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SurfGuitar101 Forums » Surf Music General Discussion »

Permalink North Alabama Surf Band: The history of "The Mosriters”

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Here is a little bit of Pseudo-Surf history about a band called "The Mosriters” and a track called “On The Run” that appeared on the compilation album “Surf-Age Nuggets (Trash & Twang Instrumentals)”. I’ll go ahead and spoil the surprise ending: The Mosriters’ members included Roger Hawkins, David Hood and Jimmy Johnson, better known as Muscle Shoals’ Swampers. On a personal note, I am a native of the area. Quin Ivy was my Accounting professor at the University of North Alabama and, while in college, I worked at the Radio Shack across the street from Rick Hall’s Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals. This is a summary of the history of the Mosriters from an article on Quin Ivy and his Norala (North Alabama)/Quinivy Studios by Pete Nickols:

Rick Hall, like the owners of most fledgling studios of the day, had at first kept his Fame Studio pot boiling by providing cheap-rate studio time for unknown wannabes seeking demo sessions as well as the local advertisers wanting to record their radio commercials; but as his studio came to be used more often by significant artists, he found he was now having to turn away many of these local small-income providers. So it was that his pal Quin Ivy asked him if it would be OK if he opened his own little studio directly opposite his 2nd Street Sheffield record store to offer recording time to such custom. Hall readily agreed and so Ivy’s Norala (for Northern Alabama) one-room studio came into being in 1965.

In 1965, between organizing demo and advertising work, Quin Ivy soon decided to follow Rick Hall’s lead by starting up his own record label, which he simply named Norala after his studio. Its first release on Norala 6501 was by The Mosriters (Mosrite being the name of a Californian-manufactured guitar, which had primarily been popularized via its use by the big-selling instrumental group, The Ventures).

This was indeed a Ventures-like surf-sound instrumental 2-sider, featuring “On The Run” and “Turmoil”, both penned by Don Srygley and Jimmy Johnson. Johnson had been influenced in his very early days to take up the guitar (rather than the trumpet he had played in the Sheffield Junior High School Band) when he saw Srygley play guitar for Hollis Dixon & The Keynotes at a dance held in the basement of the Sheffield municipal building. His Aunt had then bought him his first basic guitar and amp and, when the 15 year-old Johnson came back a whole $10 better off one night from a local Saturday night dance gig at the National Guard Armory in Tuscumbia, his father Ray (himself a musician and ex-member of the Johnson Brothers country duo together with his brother Dexter) bought Jimmy his first Fender, trading in his own Gibson acoustic guitar to help conclude the deal.

After playing in a few local bands with his new Fender, Jimmy settled in as guitarist in the Del-Rays. They cut an early 45 for Rick Hall at his Fame studio and, at the end of the session, Rick offered Jimmy a job as a general ‘gopher’, Johnson becoming Rick’s first ‘employee’.

Srygley and Johnson along with David Hood and Roger Hawkins made up the four ‘Mosriters’ who played on the disc and they followed it up on Norala 6502 with another 2-sider which paired “Take That” with an instrumental version of “Treat Her Right”. As you can hear, “Treat Her Right” is more rock ‘r roll/R&B than soul perhaps but a powerful instrumental rendition of the Roy Head classic, nonetheless.

The third Norala 45 featured a young Muscle Shoals native called Mickey Buckins who was trying to make it as a songwriter as well as a singer. The top side “Silly Girl" is now a highly sought after (and expensive) Northern "soul" 45 but in truth it is a pleasantish if unremarkable up-tempo pop number. Undoubtedly this disc has the Mosriters playing behind Buckins but sadly like the two previous Norala 45s it sold poorly. Buckins went on to become a key percussionist in Muscle Shoals as a member of the Fame Gang and contributed several very good songs for artists like Clarence Carter and Millie Jackson along the way. In 1969, Buckins would also engineer Solomon Burke’s great Bell album “Proud Mary” at Fame.

It seems Ivy had ‘big plans’ for the Mosriters - but all these plans came to naught with the arrival at Norala in the summer of 1965 of a certain group called the Esquires and their then unknown lead-singer, Percy Sledge ("When A Man Loves A Woman").

1966 could definitely be called Percy Sledge Year as far as Quin Ivy’s still-fledgling Norala studio was concerned. The record was a genuine phenomenon by any market standards of the time. This was 1966 and segregation in the land and therefore on radio too was still to be found most everywhere, especially in the South. As a result, very few recordings by black artists ever got enough play on ‘white’ stations to cross over into the Hot 100 pop charts, let alone get to the very top of them! With the final version of the recording being cut at Norala on 17th February, it would enter the national pop chart only some seven weeks later on 9th April where it would reside for nearly 3 months, spending two weeks at the very pinnacle of the pop pile. It would spend 16 weeks on the national R&B chart too, four of these at No.1. What’s more, it was a true international hit as well, charting in many countries around the world, with the record entering the significant UK chart as early as May and spending 17 weeks there, peaking at No.4 – and remember this chart was only a Top 50 back then so very few singles achieved such a degree of longevity. Of course, there would also be massive re-issue sales in the decades ahead but its mid-1966 sales alone gave Atlantic their first-ever gold record for a 45, awarded as early as 15 July that year.

