Muscle Shoals – The Movie #2

Firstly an apology. When I first posted my summary of the “Muscle Shoals” music connection back here, I kinda damned with faint praise the FAME (Florence Alabama Music Enterprises) connection, mentioned Rick Hall as just a name, and overplayed the split between FAME and MSSS (Muscle Shoals Sound Studios) from the MSSS side, set up by The Swampers after they decided to go it alone. My one-sided perceptions maybe arose from arriving at the connections via Noel Webster then the current owner of the 3614 Jackson Highway (MSSS) Studio and a fellow Huntsville resident.
(I acknowledged the developing situation several times since.)

Since then the Muscle Shoals Music Foundation has involved the actual participants and interests from all sides of the Muscle Shoals story. Their achievement in making Muscle Shoals The Movie, makes it clear that the common success under the drive of Rick “it was war at the time” Hall far outweigh any differences.

In fact seeing the movie on DVD, the differences already presumed to involve some hitch over the Aretha Franklin sessions, turn out to be non-existent musically, and on the scale of what actually did get created, a trivial misunderstanding or lovers’ tiff. Real life stories are made of such stuff.

The movie itself is excellent by any standard.

The musical content should come as no surprise given the name-droppers heavenly list of voices and musicians involved, but the story told in the mix of a surprising amount of old footage, many old stills (uncredited Cher, Paul Simon), and the ubiquitous talking-head rock-doc interview cliches amidst the retrospective on-location monologues, tells the whole story very effectively at length. The real surprise is the cinematic production values are first-class. You get a tremendous sense of the Tennessee River location amid the north Alabama swamps and cotton-fields – even The Walls of Jericho? – enough to make me sweet-home-sick.

I loved the irony, given that The Swampers feature throughout, that you don’t get even a hint of the Sweet Home Alabama riff until the closing credits, and quite rightly since it really did happen pretty late in the story. With so much excellent material to work with, everything can be given proper balance.

Apart from learning the real Aretha Franklin story, and getting a dose of the wonderful Keith Richards “The Beatles beat us to Muscle Shoals by about 4 days!”, there are so many untold surprises that needed a documentary to tell. The Jerry Wexler / Atlantic Records / Rick Hall tie-up was central to the whole story – success that drew in the Stax and Sun artists and more from East and West for a little of that swamp magic. A bunch of nerdier-looking-white-guys-working-the-local-supermarket you could hardly expect to be doing the business, colour-blind in 60’s/70’s Alabama. You couldn’t make it up.

Worth it for the Wilson Pickett interview alone, that and Spooner Oldham’s “unblocking” keyboard riff , but packed with good stuff throughout, all orchestrated by Rick Hall – one of a kind.

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