to the songs in question are often better known than those of the stars who performed them. I suggest you see the film, then buy the sound track. Some of the tracks are excellent, and Lisa Fischer’s “Sure on this Shining Night” is mesmerizing.
Merry Clayton gives an interview, reprised in the film, about why she decided to sing backup for Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama.” I’m quoting it below in full:
AVC: 20 Feet talks about that conflict mostly through your wrestling with the decision of whether to sing on Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama.” What was that process like for you?
MC: I got a call from Clydie King, a great friend of mine. She was a big session singer, and we worked together all the time. She called me and said that this producer talked to her about doing this session with this guy, she thought his name was Leonard Skynyrd, but we came to find out that the group was called Lynyrd Skynyrd. Either way, she said the song was “Sweet Home Alabama.” There was a silence on the phone for quite a while. I said, “Clydie, are you serious? I’m not singing nothing about nobody’s sweet home Alabama. Period.” So I’m just going on and on and my husband passes by in the other room and he says, “What’s wrong?” And I said, “We’re going to do this session with this white boy called ‘Sweet Home Alabama.’” He said, “‘Sweet Home Alabama.’ Merry, are you serious?” He says, “Give me the phone,” and he talks to Clydie and says, “She’ll be there.”
I get off the phone and said, “Curtis, why are you telling Clydie that I’m going to be at a session that I do not want to do? You know I’m not going to sing anything about sweet home nobody’s Alabama.” He says, “Oh, but sweetheart you must sing ‘Sweet Home Alabama.’” He said, “You’re young, Merry. You don’t understand.” He said, “What you don’t know is that you can’t picket and you can’t stand on the front lines because with your mouth, you’d be dead. But you have the biggest platform there is to partake in and what you should do is let the music be your protest.” And I got it; at that moment, it clicked in my head and I got it. So I said, “Okay, I’m going to go to this session, but you better believe I’m going to be singing through my teeth ‘Sweet Home Alabama.’”
So the girls and I had a big prayer and we asked that God would just use us in this and that His will be done through this song and that this song would be a big hit and to let this be our protest and let people know that the whole world was screwed up, but that this was our protest as background singers and as music people, period. So we went to the session, the guys were great, we sang “Sweet Home Alabama,” and the rest is history.
The point Merry Clayton and others make in the movie is that, without the way she and the other black backup singers performed on “Sweet Home Alabama,” Lynyrd Skynyrd’s so-called southern rock would have been anemic and white bread in the extreme. Their backup singing gave the song its fucking SOUL, despite its asshole stars-and-bars attitude.
Speaking of the stars and bars, I’ve gotten sick and tired of all this Confederate flag bullshit. The BBC website has the following, oh-so-even-handed article about why people still fly the Confederate flag. Because they’re fucking racists, simple as that. This tirade sums up my attitude pretty well. As for the old canard that the Civil War was not about slavery, these articles should set things straight