Of course, Lynyrd Skynyrd plays a big part in the legacy of the Swampers and we should briefly fill in some more details about their visit to Quinvy in the fall of 1970.

By October 1970, Skynyrd, originally from Jacksonville Florida, had been together for five years and had already played nearly a thousand gigs. They had a manager, who just happened to be Alan Walden and Alan, as we have seen, was a long-term associate of Quin’s.

Jimmy Johnson maintains it was he whom Alan first contacted and he who got Quin and David Johnson to cut some Skynyrd demos at Quinvy. He even has a You Tube video about this. However, it is important to note that both David Johnson and Quin Ivy himself completely refute this claim.
Quin Ivy says: "I owned the first recording contract on Skynyrd and subsequently sold my rights to Jimmy Johnson for about $3,500 of studio time we had on the books. (Jimmy) Johnson's story of sending them to me to do 'demos' is total bullshit." David Johnson adds: "I first produced the band for Quin (at Quinvy) and then 'shopped' their recordings around for some months. It was only after I (was unable) to get them a deal that Alan Walden finally played the Skynyrd demos to Jimmy Johnson and only then that Muscle Shoals Sound got involved."

Johnson was especially taken with both the group’s guitar work and Ronnie Van Zant’s voice on the Quinvy demos and he believed enough in them to offer to produce an album's worth of material for nothing but a producer's percentage, although these recordings would, in fact, take place not at Quinvy but at Johnson & co’s Muscle Shoals Sound studio ‘up the hill’. Jimmy Johnson and production partner Tim Smith virtually taught the band how to record and Ronnie Van Zant would later emphasize the group's debt to the Muscle Shoals crew for everything they learned, affectionately immortalizing them as ‘The Swampers’ in the lyrics to the group’s classic country-rock hit "Sweet Home Alabama."

Back at Quinvy in the early 70’s, despite all of Quin’s best endeavors, the hits would not materialize for the studio and Ivy himself was fast coming to the conclusion that this lack of ‘current’ commercial success meant that all his eggs were going to remain firmly in the Sledge basket, a basket which, rather than eggs, now probably contained more dollar bills emanating from Quin’s production/managerial role in overseeing Percy’s live appearances than from the singer’s actual record sales. Perhaps then, in hindsight, it was no real surprise when, probably in late-1973, Quin finally decided to throw in the ‘musical’ towel, selling his studio to his faithful producer/engineer David Johnson, who promptly renamed it Broadway Sound. However, the story of Broadway Sound deserves a full assessment in its own right and is not part of the Norala/Quinvy story. Having sold his studio, Ivy said a complete goodbye to the music industry and soon departed for Ole Miss where he eventually obtained an accounting degree. With this to fall back on, in 1980 he began a teaching career at the University of North Alabama, one which would last until his retirement in 1996.

My Classic Instrumental Surf Music Timeline
SSS Agent #777

Sound is much like watered down Ventures music. Politely.. the lead guitar can't hold a candle to Nokie Edwards or Gerry McGee.
On the plus side.. The Mosrite was out for only a few years or less when this was cut in the mid sixties.. so kudos for their trying a (new at the time) guitar outside of the usual Fender/Gibson/Gretsch stockpile. The 60's Mosrites definitely had their own unique sound - which does show up in this record - somewhat. They probably had the amps turned down a bit. A 60's Mosrite through a more cranked amp is just pure raw, edgy sound - the only way to twang.
Insightful forum post IMHO
J Mo'

A fun little instrumental. I would say that calling it a "surf-sound instrumental" might arguably be a bit of a stretch, but no matter. An illuminating post with some interesting music history- thanks for that.

Fascinating, thanks SF!

Daniel Deathtide

J Mo, raylinds, and DeathTide, Thank you for the positive feedback.

I regard SG101 as an archive for the history of all things surf related, so I thought I should share these notes about the Moseriters. Being a native of North Alabama, the Moseriters are the only, albeit tentative, link I can find from the area to the first wave of surf music. But the Moseriters do show up from time-to-time on Facebook and other forums where surf and instrumental music are discussed, usually with the question, "Who are these guys?" I think the answer, when considered in the overall history of rock 'n roll, rhythm and blues, and soul music is fascinating.

The Swampers were a nickname for the second of two successive groups named "The Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section." The common factor for the two groups was an association with Rick Hall at FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals. This group of studio musicians based in the northern Alabama town of Muscle Shoals were one of the most prominent American studio house bands from the 1960s to the 1980s, these musicians, individually or as a group have been associated with more than 500 recordings, including 75 gold and platinum hits. They were masters at creating a southern combination of R&B, soul and country music known as the "Muscle Shoals sound" to back up black artists, who were often in disbelief to learn that the studio musicians were white.

