Category Archives: News

A tale of two cities: Florence vs. Florence

Florence, Ala., is the largest quadrant of the four-city nexus known as The Shoals  a nickname derived from Muscle Shoals, the given name of one of the remaining three towns and one that’s familiar to anyone who cares deeply about 1960s-era R&B and ’70s rock ‘n’ roll.

Back in the day, two area recording studios  FAME (Florence Alabama Music Enterprises) Studios and Muscle Shoals Sound Studio  produced hundreds of recordings from greats like Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, Paul Simon, Etta James, The Rolling Stones, The Allman Brothers and dozens of other bold-faced names in the annals of 20th century American music.

Though they didn’t record it at either studio, the Lynyrd Skynrd hit “Sweet Home Alabama”  the unofficial state anthem  namedrops not only Muscle Shoals, but also The Swampers, the nickname for the group of musicians who made up the Muscle Shoals Sound Rhythm Section, several of whom still perform and live in the area.


muscle shoals sound studios

Musical Magic of Muscle Shoals

photos_3614There’s no easy way to get to Muscle Shoals. From Memphis, it’s a three-hour drive. From Nashville, only a little less. The interconnected towns of Florence, Sheffield, Tuscumbia and Muscle Shoals, either side of the Tennessee river, could and sometimes do claim to be the most fertile ground in the history of popular music, but they’re not on the road from somewhere to anywhere. The people who come here are pilgrims, not tourists.

There have been a lot of them lately, thanks to Freddy Camalier’s documentary, Muscle Shoals, a hymn to the southern soul ringing out in these Alabama backwoods, sung by the stars who came in search of it: Aretha Franklin, The Rolling Stones, Wilson Pickett, Jimmy Cliff and Etta James.

Rock’n’roll visionary Sam Phillips was born here, as was the ‘‘father of the blues”, W.C. Handy, but the Muscle Shoals sound will always be defined by a handful of songs recorded in the mid-1960s and rinsed ever since by classic gold radio. If, like me, you’ve heard When A Man Loves A Woman, I’ll Take You There and I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You) so many times that they barely register any more, try putting them on and listening. Forget that Michael Bolton exists. Imagine being in the room.

Nobody can account for the magical resonance. It wasn’t the room itself – those three tracks were recorded in three different studios – although that’s certainly part of it. Perhaps it was the Tennessee, known to Native Americans as ‘‘the singing river’’. Atlantic Records mogul Jerry Wexler attributed it to the synergy of black vocalists and young white musicians. Keith Richards credits Rick Hall, the ‘‘complete maniac’’ at the controls, for many of the greatest recordings.

May 19, 2014
by Andrew Purcell
Read more:

Muscle Shoals is Rock ’n’ Roll Heaven

Muscle Shoals is Rock ’n’ Roll Heaven

by Lee Sentell

Thanks to the critically acclaimed Muscle Shoals documentary, music lovers are finding their way to the small town in northwestern Alabama where some of the world’s greatest hits were recorded. This was the very town where, at Rick Hall’s FAME Studios and the rival Muscle Shoals Sound Studios, Aretha Franklin found her groove, Paul Simon developed “Kodachrome” and Wilson Pickett cranked up “Mustang Sally.”

In the documentary, Mick Jagger, Steve Winwood, Percy Sledge and Etta James, among others, recount tales of cutting some of their iconic hits in the Muscle Shoals area. Keith Richards stated his opinion about Muscle Shoals simply: “It’s rock ’n’ roll heaven.”

Experience the Energy of the Shoals

There are numerous venues to experience the excitement and energy of music in the four towns flanking the Tennessee River that are known collectively as “the Shoals.” Make the Marriott Shoals Hotel & Spa (10 Hightower Place; 256-246-3600; map) on the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail your headquarters for a music-themed excursion.

Start your visit at the Alabama Music Hall of Fame (617 U.S. Hwy. 72 W.; 256-381-4417; map) in Tuscumbia to see exhibits of gold records, costumes from the Commodores and Hank Williams; life-size statues of Fort Payne’s favorite band, Alabama; Tuskegee’s Lionel Richie; and Montgomery’s Nat “King” Cole. The museum is open Tuesday to Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Drive a few minutes north to Sheffield to visit Muscle Shoals Sound Studios (3614 Jackson Hwy.; map). Its cinder block facade has appeared on numerous album covers. Performances of “Swampers” Jimmy Johnson, David Hood, Roger Hawkins and Barry Beckett drew recording artists like the Rolling Stones, the Staple Singers, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Bob Seger and Alicia Keys. The Swampers were originally the FAME house band during the early to mid-1960s.

