Muscle Shoals, Alabama  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Muscle Shoals is a city in Colbert County, Alabama, United States. As of 2007, the United States Census Bureau estimated the population of the city to be 12,846. It is famous for its contributions to American popular music.

Music

Muscle Shoals is known for recording many hit songs from the 1960's to today at two studios: FAME Studios, founded by Rick Hall, where Arthur Alexander, Percy Sledge, Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding and numerous others recorded; and Muscle Shoals Sound Studio, founded by the musicians known as The Swampers, which developed work for Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, the Rolling Stones and others. While the music from the area is often referred to as the "Muscle Shoals Sound", all four of the Quad Cities have significantly contributed to the area's musical history.

In addition to being home to country music band Shenandoah, a number of artists have visited Muscle Shoals to write and record. Both FAME Studios and Muscle Shoals Sound Studio are still in operation in the city. While famous for classic recordings from Rod Stewart, Aretha Franklin, Eric Clapton, Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Rolling Stones, and The Allman Brothers, recent hit songs such as "Before He Cheats" by Carrie Underwood and "I Loved Her First" by Heartland continue the city's musical legacy. George Michael recorded an early, unreleased version of "Careless Whisper" with Jerry Wexler in Muscle Shoals in 1983.

Fans of Muscle Shoals music visit the local landmarks. While most of the city's recording studios are still active, the majority will allow tours with an appointment. Further, a number of rock, R&B and country music celebrities have homes in the area surrounding Muscle Shoals (Tuscumbia), or riverside estates along the Tennessee River, and often perform in area nightclubs, typically rehearsing new material.

Unusual was the cross-pollination of musical styles that originated in Muscle Shoals. Black artists from the area such as Arthur Alexander and James Carr used white country music styles in their work, and white artists from the Shoals frequently borrowed from the blues/gospel influences of their black contemporaries, creating a distinct sound.

Sam Phillips, founder of Sun Records, lived in the area and stated in his autobiography that Muscle Shoals (primarily radio station WLAY (AM), which had both "white" and "black" music on its playlist) influenced his merging of these sounds at Sun Records with Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash.

Rolling Stone editor David Fricke wrote that if one wanted to play a single recording that would "epitomize and encapsulate the famed Muscle Shoals Sound", that record would be "I'll Take You There" by The Staple Singers. After hearing that very song, American songwriter Paul Simon phoned his manager and asked him to arrange a recording session with the musicians who had performed it. Simon was surprised to be told that he would have to travel to Muscle Shoals to work with the artists. After arriving in the small town, he was introduced to the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section ("The Swampers") who had recorded this song with Mavis Staples. Expecting black musicians (the original Rhythm Section consisted only of white musicians), and assuming that he had been introduced to the office staff, Simon politely asked to "meet the band". Once things were sorted out, Simon recorded a number of tracks with the group, including "Loves Me Like a Rock", "Kodachrome" and "Still Crazy After All These Years".

When Bob Dylan told his record label that he intended to record Christian music, the initially dismayed label executives insisted that if he planned to pursue the project, he must, at least, record the work in Muscle Shoals, as they felt it would provide the work "some much-needed credibility". (Dylan was not previously known for his overtly religious pronouncements, and some were worried that his efforts would be taken as satirical; recording in the Bible Belt, it was thought, might avert a disaster.) Dylan subsequently recorded two Christian albums in The Shoals. The resulting albums (Slow Train Coming and Saved) were recorded at Muscle Shoals Sound Studios.

The members of the Muscle Shoals Sound Rhythm Section were Pete Carr (lead guitar), Jimmy Johnson (guitar), Roger Hawkins (drums), David Hood (bass guitar) and Barry Beckett (keyboards).

More recently, Florence native Patterson Hood, son of "Swamper" David Hood, has found fame in his own right as a member of the alternative rock group Drive-By Truckers. The top two finishing finalists on the 2007 season of country-music singing competition Nashville Star, siblings Zac Hacker (second place) and Angela Hacker (winner), are from Muscle Shoals. In 2008, State Line Mob, a Southern rock duo group formed by singer and songwriters Phillip Crunk (Florence native) and Dana Crunk (Rogersville native), released their first CD, Ruckus, and won two Muscle Shoals Music Awards for 2008 for (Best New Artist) and Best New Country Album) of the year.

Although Muscle Shoals has receded somewhat from its 1960s and 1970s status as "Hit Recording Capital of the World" (as a sign near the airport once read), there is a group of young, local musicians that are making waves again in the musical world. These include Drive-By Truckers, The Civil Wars, Dylan LeBlanc, Gary Nichols, Jason Isbell, State Line Mob, Eric "Red Mouth" Gebhardt, Fiddleworms, and BoomBox.

The second Muscle Shoals Sound Studios, located at 1000 Alabama Avenue in Sheffield, closed in 2005 and now houses a movie production company.

The original Muscle Shoals Sound Studio building at 3614 Jackson Highway is open daily for tours as a historic museum. It has been restored to its 1970s state.

In music

right|thumb|375px|FAME Recording Studios in Muscle Shoals (photograph by Carol M. Highsmith) Sister city Florence, Alabama, is frequently referred to as "the birthplace of the Blues". W. C. Handy was born in Florence and is generally regarded as the "Father of the Blues". Every year since 1982, the W. C. Handy Music Festival is held in the Florence/Sheffield/Muscle Shoals area, featuring blues, jazz, country, gospel, rock music and R&B. The roster of jazz musicians known as the "Festival All-Stars", or as the W. C. Handy Jazz All-Stars, includes noted musicians from all over the United States, such as guitarist Mundell Lowe, drummer Bill Goodwin, pianist/vocalist Johnny O'Neal, vibraphone player Chuck Redd, pianist/vocalist Ray Reach, and flutist Holly Hofmann.

On January 6, 2010, Muscle Shoals was added to the Mississippi Blues Trail.

In 2013, a documentary about the area's musical legacy, titled Muscle Shoals, debuted at the Sundance Film Festival.

The Swampers

In the song "Sweet Home Alabama" by Lynyrd Skynyrd, a verse states:

Muscle Shoals has got the Swampers
And they've been known to pick a song or two
Lord, they get me off so much
They pick me up when I'm feelin' blue.

The Swampers, a local group of first-call studio musicians available for back-up, were given this name by jazz artist Leon Russell and constituted the Alabama version of The Wrecking Crew in Los Angeles.

When Lynyrd Skynyrd recorded at Muscle Shoals Sound Studios once early in their career, they saw the various gold and platinum records on the walls bearing the words "To The Swampers", and later included it in the song as a tribute. In the 1960's there was a pond on the north side of FAME recording studio that looked like a small swamp, hence the nickname. It was filled in when the city revamped its storm water drain system in the mid 1970s, but the name stuck.




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Muscle Shoals, Alabama" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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