Note: Spooner Oldham’s contributions to music are noted in Alabama Musicians: Musical Heritage from the Heart of Dixie. For further information on Alabama Musicians, detailing the history of native Alabamians’ contributions to music and featuring dozens of biographies, please visit Amazon.com.
Casual fans of rock and soul music may not know the man by name, but Spooner Oldham is a star among stars who’s now inspired Belgian recording artist JD Fox to release a tribute CD in honor of the keyboardist and his career. Born in Alabama in 1943, Dewey Lyndon Oldham, better known as Spooner, grew up listening to the usual radio fare for his time and geography, from Fats Domino to Jerry Lee Lewis, from country to gospel. In the late 1950s, he began attending the University of North Alabama but became more interested in the developing local recording industry. Oldham met fellow Alabamian Dan Penn in Muscle Shoals around 1959, and the two men struck up a song-writing partnership while Oldham began playing keyboards as a studio musician for FAME Studio, joining David Hood, Roger Hawkins, and Jimmy Johnson as the early rhythm section that defined the studio’s sound by backing soul artists on songs such as “When a Man Loves a Woman,” “Mustang Sally,” and “I Never Loved a Man (the Way I Love You).”
By the late 1960s, Oldham had moved to Memphis where he and Penn continued their partnership, writing numerous songs that would become hits for the time and standard play even on today’s radio stations, from “I’m Your Puppet” and “The Dark End of the Street” to “Cry Like a Baby” and “A Woman Left Lonely,” among many others. The team wrote, by their estimate, nearly 500 songs, certainly enough to define a career as successful, but Oldham wasn’t finished and moved to Los Angeles to begin yet another phase in his musical life, playing keyboards for dozens of top artists over the years, including Neil Young, Ry Cooder, Jackson Browne, Linda Ronstadt, and Bob Dylan, to name a few. In 2009, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inducted Oldham to honor him for his long service as a sideman.
Born in 1957 in Ghent, Belgium, Jan de Vos, professionally known as JD Fox, developed an early passion for southern soul and especially for Oldham’s piano and organ work that became a defining element of music produced in the Shoals. Choosing to pursue a career in music, Fox served as drummer from the late 1970s through the early 1980s for The Machines, Belgium’s number one pop band, which recorded three albums, their first, A World of Machines, cut at the famed Abbey Road Studios in London, England. In 1989, he joined the heavy rock band Derek & The Dirt, recording three albums before his departure. In 1991, he became a singer-guitarist, combining American roots music with French lyrics, recording one album with the band Paris, Texas, and three solo albums. During that time, he developed an even keener admiration and respect for Oldham’s song-writing ability and recorded one of Oldham’s songs in 2004, “Genie in the Jug,” in French, an effort that netted personal praise from Oldham.
In 2007, Fox decided he’d had enough and said goodbye to the music business, but his love for Oldham’s songs led to him to contact Oldham personally. Reenergized by the keyboardist, Fox decided to record one more CD, this one to honor the man who had been such an inspiration throughout Fox’s life and career. The result is the newly released CD, The Roadmaster: A Tribute to Spooner Oldham, the title derived from Oldham’s song, “The Roadmaster.”
On the CD’s first twelve songs, Fox teamed up with Holland roots musicians, the Sunset Travelers. For the thirteenth song, “I’m Not Through Loving You Yet,” Fox lived a dream come true. “The icing on the cake,” Fox says, “was a trip to the Shoals, where I recorded [“I’m Not Throughout Loving You Yet”] with the Roadmaster himself. It was an honor, a privilege, and a thrill to sit next to him at the piano.”
The Roadmaster, Fox says, is a return to basics, celebrating Oldham’s songs by presenting them in their intended forms, with simple arrangements, straightforward production, and unadorned vocals. To hear samples and to purchase The Roadmaster, please visit CD Baby.