At home with The Alabama Shakes

Exclusive interview: Uncut heads down south to discover America's Number One band in flux

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2010: LEE BAINS III, southern rock avatar, witnesses a formative Alabama Shakes in action…

“The first time I saw the Shakes, we were playing a show at Egan’s, a longtime favourite dive-bar on Tuscaloosa’s strip. I walked into the bar to the sound of an unfamiliar band making the preliminary noises before their set (no soundchecks here). In Egan’s, there is no stage so, when it’s crowded, it’s very likely you’ll never lay eyes on whatever band is shaking beer bottles that night.


“Talking to friends, I soon heard the unseen band crash into a cover of “Spirit In The Sky”. Covers are kind-of a no-no at Egan’s, since it’s the only home to original, weirdo, scuzzy bands amongst Tuscaloosa’s bars. But this song was such a potentially cheesy choice, rendered so gleefully, that I had to inch closer. Backed by three choogling, unassuming, baby-faced white guys, a woman of colour led the charge, bedecked in a checkered gingham dress and a red SG, hollering her head off, and making more than one of us sincerely ask ourselves, ‘Wait a minute. Do I actually like this damn song?’

“Watching the four of them interweave classic guitar-rock, Muscle Shoals soul, and garage revival sounds, I thought to myself, ‘Here is yet another band to add to my list of reasons why I love playing music in Alabama, and how the world at large will never get what goes on here.’ Of course, in that moment, I pinned that thoroughly Alabamian badge of proud obscurity to the wrong group. Within a year and a half, they’d become the most famous band to originate from the state in decades.”


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