Alabama musicians continue rock legacy

Photo by BARRY BRECHEISEN-- Lee Bains III & the Glory Fires Show caption
Photo by BARRY BRECHEISEN-- Lee Bains III & the Glory Fires

Lee Bains & Glory Fires

“I approach songwriting like a fiction writer or a poet would. I revise and revise and revise.” Lee Bains

Lee Bains III & the Glory Fires fuse Southern rock, Southern soul and country music, the homegrown musical styles the band’s members grew up with in Alabama.

Alabama music may stand in the shadows of the music of neighboring Southern states Mississippi, Louisiana and Tennessee, but it nevertheless has a great legacy of its own. In the 1960s and ’70s, recording studios in the Muscle Shoals area and the session musicians who worked in those studios attracted such visiting stars as the Rolling Stones, Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, Bob Dylan and Paul Simon.

Alabama talent, too, including Percy Sledge, Wilson Pickett, Clarence Carter, multiple members of the Temptations and country-music genius Hank Williams Sr. made huge marks on the American musical landscape.

“Alabama has strong musical traditions in different genres, but it doesn’t have a monolithic style like Mississippi or New Orleans does,” Birmingham native Bains said. “Alabama has a more of a patchwork of music.”

But not being identified with a particular style, such as Mississippi blues or jazz from New Orleans, can be an advantage, Bains said.

“When we’re out in the world telling people we’re from Alabama, they don’t make the immediate associations they might make if we were to say we’re from Mississippi or Louisiana. That’s nice, to not give them those expectations.”

As for Alabama musicians who recently ascended to international popularity, there’s the Muscle Shoals-inspired Alabama Shakes, formed in Athens, Ala., in 2009. Early in Alabama Shakes’ existence, the group opened for Bains & the Glory Fires in a bar in Tuscaloosa. About 18 months later, the newly famous Shakes invited Bains & the Glory Fires to be opening act during the group’s first headlining tour.

“I’m glad for them,” Bains said. “They’re a really cool band, great people and they’ve been so good about representing Alabama and getting other Alabama bands to play with them.”

Bains grew up in Birmingham with a father who’d grown up listening to Southern soul and Southern rock.

“We listened to a lot of Wilson Pickett,’60s R&B and black gospel music,” Bains said. “All that stuff fed my musical consciousness. But it wasn’t until I was 20, sometime in college, when I realized that all the music I loved was recorded there in Muscle Shoals.

“That Southern-soul sound of the mid-’60s is more rock ’n’ roll than what people called rock ’n’ roll at the time,” he added. “ ‘In the Midnight Hour’ is way more rock ’n’ roll than anything the Beatles were doing then. That’s the direct descendant of Little Richard.”

Bains’ study for the English degree he earned from New York University in 2007 helps him to be a better songwriter.

“I approach songwriting like a fiction writer or a poet would,” he said. “I revise and revise and revise.”

Bains and a friend who recently earned an MFA in creative writing also review each other’s work.

“He sends his short stories to me, I send my lyrics to him. That works for me.”

Bains also got helpful instruction in the music business while he was a member of the well-known Alabama punk-rock band, the Dexateens.

“I kept my eyes and ears open and learned from those guys,” he said. “I learned how to tour and book shows. That was invaluable. And the songs we played night after night are such great songs. And I was playing more shows than I’d ever played before. That got in my blood.”