The toilet seat hanging on the wall in the spot where Mick Jagger wrote “Wild Horses” in December 1969 remains a strange good-luck charm for musicians at legendary Muscle Shoals Sound Studios in Sheffield, Ala.
Not exactly a classic memento, perhaps, but such is the irreverent nature of rock ’n’ roll. And it’s not the only artifact lying around: Nearby is the B3 Hammond organ that Eric Clapton’s band used to record the 1970 monster hit “Layla.”
“The place was kind of surreal,” Columbus native Jason Humphress said. “It’s three-fourths working studio and one-fourth informal museum.”
To look at the weary-looking stone structure from the outside, you wouldn’t know that it has earned a spot on the National Register of Historic Places. But when it has hosted the likes of such pop-rock luminaries as Jagger’s Rolling Stones, Aretha Franklin, Joan Baez, Rod Stewart, Bob Seger, Linda Ronstadt, Willie Nelson, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Boz Skaggs, what can you expect?
About King’s Haze
Northern Alabama rock band King’s Haze, featuring guitarist and lead vocalist Jason Humphress, a Columbus native and former Columbus East High School student
“King’s Haze,” an independent, six-song disc recorded at Muscle Shoals Sound Studios in Sheffield, Ala. Available at kingshaze.com, iTunes, CD Baby and elsewhere online
Nightspots, festivals and such in Alabama
Humphress’ Alabama-based rock band, King’s Haze, arrived there a few months ago with a single objective: to record its original, self-titled, six-song, extended play disc all in one shot, with no fancy editing or polishing effects.
“When you hear the record, you hear our mistakes,” guitarist and lead vocalist Humphress, 35, said, speaking by phone from his home in Toney, Ala., where he works full time as a software engineer. “We are not purists. I think all true audiophiles will appreciate it.”
Humphress — and many other rockers before him — noted that Muscle Shoals was known by artists in the 1960s and 1970s for a gritty, rough sound on vinyl. To further capture that feel for CD, King’s Haze recorded most of its tunes live rather than track-by-track, and mostly in two or three takes.
The band formed in 2011 after members met through other groups they had performed with and quickly found a chemistry. And they’ve generated enough of a following to have been named Best Rock Band in the Tennessee Valley by a regional entertainment publication.
King’s Haze bassist and vocalist Sean Hopkins has played regularly on albums recorded for Alabama bands in recent years at Muscle Shoals. So he figured the place would be great for them, too.
Like many of rock’s notables, band members slept in the studio’s spartan downstairs the night before their first recording session in order to get an early start the next morning.
“We knew what kind of sound we wanted,” said Humphress, who played in various music groups in Columbus since he was a teen. “People know us as a live band, so we didn’t want anything that would sound sterile and overdone.”
Band members, who released the disc in June, already have recouped in sales the cost of their recording sessions. And that’s enough for them right now.
“We play music simply to support our music habit,” Humphress said.
And that habit features a musical mix that band members say catches many listeners off guard.
King’s Haze members are scarcely afraid to boldly and abruptly shift gears — right in the middle of a tune. The disc’s opening cut, “The Route,” serves as a fine example.
“A lot of people like the fact that, on that song, about a minute or two in, we go (instrumentally) from an Iron Maiden metal sound to straight-ahead reggae,” Humphress said with a laugh.
Not that they planned such an extreme. The trio has been learning to allow the muse to take a detour.
“We can be jamming on a heavier riff,” Humphress said, “and then, all of a sudden, go into a jazz riff just to amuse ourselves.”
Drummer Rashard Phillips feels no need to explain it.
“It just happens,” he said. “That’s the beauty of playing with these guys, having the freedom to branch out.”
It helps that the three know varied sounds and styles and possess the skills to move comfortably from one genre to the next.
Variety is the spice of life during the band’s eight live shows — on average — per month, according to Humphress. And King’s Haze’s performances sometimes stretch beyond even Springsteen-esque bounds. Some go four hours.
“You can’t get people to continually come to your shows playing the same songs the exact same way over and over again,” Humphress said.
But the group that has played cover songs ranging in style from The Commodores to Metallica has just once performed that classic song of the South, “Sweet Home Alabama.”
No offense to the state, they say. It’s simply not their style.
Humphress jokingly told a crowd that requested the anthem, “We don’t play any cover request not written down on the back of a $100 bill.”
Listeners took him literally, and performers and audience alike ended up richer that night for the experience.
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