Meet our writers

 







Travel Logs March 2015

Triptalk'en

Sounds of Muscle Shoals

By Bobbie Green

Many famous names like Nat King Cole, Lionel Richie, The Temptations, Hank Williams, Aretha Franklin and W.C. Handy not only made it in the music business -- most of them recorded in one of two recording studios in Florence.

Tuscumbia, Sheffield, and Florence, Alabama, are collectively called "The Shoals." The "Muscle" came about early in history when the American Indians had to use much muscle to power their canoes through shallow rapids of the Tennessee River.

While touring Muscle Shoals, I visited the Alabama Hall of Fame, which features only artists that have claim to Alabama origins. I was surprised to learn there are over 1,000 people represented in this Hall of Alabamians with outstanding achievements in the music world. I was even more surprised to learn of all the legendary songs and sounds that originated here.

I counted 86 stars on the entry floor of now-famous persons that came from Alabama. I jokingly wondered aloud, "is there something in the local water that contributes to a singing voice?" It does make you wonder. The displays were grand, using videos, original clothing, and instruments, cars, and buses. I found it quite entertaining and worth a visit.

Many famous names like Nat King Cole, Lionel Richie, The Temptations, Hank Williams, Aretha Franklin and W.C. Handy not only made it in the music business -- most of them recorded in one of two recording studios in Florence.

The next stop was the recording studio that started it all -- the Florence Alabama Music Enterprises. Rick Hall, Tom Stafford and Billy Sherrill opened the small recording studio in 1959. In 1960, Rick Hall continued as sole owner. They found the name too long for their signage and the acronym FAME was born.

In 1961, Rick Hall produced Muscle Shoals' first hit, Arthur Alexander's "You Better Move On." The hit songs, and sounds have continued from that day to this.

The biggest names in the music world have recorded here and are continuing to use the studio. It is just a small building and is definitely a work place, nothing fancy here except for the bands' instruments. The day we visited a session was about to begin and the handsome $10,000 drum set sitting there looked a little out of place in this unpretentious room. Pictures of the famous artists lining the walls are the only clue of the great musical sounds originating from this inconspicuous little building.

The real story behind the success of the FAME studio was happening at the same time as the civil rights movement here in Alabama. At FAME there is and was no racial divide. Black artists came to record their songs and found their session musicians were white. Some were a little doubtful of their ability to play soul, but soon learned color made no difference; it is all about the music. They have never had any racial problems between anyone working together there.

The iconic address of the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio and now a museum -- 3614 Jackson Highway -- may be as popular an address as 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. This is the iconic address of the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio and now a museum. This recording studio was established in 1969, by a group of former FAME session musicians, later known as The Swampers. This building was even smaller than the FAME building, in fact it was a former coffin factory. It sits across the street from the cemetery.

This studio recorded Cher, The Rolling Stones, James Brown, and Bob Dylan to name a few. The hits rolled out of here also. I was amazed to see the small recording booth -- so unappealing. Now when I listen to the songs recorded there, my mind's eye sees the singers standing in this well-used booth. The wide doors made for the coffins made it easier to bring in large instruments.

In 1978, the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio moved its location to a building fronting the Tennessee River. The original building is a museum and where music pilgrims from around the world want to see and get their pictures under the iconic address.

It has recently been announced, that Dr. Dre, of rapper-fame company Beats Electronics has collaborated with the Muscle Shoals Music Foundation to preserve and revive the Muscle Shoals Sound. Both studios FAME and 3614 will be updated and 3614 will record again. Everyone there is excited about the project.

 

***Sounds of Muscle Shoals pictures captions

1. This historic recording studio became FAME because the original name was too long for the signage.

2. The unique combination of musical styles that was to become known as Muscle Shoals Sound came from this recording studio.

3. The iconic 3614 Jackson Highway building was home of the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio. Many hit songs were written quickly in this small building.

4. Inside the building at 3614 Jackson Highway. It will soon will be updated and recording once again.

 

Meet Bobbie