Thursday, October 24, 2013


Muscle Shoals is a town in Alabama that spawned not one, but two major recording studios, responsible for the stuff of legend.  Now a new documentary is making the rounds, and while I hadn't had the chance to catch it yet, I'm told it is one of the very best of its kind, a fascinating history that includes some of the giants of modern music.  Everybody from The Rolling Stones to Aretha Franklin to Paul Simon to Lynyrd Skynyrd made some of their biggest hits in the town, and some pretty exciting stories are told by these folks in the film.

You can't go wrong with a soundtrack from the movie either.  The only thing that could be a problem is a licensing issue, which probably explains the lack of Wild Horses or Brown Sugar from the collection, but who doesn't have those?  There is more than enough to last an hour, and really, this could so easily be a gigantic box set.  The earlier music comes from producer Rick Hall, who recorded the soul singer Arthur Alexander in the early 60's.  Alexander was beloved by The Beatles and The Stones, who both covered his stuff, and his You Better Move On was a big enough hit that Hall could afford to build FAME Studios.  His next hit was Steal Away by Jimmy Hughes, which cemented the reputation for the new place.  Both Steal Away and You Better Move On are included on the soundtrack.  Stars started knocking on the door, and the hits included here are When A Man Loves A Woman, by Percy Sledge, Tell Mama by Etta James and I Never Loved A Man by Aretha Franklin. 

Like any good studio of that time, the house band was critical.  Barry Beckett (keyboards), Roger Hawkins (drums), Jimmy Johnson (guitar) and David Hood (bass) were known as The Swampers, and split in 1969 to set up the Muscle Shoals studio, with Cher as the first guest.  The Stones followed soon after, and then it was another hit cavalcade, with The Staple Singers doing I'll Take You There, Paul Simon making Kodachrome, and Lynyrd Skynyrd putting down the original Free Bird.  Add a few wild cards to the lineup, such as Jimmy Cliff's Sitting In Limbo, and Wilson Pickett's Hey Jude with Duane Allman sitting in, and you have a heck of a collection.

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