- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 14, 2014

SHEFFIELD, Ala. (AP) - Visiting a high school brought back memories for Spooner Oldham.

“This reminds me of playing at assemblies and the high school prom,” Oldham told Sheffield Junior High School students.

The Center Star native and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member said he spent countless hours during his high school years getting together with other musicians at a cousin’s house and learning music. He said he knew he liked that, and stuck with it.

With that, Oldham, who has left his mark on many hit records from artists such as Aretha Franklin, Percy Sledge, Wilson Pickett, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Jewel and the Drive-By Truckers, offered the students the same advice about selecting their career path.

“Just like it and stay with it,” he said.

Oldham, along with fellow music legends Donnie Fritts, Earl “Peanutt” Montgomery and Will McFarlane, chatted with students Tuesday during a program that began with students seeing the “Muscle Shoals” documentary. The documentary traces the roots of the recording industry in northwest Alabama.

The decades that separated the age of the musicians from those of the students seemed to disappear as they talked with the students, whose ages generally were 12-14. The musicians often talked about bands they started out in during their teen years, which helped the students relate.

“They’re an inspiration to us,” student Maggie Vandiver said shortly after the event.

Rebekah Griffin said she also was impressed by the music in the documentary and the laundry list of songs that have a Shoals connection. “It really amazes me that all this came out of here.”

Rebecca Tumlinson said it was moving to hear example after example of that famous Muscle Shoals sound in the documentary. “It’s wonderful, just that soulful sound.”

Fritts has written more than 400 songs, played keyboard for Kris Kristofferson’s road band and even had roles in several movies. He said there is something special about that local sound.

“I’ve been very lucky in my life to be a part of the Muscle Shoals music history,” he said. “I don’t think it could have happened anywhere else in the world.”

A member of the Alabama Music Hall of Fame, Fritts told students his first band was the Satellites when he was 15.

“We had a lot of fun, and we learned from each other,” he said.

Will McFarlane toured with Bonnie Raitt and was among the “five friends” inducted into Nashville’s Musicians Hall of Fame in 2009 along with Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section members Barry Beckett, Roger Hawkins, David Hood and Jimmy Johnson.

He said the first compensation he received for his music was an A.

That was the grade he earned with a band when he was in the seventh grade and translated the 1960s Animals hit “House of the Rising Sun” into Latin for a project.

“I knew music was going to bail me out then,” he said.

McFarlane said he turned down a congressional appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy after high school because he knew he was “designed to play guitar.”

Montgomery, who will be honored Friday with a bronze star on the Alabama Music Hall of Fame’s Walk of Fame, said he learned a great deal from garage jam sessions during his teens.

“Get you a good garage band and go,” he told the students. “We just all learned from each other, and you get out there and do it.”

Montgomery wrote over 70 songs recorded by George Jones, with 38 of those released as singles. He said he dropped out of school in the seventh grade, but later obtained his GED diploma and went on to get a degree at then-Northwest Junior College, graduating at age 50.

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Information from: TimesDaily, http://www.timesdaily.com/

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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