Spooner Oldham shaped Southern soul with his formidable talent.
A songwriter, producer and session keyboardist, Oldham made his mark on such classics as “When a Man Loves a Woman,” “Mustang Sally” and “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You).”
Dewey Lyndon “Spooner” Oldham is a linchpin of the Southern soul and R&B sound.
The Alabama-born musician was part of the prolific crew that made records at Rick Hall’s FAME (“Florence Alabama Music Enterprises”) Studio and Muscle Shoal Sound Studios, in the northwest corner of the state. Oldham played keyboards on such seminal soul songs as Percy Sledge’s “When a Man Loves a Woman,” Wilson Pickett’s “Mustang Sally,” Arthur Alexander’s “You Better Move On” and “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You),” Aretha Franklin’s historic first recording for Atlantic Records. He was a co-founder of the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, whose other members were guitarist Jimmy Johnson, bassist David Hood and drummer Roger Hawkins. When Oldham moved to Memphis, he brought in his own replacement, keyboardist Barry Beckett.
In 1967 Oldham resumed his songwriting partnership with singer/guitarist Dan Penn at Chips Moman’s American Studios in Memphis. Oldham has written a brace of soul classics with Penn, including James and Bobby Purify’s “I’m Your Puppet,” James Carr’s “The Dark End of the Street,” the Box Tops’ “Cry Like a Baby,” and Janis Joplin’s “A Woman Left Lonely.” The duo estimate that they’ve written between four hundred and five hundred songs together.
A subsequent move to Los Angeles found Oldham recording with a variety of artists across the stylistic spectrum, including Jackson Browne, Linda Ronstadt, Gene Clark, Ry Cooder, the Flying Burrito Brothers and many others. He played on Bob Dylan’s Saved (1980) and added his churchy, soulful keyboards to Dylan’s Saved and Shot of Love tours. He has also recorded with Neil Young in a partnership that dates back more than a quarter century.
In 1994 Spooner Oldham and Dan Penn came together as a duo for some live shows, following the release of Penn’s solo album, Do Right Man. It was their first time onstage together in twenty-five years. They have occasionally toured as a duo since then, performing highlights from their vast catalog of Southern soul classics. A 1998 tour of Britain resulted in the live album Moments from This Theatre. In 2006 Oldham backed up Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young on a tour where they performed Young’s politically themed Freedom of Speech album in its entirety. He has also recorded or toured with such alternative acts as the Drive-By Truckers, Frank Black, Bushwalla and Cat Power.
Inductee: Spooner Oldham (keyboards, vocals; born June 14, 1943)