Northwest Alabama has unique lore

Published 1:02 pm Wednesday, October 31, 2007

By By Lowell McGill
Several years ago one of our senior baseball teams played in a state tournament in Elkmont. My oldest son, Steve, played in that tournament along with several other local players. Tony Albert was the League president during this time.
There was also a man we all had come to know over the years. He was Rueben Sims, who was a native of northwest Alabama and was an official in the State Senior Baseball organization. He was also very knowledgeable about the geography and its people there. He probably did more for senior baseball in the state of Alabama than anyone else.
During those great baseball years Atmore enjoyed, we could always expect to see Mr. Sims at those state tournaments. For some reason most of those memorable tournaments were played in the north Alabama area.
I often talked with Mr. Sims about this area and I learned much from him.
Of course it was common knowledge that the Alabama Music Hall of Fame is now located in Tuscumbia. Mr. Sims used to tell us that a great Hall of Fame building would be constructed in that area. And, that is because there were so many well-known musical personalities from there. Well, he was correct in his predictions. The famous Hall is now, indeed, in full operation.
Sam Phillips, who was a friend of Mr. Sims, hailed from Florence. He later went to Memphis where he founded Sun Record Company. This is the record company that introduced Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash and several other well-known singers and performers.
Tammy Wynette was a native of Red Bay, a city located south of Tuscumbia near the state of Mississippi.
Sonny James, a cross-over singer was born and raised in Hackleberg, a small town on Highway 17, also south of the Tuscumbia-Muscle Shoals-Florence area.
Jake Hess Hess, the late lead singer with the Statesmen Quartet came from Limestone, the home county of Athens and Elkmont.
The great WC Handy was from Florence. He wrote countless songs that were sung by many singers over the years.
The Delmore Brothers, a well-known singing pair who became famous in early years of the Grand Ole Opry were natives of Elkmont.
All these are now enshrined in the Alabama Music Hall Of Fame. The amazing thing about these Northwest entertainers is the fact that Mr. Sims was personally acquainted with many of them.
The Hall not only included those mentioned but many other entertainers from throughout the state of Alabama.
There is Randy Owen and the group "Alabama" from Fort Payne. Nat "King "Cole was from Montgomery and Hank Williams from either Georgiana or McWilliams, depending with whom you are talking.
The Louvin Brothers were from Henagar, a small town in Northeast Alabama.
Other performers include The Commodores, Rick Hall, William Levi Dawson, Erskine Hawkings, Martha Reeves, Percy Sledge and many more.
The Hall, located practically in the center of that tri-city area, is the home to countless thousands of visitors each year. Special funds, recently awarded the Hall from a dispute with some record companies are being used for special educational projects for children according to a report by the Associated Press a couple of weeks ago.
On a personal note, I played many Sonny James hits when I worked at WATM back in the 1950s. My wife came through Hackleburg on our trip home from that tournament. We saw where he formerly lived and talked with some of his relatives and friends. They told us he was just an "ordinary" young man reared in a small town environment. He sang at churches as a youth but taught himself how to play the guitar. Once he was 'discovered" his career took off in the country field of music, only to cross over to the popular field where many of his songs remained on top for several years.
I get in a very "nostalgic" mood when I think back to those days when my sons played in those state tournaments up in north Alabama. Mr. Sims was a" fixture" to all of us. Murray Johnson and Tony Albert and all the baseball players and managers always looked forward to seeing him. Many of our baseball people probably did not talk with him about those outstanding musical performers that he knew. But, I, with my inquisitive nature, learned a great deal about them from him.
In regards to my column last week about DV Johnson and those singing conventions, I want to personally thank all of you who have called me and who emailed me. It is gratifying to know that our columns bring back nostalgic memories for you.
Lowell McGill is a historical columnist for The Atmore Advance. He can be reached at

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