The original group hired by Hall in the early 1960s was Norbert Putnam, David Briggs, and Jerry Carrigan who created hit records that brought recognition and stature to this unknown and out-of-the-way studio. This group was lured to Nashville studios for independent careers. The replacement musicians were Barry Beckett, Roger Hawkins, David Hood and Jimmy Johnson; initially called "the Second FAME Gang" but widely known by the nickname "The Swampers". The Swampers subsequently recorded, produced, or engineered classic hits by Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, Percy Sledge, The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Leon Russell, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Rod Stewart, Bob Seger and The Staple Singers. The Swampers were the subject of the 2013 documentary film Muscle Shoals.

The Swampers line up was:
Jimmy Johnson - Guitar
David Hood - Bass
Roger Hawkins - Drums
Barry Beckett - keyboards

In 1969, the Swampers parted ways with Rick Hall and FAME Studios and founded their own competing business, the Muscle Shoals Sound Studios. The Swampers and Muscle Shoals Sound Studios went on to have a long and storied history, way too much to relate here, and, of course, not related to surf music at all, but out of regional pride I'll mention just a few of the hits. Their first success, after leaving FAME,was a hit single with "Take a Letter Maria" by R.B. Greaves. The song reached number two on the Hot 100 and was certified gold.

Of particular interest to me, The Rolling Stones, newly signed to Atlantic Records, arrived in Sheffield, Alabama in December, 1969. They had been assured that the planned recording session could be kept secret. The little studio at 3614 Jackson Highway was still in its infancy with only one hit thus far plus a Cher album that was not a commercial success. Rick Hall sardonically said "The Rolling Stones thought they were cutting at FAME".

The Stones were there just three days, spending most of their time in the studio engineered by Swamper Jimmy Johnson. The first night they recorded You Gotta Move; the second night, Brown Sugar, the third, Wild Horses. Mick Jagger wrote three verses on a stenographer's pad on the spot for "Brown Sugar" which made number 490 on Rolling Stone's list of the 500 top songs ever recorded. Swamper David Hood's son who was there said "Their visit was kept a secret from most of the locals, and the world's biggest rock and roll band came, recorded and left (headed for infamy at Altamont, no less) without the conservative townsfolk even knowing they were there" On the documentary film, Muscle Shoals, Keith Richards said of the sessions,"I don't think we'd been quite so prolific ever".

The studio then began turning out hits such as Leon Russell's "Tight Rope", the Staple Singers' "I'll Take You There" and Paul Simon's "Kodachrome".

My Classic Instrumental Surf Music Timeline
SSS Agent #777

As you know but others might not, Southern instrumentals, particularly surf styled, are not frequently found. Thanks for the knowledge, I treasure this stuff.

Storm Surge of Reverb: Surf & Instro Radio

I was a huge fan of "Sweet Home Alabama", so was familiar with the legend of the Muscle Shoals Swampers, but never knew the story until now. Thank you so much for that!

You really should be proud as they had a hand in some of the greatest music ever recorded. The fact that there is something of a link to surf Instrumentals is a nice bonus.

Thanks, SilverFlash for the insight and history regarding the Muscle Shoals studio(s). The Muscle Shoals video you mentioned was available to watch on Netflix for quite a while but I believe it has been taken off now. I watched it three times when it was there as I am a fan of vintage recording studio operations. The video is available for purchase on Amazon for $9.95 and IMO is well worth watching for anyone who is interested in how recording studios operated back in the day when truly great music was the norm.

The Swampers were some truly great musicians and the part that covered Aretha Franklin's initial reaction when she first entered the Muscle Shoals studio was.....interesting.

The Sound City video is also a good one for anyone interested in how recording studios operated in the era before computer software took over. It is also available on Amazon.

aka WoodyJ

Last Mariners (2021-present)
HulaHounds (1996-2005)
The Mariners (1964-68, 1996-2005)
The X-Rays (1997-2004)
The Surge! (2004, 2011-2012)
Various non-surf bands that actually made money (1978-1990)

Last edited: Jul 20, 2020 09:43:22

Are there any surf recordings of the "Moseriters"? I would like to hear some songs by them. I know there is the one at the top of the thread, but are there more?

Last edited: Aug 04, 2022 21:33:33

Hey I found another instrumental by The Moseriters!

Hi Guy, Thanks for sharing "Treat Her Right" and for your interest in this thread regarding "The Mosriters". Hopefully more tracks will surface.

My Classic Instrumental Surf Music Timeline
SSS Agent #777

Being a native of North Alabama, the Moseriters are the
only, albeit tentative, link I can find from the area to
the first wave of surf music.

The Ramrods were from Birmingham, Alabama, and recorded this in Muscle Shoals:

Along the same lines as The Mosriters, but a little closer to a surf instrumental, here's another Alabama record from the first wave:

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