MUSCLE SHOALS, Ala. — From one small town to another, a common musical thread has been established even though they are half a world away.
A 14-piece band of Muscle Shoals music veterans is travelling to the remote town of Porretta, Italy, for three performances at the Porretta Soul Festival, beginning July 17. Among the singers they will back are Denise LaSalle, Jimmy Hall, of Wet Willie, and Vaneese Thomas, daughter of Memphis soul legend Rufus Thomas.
"I've played the festival a couple of times," said Jimmy Johnson, guitarist with the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section. "It's a really big deal there. It's not a jazz festival, it's a soul festival, which is the kind of music we play."
Among other Muscle Shoals musicians who will make up the band are Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section bassist David Hood, FAME Gang keyboardist Clayton Ivey, percussionist Mickey Buckins, guitarist Will McFarlane and singers Marie Tomlinson Lewey and Cindy Richardson Walker.
The Porretta Soul Festival, founded by Graziano Uliani, is in its 27th year. The town is between Florence and Bologna.
"It is a small town, but they are fanatics about Muscle Shoals music," Buckins said. "It's a big festival and a lot of great artists have been there, including Dan Penn and Eddie Hinton."
The Muscle Shoals band and appearance at the festival were organized by Andreas Werner, a native of Switzerland, who fell in love with Muscle Shoals soul years ago. He recently moved to Nashville to get involved in the U.S. music business.
"I went to the soul festival when I was living over there, and I have been thinking for a while of what I could do that would be a little special for everybody involved," Werner said. "The only thing I didn't want to do is get a small band that could not do justice to the Muscle Shoals sound."
Werner said getting to know the Muscle Shoals musicians was easier than he imagined.
"It was easy to meet these musicians; they are so open and easy," he said.
"I've been invited in the past to play the festival, but it never was the right time," Hood said. "It's a small town, apparently, but the festival is so popular they even named a park after Rufus Thomas."
The rhythm section began rehearsing locally last week, and will rehearse again once the full band is assembled in Italy, Johnson said. The musicians will fly to Italy on Tuesday.
"Right now, I'm thinking about how tired we're going to be. Jet lag affects me going over there," Johnson said. "We must play three hours a day for three straight days. But it ain't like we don't know it. It will be fun."
Information from: TimesDaily, http://www.timesdaily.com/