Legendary Sideman Spooner Oldham Talks Long Lost Solo Album
Spooner Oldham is fixing his lawnmower when I reach him on a Saturday afternoon. Anyone familiar with his monumental body of work might find it oddly funny to hear this Rock and Roll Hall Of Famer and key member of the legendary Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section talking about the daily mundanities of yard work. But Spooner Oldham has always been a humble figure. This is especially true when it comes to his long lost solo album Pot Luck, which, after more than forty years sitting in the vault, is finally getting the reissue treatment from Seattle’s Light In The Attic Records. Released in 1972 to an audience of no one due to Oldham’s record label folding right when it came out, Pot Luck finds this lifelong sideman stepping into the spotlight and letting his own voice shine on songs like “Life’s Little Package Of Puzzles” and “Easy Listening”. The songs reflect Oldham’s laid back Southern philosophy on life and mark a proud debut from an artist always happy to play behind others. The B side of the album takes things closer to home with instrumental versions of songs previously recorded by major acts like “When A Man Loves A Woman” and “Respect”. Pot Luck is an album well deserving of a special release, even if it is forty years after the fact.
At the age of 72, Spooner Oldham comes across just as dedicated to his craft as he has been his whole life, with no intention to quit anytime soon. In his soft Alabama drawl he happily reflects on Pot Luck and an incredible lifelong career in music that few artists will ever top.
How were you approached about this reissue and what was your initial reaction?
Someone on the Internet had asked me a question about reissuing it through a different company than Light In The Attic. My daughter said, “dad you should try this company Light In The Attic, I like those people.” They made me an offer I couldn't refuse, so to speak, and it was all good. My reaction was that 42 or 43 years later it's pretty interesting that somebody was thinking about it. I look at it like a new release really because the first time I think it was one of seven albums released by that record company in the same month and they immediately went bankrupt. I never knew if it sold ten copies or one hundred, I never knew anything. So it has a better chance to be heard than the first time.
So back when it came out the label just didn't do anything?
Well, they went bankrupt so they didn't have to do much.
When you made the album were you thinking it would have some buzz and were you planning to do some big things with it?
I had just moved to Los Angeles and the short story is that me and these musicians from the South were all going to be a part of this house band at this recording studio. The place is still there, it's called Producer's Workshop at Hollywood and Vine. So we just took an empty building. Emory Gordy came out and he played bass, and Richard Bennett was a teenage guitarist. Our goal was in the Memphis/Muscle Shoals pattern to get a band and singers in the studio. After we got the studio set up, I think it was sort of like a game in my head, it was a new venture. I think me being the artist was something for us to do. I wrote a little bit and I sang a little bit and I played a little bit. It was like a game, you’re it. I didn't really expect anything, I just wanted to hear us as a band. That worked out, they were great and we had fun. That was about it. Some of the songs I had just written and some I had played on the original recordings, like "I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You)" and "When A Man Loves A Woman" and so forth. I decided they might work well as instrumentals; I'd never heard an instrumental or played one, but I knew the songs so it just seemed like a natural easy thing to do.
At the time was it weird for you to be spearheading an album in the center role when you were so used to studio work and being a sideman?
It was sort of odd, but then again, I didn't get to act out and play the real role of an artist and be on the road with a band playing these songs. I didn't try to do that because it didn't go that far. I think the only thing I did regarding that album as a solo artist was one TV show in Los Angeles and that was about it. I've never performed that album anywhere.
Is that something you'd be open to if somebody wanted you to perform those songs?
Oh yeah, it's not a problem. If there was interest and it was looking good, yeah, I'd get a band together and hit the road in a minute. I'd do my share to pick up the bag and go. I'll just be honest, I'm not gonna get out and promote it or do anything to try to help it.
The B side of this album seems to move really quick and the songs almost seem to fit together like one big piece. Was that a goal in the production?
Yeah, I think we did it as a medley because I didn't want to play the whole song but I wanted to play several songs, so it was just a matter of picking songs that flowed together. So yeah, it was intentional. I don't know, but that's the way it turned out [laughs].
After the album came out, did you ever have a goal to release more solo material or work on your own side projects?
In the last five years I've been planning to do another album. I've been thinking, it's been 40 years, time to do another album, so I've got like five songs together on another album. It's taken a couple years to do that because the phone keeps ringing and I keep playing on sessions and touring occasionally. So I've put my stuff on the back burner because the other stuff is just natural. Doing an album as a solo artist is something new and different for me. But yeah, I'm working on one is the quick answer, but no, through the years I've never thought about it much until now. But without doing [solo albums] I've been able to be what I grew up to be: a sideman and a songwriter. I've been very fortunate in both areas. People record my songs sometimes and sometimes I have a hit - it's been a while - and I'm always recording an album with someone or touring. The band gig is still going on, it's called Pegi Young and the Survivors. I'm a member of that band and we've got three or four albums and we're just about to finish another one. I just like the various things going on in music, I like the variety of things to do. Right now I could get a band together in a heartbeat, but I'm not going to until I want to and I don't think anyone can make me want to except myself.
Given how many different eras of music you've lived through, do you think the nature of session work changed over the years?
No, not really, I think the ideas are still the same. An artist, even if they write their own songs, the great ones will pretty much just sit and play you their songs, and the next time you'll play along with them. We still do a lot of live recording with singers and bands. The other side of the coin - what you're talking about - is where you piece stuff together one piece at a time. That's a little different than the old days. More tracks are available now than there were in the 60s; one or two or three tracks back then, now it's endless. On the other hand, there was something wonderful about being forced to play together and listen to each other, because if I messed up on a part or somebody else did, then everybody has to do it again together. So it's really something about working together that makes you focus. You can't fix it later, you gotta do it now. That's sort of special.
Spooner Oldham's Potluck is out now on CD and vinyl on Light In The Attic Records.