Trumpet player Mike Stough played a part in the Muscle Shoals recording industry before finding his niche in education.
By Kate Asbury Larkin
Mike Stough has always loved music. He played trumpet in high school, majored in music education at Auburn University, and while a student, played in several bands across campus, including the legendary Auburn Knights. His dream was to keep tootin’ his own horn. Literally.
“While I was a student at Auburn, I was at the Shepherd’s Purse to hear the Swingin’ Medallions,” says Stough. “During one of their breaks, some friends and I were talking to the guys, and they were telling us they had a problem; their trumpet player had quit. One of my friends pointed to me and said, ‘here’s the best trumpet player around,’ and I started playing with them that night.”
The group was obviously impressed with Stough’s talent and invited him to join the group.
“I called my dad to tell him I was going to drop out of school and go on the road with the Swingin’ Medallions,” says Stough. “What he said isn’t even printable, so let’s suffice it to say that I stayed at Auburn and did not go on tour with the group.”
Soon after, Stough asked his Wetumpka High School sweetheart, Jennifer Barrett, to be his wife, and they married in August of 1970, following their graduation from Auburn.
“I got a call from a musician friend about some recording activity going on in Muscle Shoals (Ala.), and he wanted to know if I wanted to come be a part of a horn section for the vocalists,” says Stough. “It definitely was not what I had in mind, but it sounded promising, so Jennifer and I moved to North Alabama where I got a job as the band direc- tor at Rogers High School (Florence, Ala.) to assure we had some kind of income.”
When the Stoughs moved to the Muscle Shoals area, there were three recording stu- dios operating: Muscle Shoals Sound, FAME (Florence, Alabama Music Enterprises) and Quinvy that attracted artists like Aretha Franklin, The Osmonds, The Rolling Stones, The Allman Brothers, Percy Sledge, Wilson Pickett, Boz Skaggs, Lynard Skynard, Etta James and many more.
“It was a hotbed for recording artists, but it was a very hard industry to break into as a horn player,” says Stough. “It was also very unpredictable; if they decided they wanted to record at nine at night, we had to be there, with very short notice. There were times I played trumpet all night and then had to be at school to direct a high school band the next day. It was exhausting.”
Stough and the horn section he played with performed almost all their music at Quinvy and played on several of Percy Sledge’s albums. Stough went on a brief tour with rhythm and blues and soul artist Swamp Dogg (Jerry Williams, Jr.), playing shows in Detroit and Fort Bragg, NC.
While Stough was working toward a career playing his trumpet, a funny thing happened while he was with the band at Rogers High School; he fell in love with teaching and directing.
“My original plan was just to teach until I broke into the recording industry, but I found out what a long, hard road that was with a lot of work for a little money,” says Stough. “Then, the longer I taught, the more I loved it, and I realized teaching really was my niche, so I decided to stay in it.”
In 1973, the Stoughs moved back home where Mike joined the staff at his alma mater as the assistant band director at Wetumpka High School. While in Wetumpka, Stough was able to continue his passion for playing his trumpet in groups and orchestras for artists and events in the Montgomery area.
“I played with the Glenn Miller Orchestra when they needed a third trumpet,” says Stough. “I also had the privilege of playing for B.J. Thomas, the Four Seasons, Diahann Carroll, Holiday on Ice, Ice Capades, Ringling Brothers Circus, the Lipizzaner Stallions, and even the rodeo, the most challenging job of all.”
In 1975, Stough was named band director at Lanett High School where he stayed for nine years before taking over the band program at Opelika High School in 1984. He retired from OHS in 1999 and initiated a band program at Springwood Academy in Lanett, Ala. When he left Springwood, he directed at Hardaway High School in Columbus, Ga. for one year, before returning to Springwood for another year. He directed the band at Alabama Christian School in Montgomery for four years, then returned home to Opelika to teach and direct at Trinity Christian School for three years. Now, Stough is semi-retired, teaching part-time at Trinity. He and Jennifer live in Opelika. They have two children and three grandchildren.
Learn more about the Muscle Shoals recording industry in the documentary Muscle Shoals.