Columbus band Swing Shift will return to the Sounds of Summer stage at 7 p.m. Thursday at The Riverwalk. The band has played Sounds of Summer almost every year since the concert series began in summer 2007. Photo by: Courtesy photo/Columbus Main Street
June 14, 2017 11:08:24 AM
Editor's Note: The Dispatch is profiling each band slated to play for the Columbus Main Street-sponsored Sounds of Summer free concert series.
Just before Columbus band Swing Shift celebrates its 32nd anniversary next month, the group will return to the Sounds of Summer stage at 7 p.m. Thursday at The Riverwalk to entertain audience members with what they know best: rhythm and blues.
The band has played Sounds of Summer almost every year since the concert series began in summer 2007.
According to Johnny Coleman, lead singer and keyboard player for Swing Shift, getting people up and dancing is just as important as a song's lyrics.
"If they were there just for the music, they'd turn the jukebox on," Coleman said.
And of course, the singer doesn't expect audience members to have fun if the band's music and energy aren't infectious.
"If they're not dancing or they're not at least tapping their foot or telling you when you come by on break 'Man, I loved y'all's version of that song,' then you need to get rid of that song," he said.
Coleman, the only original member of Swing Shift and a key player in bringing the group together, grew up in Aberdeen and became interested in music as a teen. He attended his first concert in the early 1960s between his freshman and sophomore years of high school, when The Rolling Stones, The Beach Boys and several other bands played at Legion Field in Birmingham, Alabama.
"It made a big impression on me, and I thought 'hey, I can do that,'" Coleman said.
He was performing with bands by age 15.
Coleman moved to Columbus in 1976 and joined a group of musicians in the area in the early 1980s. Following 18 months of practicing and recording at Starfire Studio near Gardner Boulevard, Coleman decided it was time for the group to book its first gig.
As he remembers, Swing Shift was a hit during its performance on July 4, 1985. However, as some members decided playing live was not what they wanted to do, the band's makeup shifted.
Today, Coleman said about eight guys from the area consistently play with the band, including those who joined Coleman to record its most recent album in 2015.
Only four of those eight will perform at Sounds of Summer this week: Robin Roberts on lead guitar, Ronnie McGee on keys, Gary Shaw on drums and front man Coleman. Jessie Yates of Starkville will stand in for Swing Shift's regular bass guitarist, Bird Crain.
The band's name
According to Coleman, when the band was first deciding on a name, every member worked a day job, and some still do. They practiced once a week and performed mostly on the weekends, which led to name Swing Shift.
"In that day and time, if you worked at a factory, or let's say you held down a day job, and then worked a night job, too, you referred to the night job as working the 'swing shift,'" Coleman said. "Since we were a rock 'n' roll band playing at night, Swing Shift just naturally emerged."
Although now retired, Coleman was a teacher for 35 years and has taught in the Aberdeen public schools, at the former Lee High School, at Columbus High School and at East Mississippi Community College.
Coleman's fellow band members include construction workers, small business owners, an assistant high school band director and a former financial aid department director at Mississippi State University.
"You find guys that you can make some good music with, that you can write with and that you just enjoy hanging out with," Coleman said. "They become a little cadre of close people that you would help out by any means, and they would help you out most of the time."
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