Read the rest of this article at:

‘Muscle Shoals’: Big things come from small towns

‘Muscle Shoals’: Big things come from small towns

By Danny Duncan Collum

Some of America’s best-known musicians have come from its least-known places.muscle shoals

“I Never Loved a Man (The Way That I Love You)” by Aretha Franklin. “Land of 1,000 Dances” by Wilson Pickett. “Brown Sugar” by the Rolling Stones. “I’ll Take You There” by the Staples Singers. “Love Me Like a Rock” by Paul Simon. What do these songs all have in common? Well, they’ve all got a good beat and you can dance to them, and they were all recorded between 1965 and 1973 in the tiny Tennessee River town of Muscle Shoals, Alabama.

The mystery of how so much greatness could emerge from such an obscure location is the subject of director Greg “Freddy” Camalier’s debut documentary, Muscle Shoals, which began showing on the PBS series Independent Lens in late April.

America has always had its great urban districts where artists and intellectuals collide. But it could be argued that our Greenwich Village or North Beach were only pale imitations of their European counterparts. In fact, much of our greatest and most uniquely American art has come from the hinterland, and much of that has been made by people who seemed to have been dropped into their provincial backwaters from outer space. Think of Mark Twain in Hannibal, Missouri; Sinclair Lewis’ Sauk Centre, Minnesota; William Faulkner’s Oxford, Mississippi; Flannery O’Connor’s Milledgeville, Georgia; or Woody Guthrie in Okemah, Oklahoma.

In the 1960s and ’70s this wild American lightning struck Muscle Shoals and made that town of 8,000 into an international recording center that produced some of the greatest and most influential popular music in American history. And not only were big hits coming from this small town, but those hits were mostly the result of Southern white and African American artists working together at a time when they couldn’t dine together in a public place.

Actually, lightning struck the Muscle Shoals area twice. Sam Phillips was born there but went to Memphis, where he founded Sun Studios and worked with Howlin’ Wolf, Ike Turner, and Elvis Presley to produce the records that invented rock and roll. Then, in 1960, Rick Hall came along to start the Florence Alabama Music Enterprise (FAME) recording studio, first across the river in Florence, then later in Muscle Shoals itself.

At FAME, he assembled the core band that would play on almost all of the records named at the beginning of this column, and many more. They’ve come to be called the Swampers, a name given to them in the Lynyrd Skynyrd song “Sweet Home Alabama,” and every one of those sublimely soulful musicians was a white Alabaman. In 1969, the Swampers left FAME and started their own studio, Muscle Shoals Sound. But Hall just assembled another bunch of players (this time a bi-racial group), and tiny Muscle Shoals became home to two major hit-making operations.

The rift between Hall and his original band provides a narrative arc for Camalier’s film. Each of the players in the conflict is interviewed individually, and all the old grievances are aired until finally, at the end, the Swampers are back in the studio, with Rick Hall at the board, cutting a session with Alicia Keys that becomes a ceremony of healing.

In addition to the session men and producers at the Muscle Shoals studios, Camalier interviews many of the artists who came there to record. These include Aretha Franklin, Clarence Carter, Jimmy Cliff, Wilson Pickett (before his death in 2006), Mick Jagger, and Keith Richards. Greg Allman is in the film, standing in for his late brother, Duane, who was a Muscle Shoals session man pre-Allman Brothers Band. And there’s lots of thrilling period footage of Muscle Shoals-identified artists in performance, including a clip of the Rolling Stones at work in the Muscle Shoals Sound studio in 1969.

These talking and singing heads are interspersed with long, loving shots of the Tennessee River and the surrounding hills and forests. In fact, Camalier presents a sort of neo-animistic theory about the relationship between Muscle Shoals’ sound and its landscape that is derived from the local native people’s name for the Tennessee River. To them it was “the singing river,” and they believed it to be inhabited by a female spirit that brought music to the land. When you consider what happened at Muscle Shoals in the ’60s, this explanation is as likely as any.

Of course, the Tennessee River wasn’t singing very much by the time Rick Hall came along. President Roosevelt’s Tennessee Valley Authority dammed the river to produce electricity and economic development for the rural mid-South. Today it is a wide, slow-moving body of water that periodically broadens out into man-made lakes. But it is still the source of North Alabama’s livelihood and spirit.

