If you’re a Southern rock fan you know the difference between music that comes out of Macon as opposed to Memphis or Athens. For a more funky sound look no further than Muscle Shoals, Alabama. From FAME Studios where the likes of Percy Sledge, Aretha Franklin and Otis Redding recorded, to the famous Muscle Shoals Sound Studio which hosted Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Staple Singers, Bob Seger and the Rolling Stones, Muscle Shoals is known for its legendary music and famous musicians.
It was this musical, artistic environment that Russell Mefford grew up in. Although jewelry was always present in his life, the young boy picked up his sister’s guitar at 15 and, while at summer camp, began playing at the opening assembly. That spawned fraternity and sorority gigs at the University of Georgia and local bookings in his home town as well.
But when it came to choosing music or jewelry there was only one choice, both.
The laid-back, easy going child of the ‘80s was drawn to stories of the custom work of his grandfather. Both grandad and dad were watchmakers, but Russell remembers his Dad talking about the creative talent of his grandfather: “Dad said Pete could take a piece of wood and carve an eagle out of it. I wish I had talent like that.”
His grandparents, Pete and Julia Mefford, opened their store in 1945, but Pete had been working in a jewelry store for 34 years prior. Russell’s father, O.T. Mefford, joined his parents a year later bringing the entrepreneurial spirit with him. Always thinking of ways to expand the business and reach a larger audience, O.T. moved the business forward.
When Russell joined he immediately sought schooling for custom design and repair. His interest took him to the more practical side of jewelry, wanting to know ‘how to fix things.’ Fixing things led to a love of custom design which is why, today, his upscale store remains vacant of many popular lines. The few he does carry have meaning, or charitable affiliations.
But the young boy who’d picked up his sister’s guitar at 15 still had a heart for music and, in 1994 Russell formed a band called the Fiddleworms. Pulled from the Muscle Shoals folklore phrase “Fiddling for worms,” the phrase describes earthworms responding to the vibrations of a saw by coming to the top of the ground. The band has played many festivals and opened for major touring acts, but they are most proud to be known and respected by their fellow Muscle Shoals Musicians.
“We just recorded our sixth album and our band has been together for 20 years now. David MacKay is our bass player and his wife, Donna Jean [Godchaux], is a former member of the Grateful Dead. She sang on our last three records, and we are so lucky to have other talented, famous artists willing to play with us.”
With his music continuing to thrive and his newly renovated, restored jewelry store receiving rave reviews, Russell was approached by international designer Billy Reid to design custom cufflinks, tie bars, and money clips for the Billy Reid stores. Just one of many accolades for the jeweler musician, as Russell’s designs also made appearances on the Red Carpet at this year’s Grammy Awards with Gary Nichols wearing Russell’s signature Sam Phillips watch. Gary’s band SteelDrivers took home a Grammy for Best Bluegrass Record! Maybe it was the watch?
Russell continues to put his passions first, splitting his time between his two loves, jewelry and music.