Muscle Shoals’ Place in Music History

The four cities of Florence, Sheffield, Tuscumbia and Muscle Shoals are grouped together a few miles downstream from where we are here at Huntsville / Madison on the Tennessee River in Alabama. In their “Sweet Home Alabama” Lynyrd Skynyrd pointed out that in “Muscle Shoals they have The Swampers” and here’s what they were on about …

[Please do also note the 2013/14 updates and current links below.]

1959 Rick Hall forms FAME (Florence Alabama Music Enteprises) a music publishing business in Florence, Alabama. Some early recordings are done in makeshift studios in an abandoned tobacco & candy warehouse on Wilson Dam Road, across the Tennessee River in Muscle Shoals.

1961 Success of Arthur Alexander’s “You Better Move On” funded setting up of FAME Recording Studios at 603 East Avalon Avenue, also in Muscle Shoals.

1961-1969 FAME as a studio, and as a label associated with Atlantic, Capitol and United Artists, became known for the “Muscle Shoals Sound” of the house session band rhythm section – various combinations of personnel known generically as the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section. (See FAME site for fuller details of personnel changes.) These included Duane Allman as a session guitarist and specifically, in its second incarnation, the most famous foursome of  Barry Beckett, David Hood, Roger Hawkins and Jimmy Johnson, later dubbed “The Swampers”. These session musicians were in demand and recorded with artists not just at FAME, but at Stax, Sun and other studios. Hawkins and Johnson were originally the “Del Rays”.

1969 The Swampers left FAME to set up their own “Muscle Shoals Sound Studios” at 3614 Jackson Highway, Muscle Shoals. (It seems a FAME dispute with Atlantic records over Aretha Franklin may have preciptated the move ?) For almost ten years from 1969 until 1978 the Muscle Shoals Sound Studios continued the success story of the most significant foursome of the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section at their own 3614 Jackson Highway studio. See www.muscleschoalssound.org

3614JacksonHighway

(Losing the swampers in 1969 FAME studio and label carried on with decreasing success until folding in 1974, though Hall continued to work as a producer, and organised at least two further successful versions of his session band – aka The Fame Gang 1 and 2.  The FAME studio name was resurrected in 2007, in association with EMI, and FAME have the www.muscleshoalssound.com “dot com” URL – which is misleading because MSSS actually has the dot org address above and the physical 3614 Jackson Highway studio. See 2013 Post Note – Studio since acquired by MSM Foundation.)

1978 The Swampers moved to a larger riverside studio in Sheffield, but their success dwindled until they sold-up to Malaco Records in 1985, and from then until 1999 it seemed most of the industry had forgotten the original Muscle Shoals Sound Studios, where some 400 albums had been recorded.

1999 Noel Webster buys the derelict building and, after restoration to the orginal (1969) state, they are a working studio again on April 1st 2001.

2006 Noel succeeds in getting the Muscle Shoals Sound Studios at 3614 Jackson Highway listed by the Alabama Register of Historic Places and the US National Trust for Historic Preservation, and is open for visits. See the studios, and buy the tee-shirts where ….

Aretha Franklin, Rolling Stones, Boz Scaggs, Wilson Pickett, Percy Sledge, Cat Stevens, Jimmy Cliff, Willie Nelson, Jim Capaldi, Canned Heat, Staple Singers / Sisters, Traffic, Bob Seger, JJ Cale, Blackfoot, Joan Baez, Dr Hook, Bobby Womack, Paul Anka, Cher (album named after the studio address, with the above image as its cover), Lynyrd Skynyrd, Art Garfunkel, Millie Jackson, Rod Stewart, Paul Simon … not to mention The Swampers themselves,

…. and many more, all recorded songs and/or albums.

2009/10 – Black Keys million-selling, grammy-award-winning album recorded at MSSS.

A time of posting in 2007 – both current FAME and MSSS web-sites and their Wikipedia entries [FAME] and [MSSS] (from which the above is compiled) are sparse on specific dates for particular artists, and which songs and/or albums were actually recorded there, and given the even longer list of artists with whom The Swampers recorded here and with FAME and elsewhere, and other opportunities for name-dropping-by-association, detail is hard to pin down. Some detailed research needed methinks, and a timeline. [Good NPR link here too.]

[Post Note 2011/12 – The wikipedia page still suffers confusion from the rival FAME studios these (2011) days. Still a dot.com Muscle Shoals Sound site that is in fact the FAME operation, not the Muscle Shoals Sound Studios, even though the latter name is a registered trademark. MSSS most active on their FaceBook Page these days – note link to the T-Shirts page is wrong – click here instead http://www.muscleshoalssound.org/muscleshoalssound.org/T-Shirts.html ]

[Post Note 2013 – See latest update post here and latest links to Muscle Shoals Sound / Music operations since MSM Foundation chaired by (son of Rick) Rodney Hall of FAME acquired MSS Studio from Noel. Great news that the current generations are cooperating on the heritage – just need to get the public front pages of the relevant recording, publishing and heritage operations a bit clearer than navigating the mix of Facebook and Wikipedia pages I guess, but looking good. Even better news the whole story appears to be captured in “Muscle Shoals – The Movie” due for release September 2013.]

[Post Note 2014 – See my review of the truly excellent Muscle Shoals The Movie. And for all ongoing contact see the Muscle Shoals Music Foundation.]

11 thoughts on “Muscle Shoals’ Place in Music History”

  1. You’re welcome Noel … I was realy just doing some research to untangle the dotcom and the dotorg web addresses, which confused me after I’d orginally found your site several weeks ago.

  2. Thanks for the backstory. As I was riffing earlier today, got Stax and Muscle Shoals all mixed up. They muddle together in my mind. Oh, and your wiki reference/hotlink for Muscle Shoals heads to FAME, not the Shoals…at least on my computer.

  3. Some early recordings are done in makeshift studios in an abandoned warehouse on Wilson Dam Road, (Florence or Muscle Shoals ?).

    It was an old tobacco & candy warehouse in Muscle Shoals.

  4. Thanks for that Music Lover.

    I’ll make the change. Can you let me know how you know / can identify the location ?

    Ian

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  6. I’d really like to purchase a Muscle Shoals Sound Studios t-shirt. The same t-shirt Ronnie Van Zant wore in many pictures. Please tell me where to order one if possible. Thanks very much.

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