Muscle Shoals tells an essential American story because it is part of the great American story about race that lies at the heart of our identity and our deepest contradictions. The musicians of Muscle Shoals were not crusaders; they were just musicians. But, by simply following their muse as artists, they blew past 300 years of bad history and helped to create the future. In fact, in 2014, we’re still trying to become a multiracial nation worthy of our Muscle Shoals sound.

This article appeared in the May 2014 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 79, No. 5, pages 40-41).
– See more at:

Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine’s Beats Electronics

From now until Christmas if you purchase Beats by Dre headphones or one of those Pill wireless speakers, it will help move two Muscle Shoals recording studios – where gems ranging from “Mustang Sally” to “Brown Sugar” were cut – into the future.

Beats Electronics, co-founded by hip-hop great Dr. Dre and Interscope Geffen A&M chairman Jimmy Iovine, is allocating proceeds from all Beats products sold from Nov. 29 through Dec. 25 to “restore the iconic Muscle Shoals Sound Studio to a fully functioning recording studio in an effort to preserve the rich history and culture that it represents,” according to a press release.

The renovation will also extend to FAME Recording Studio, Rick Hall’s legendary Shoals facility.

“Magic is a word that’s too often misused in the record industry. Muscle Shoals is different, it’s one of the rare places where it really exists,” Iovine says in the press release. “Anytime you can capture such a distinct and authentic sound over and over again, that’s something worth protecting.”

A central aspect of Beats’ revival of the two studios, in partnership with the Muscle Shoals Music Foundation, will foster training for current and aspiring musicians, producers and engineers with opportunities to work and learn at FAME and Muscle Shoals Sound.

“We couldn’t be more excited to partner with an amazing company like Beats to ensure that we bring the Muscle Shoals Sound to a new generation of listeners,” Muscle Shoals Music Foundation chairman Rodney Hall says in a release. “The Muscle Shoals Sound is a funky, soulful music mash-up of great players, songs and singers, and just as with Beats, we are all about the magic of music. We think that Beats is the perfect partner for this project and we want to thank the entire Beats staff for helping to keep our sound alive.”

The tracks cut at FAME and Muscle Shoals Sound speak for themselves. “Wild Horses.” “Tell Mama.” “Sitting in Limbo.” “Kodachrome.” “I’ll Take You There.” “Night Moves.” “When a Man Loves a Woman.” “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You).” And so on.

But Dr. Dre and Iovine also have their feet firmly planted in popular music history.

Jimmy Iovine recorded Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run.” His many production credits include “Damn the Torpedoes,” the album that made Tom Petty a star.

As a member of N.W.A., Dr. Dre cut the pivotal 1988 LP “Straight Outta Compton,” which turned gangsta-rap into big business and incendiary street-art. In 1992, Dr. Dre, by then a solo artist, released one of the best hip-hop albums ever, “The Chronic,” and, later on as a producer, introduced the world to eventual hip-hop stars including Snoop Dogg and Eminem.

By Matt Wake
Read More…

Just what the Dr. (Dre) Ordered

“We couldn’t be more excited to partner with an amazing company like Beats to ensure that we bring the Muscle Shoals Sound to a new generation of listeners,” says Muscle Shoals Music foundation chairman Rodney Hall.

Nov. 27 (UPI) –Alabama’s Muscle Shoals Sound Studio — used by artists like Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin, The Rolling Stones, Willie Nelson, Paul Simon, and Bob Dylan — will be getting a shot in the arm thanks to a recently announced partnership with Beats Electronics, the audio brand founded by rapper/producer Dr. Dre.

Dre co-founded Beats with Interscope Geffen A&M Chairman Jimmy Iovine. “Magic is a word that’s too often misused in the record industry. Muscle Shoals is different, it’s one of the rare places where it really exists,” Iovine said. “Anytime you can capture such a distinct and authentic sound over and over again, that’s something worth protecting.”

According to a press release about the partnership, the project includes “restoring the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio to a fully-functioning recording studio, as well as updating the legendary FAME Recording Studio.”

Muscle Shoals will also give up-and-coming artists a chance to prove their chops.

Read more:

Read more:

The Beat Goes On

An acclaimed documentary about the early days of Muscle Shoals music has had more unintended consequences.

Beats Electronics, a California-based company known for Beats by Dr. Dre headphones and earbuds, has announced a partnership with the Muscle Shoals Music Foundation to refurbish Muscle Shoals Sound Studios in Sheffield.

The company founded by hip-hop artist Dr. Dre, and Interscope Geffen A&M Chairman Jimmy Iovine also will make upgrades to FAME Recording Studios in Muscle Shoals.

