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.
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