On the trip down to Clarksdale and the famed Crossroads, we took a detour and ran on up to Muscle Shoals, Alabama. If you don’t know the whole story about Muscle Shoals, you really need to check out the new movie documenting the phenomena surrounding the area and the music that came out of there.
In a nutshell, there were two important studios in Muscle Shoals that contributed to the Muscle Shoals Sound. One is FAME and the other is Muscle Shoals Sound.
Much of the story revolves around a gentleman named Rick Hall and a group of musicians known as The Muscle Shoals Sound Rhythm Section… known as the Swampers. The original rhythm section ultimately left FAME Studios to open Muscle Shoals Sound Studio.
FAME Studios, founded by Rick Hall, was first located above a drugstore in Florence, Alabama. After his first hit recording, Arthur Alexander’s “You Better Move On,” Hall used the profits to build FAME Studio’s current location on Avalon Avenue in Muscle Shoals. The list of artists who have recorded there include Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, Joe Tex, Duane Allman, The Hour Glass, Clarence Carter, Candi Staton, Mac Davis, Paul Anka, Tom Jones, Etta James, Andy Williams, The Osmonds, Shenandoah, and many others.
The Muscle Shoals Sound Studio was formed when the Swampers left FAME to go it on their own. They were the first rhythm section to own their own studio and eventually, their own publishing and production company. Their success led to an all-star list of performers coming through Muscle Shoals all seeking to gain that distinctive sound; The Rolling Stones, Stevie Windwood and Traffic, Paul Simon, Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, Elton John, Bob Seger, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Julien Lennon, Rod Stewart, Wilson Pickett and most notably, Aretha Franklin. In fact, not many people realize that the “Queen of Soul” got her driving sound from a Caucasian rhythm section… the Swampers.
Be sure and check out Greg Camalier’s documentary Muscle Shoals, about Rick Hall, FAME, and the Swampers ultimate departure to form Muscle Shoals Sound Studios. The film is available in the iTunes Store and includes interviews with Bono, Alicia Keys, Mick Jagger, and Keith Richards.