“They saw the documentary,” said Rodney Hall, chairman of the Muscle Shoals Music Foundation. “Jimmy Iovine had been looking for a project like this, to rescue a studio, for a while. They saw the movie and said ‘there it is boys.’ ”

According to a Beats Electronics news release, the project will include restoring Muscle Shoals Sound Studios to a fully-functioning recording studio, as well as updating the legendary FAME Recording Studios.

Read More…

Times Daily – By Russ Corey Staff Writer

Deep Soul

Deep Soul – How Muscle Shoals became music’s most unlikely hit factory

In January 1967 a young singer named Aretha Franklin arrived in the small Alabama town of Muscle Shoals, her career hanging in the balance. At the age of 25 Franklin was already a music veteran. She had recorded nine albums, none of which had properly captured the fiery, transcendent intensity of her voice or the rapt, prayerful beauty of her piano playing. But over the course of just a few hours, in a studio where she had never worked before, with musicians whom she had met for the first time that day, Franklin would record not only the most important song in her career but one of the greatest songs in the history of pop music, I Never Loved a Man (the Way I Love You). What made this record all the more remarkable was that the backing musicians who provided the brooding, soulful and unmistakably black sound were in fact white – country boys who had grown up in the 1950s and 1960s in what at that time was the most racially troubled state in America. Equally remarkable was the fact that the recording session would end in an explosion of racial tension that would lead to Franklin leaving Muscle Shoals the next day, never to return. She had recorded only one song. But it would go to the top of the charts around the world, and make her the unchallenged Queen of Soul.

The Fame studio, a squat, bunker-like building, stands on a busy road junction, adjacent to a chain pharmacy and an auto-parts store. Above the doorway to the studio where Franklin recorded I Never Loved a Man a sign reads, ‘through these doors walk the finest musicians, songwriters, artists and producers in the world’. It is no idle boast. Franklin was one of scores of artists who made their way to Muscle Shoals to record in the 1960s and 1970s. The roll call of names is extraordinary: Wilson Pickett, the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Rod Stewart, Paul Simon… For a brief and exhilarating period Muscle Shoals rivalled New York, Los Angeles and London as one of the most important recording centres in popular music.

You need only visit Muscle Shoals to realise quite how remarkable this was. The town is one of four – the others are Florence, Sheffield and Tuscumbia – that cluster along the Tennessee river in the north-western corner of Alabama, and are collectively known as the Shoals. The combined population is 69,000. It is a place of wood-framed houses, their porches entwined with bougainvillea; of handsome antebellum mansions – and of restaurants serving fried catfish and turnip greens. Thick forests flank the river, which rolls sluggishly in the summer heat.


Read More…

The Telegraph

By Mick Brown

Revive the Magic in Muscle Shoals

“Magic is a word that’s too often misused in the record industry. Muscle Shoals is different, it’s one of the rare places where it really exists,” said Jimmy Iovine.

Beats Electronics Revives The Muscle Shoals Sound Studio

SANTA MONICA, Calif., Nov. 26, 2013 /PRNewswire/ — Beats Electronics, LLC (Beats), the leading audio brand co-founded by legendary artist and producer Dr. Dre and Interscope Geffen A&M Chairman Jimmy Iovine, today announced a project in partnership with the Muscle Shoals Music Foundation to preserve the rich history and culture of the iconic Muscle Shoals Sound.

This project will include restoring the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio to a fully-functioning recording studio, as well as updating the legendary FAME Recording Studio. As a key part of the project, Beats will foster training for current and aspiring musicians, producers and engineers with opportunities to work and learn in these classic spaces, where legendary artists like Aretha Franklin and The Rolling Stones recorded some of the most influential songs of all time.  Studio time working with experienced recording professionals will be granted at no cost to applicants who best meet the program’s stated objectives. A portion of Beats’ holiday sales proceeds will help fund this important project.

“Magic is a word that’s too often misused in the record industry. Muscle Shoals is different, it’s one of the rare places where it really exists,” said Jimmy Iovine. “Anytime you can capture such a distinct and authentic sound over and over again, that’s something worth protecting.”

Read More… (prnewswire)

SOURCE Beats Electronics, LLC


Beats Elect. Revives MS Studios

Dr. Dre’s headphones company will help renovate and restore legendary Alabama studios

Dr. Dre’s Beats Electronics will help renovate and revive the legendary Muscle Shoals Sound Studio and FAME Recording Studio. The deal is part of the company’s new partnership with the Muscle Shoals Music Foundation.
Continue reading