After leaving FAME I was really losing my mind, you guys. I had to go park and have some quiet time before I could move on, to Muscle Shoals Sound Studio. David Hood, Jimmy Johnson, Roger Hawkins, and Barry Beckett started their careers as studio musicians at FAME, but left in 1969 to open their own studio, where they served as both owners and studio musicians; this is where they became known as the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section (inducted into the Alabama Hall of Fame as such). They were hailed as some of the finest studio musicians out there, with acts as big as the Rolling Stones coming into town to record in their studio. An anecdote from the documentary:
Paul Simon called Stax Records, said “Hey, man, I want those same Black players that played on ‘I’ll Take You There.'” They said, “That can happen, but these guys are mighty pale.”
(The joke here is that the four of them are white.)
I first learned about the Muscle Shoals Sound from a song.
Here, the tour was $15, and presented in a style much more suited to beginners: where Spencer at FAME is a sound engineer and apt to speak a bit over our non-professional heads (though happy to explicate where asked), the unnamed young man at Muscle Shoals Sound expected much less expertise. By this time, at my third stop of the day (and having some pre-study time put in, as a fan of these bands and having watched the documentary), Spencer’s style suited me a little better. But being in the place was, again, heady and nearly overwhelming. Here we talked a lot about the Swampers (nickname for the Rhythm Section, as immortalized in “Sweet Home Alabama” – go listen again and you’ll hear it), as well as Cher, the Stones, and Linda Ronstadt, among many others. I was amazed to hear we’d just missed David Hood, who’d been in recording just this week.
foreground to back: Wurlitzer; Rod Stewart photo; control room
original studio lounge/speakeasy, from when this was a dry county
Muscle Shoals Sound Studio
The Stones’ Sticky Fingers: three tracks recorded here, including “Brown Sugar”
David Hood’s corner
Cher’s handwritten note on her album 3614 Jackson Highway (after the studio’s address) – first album recorded here
Jerry Wexler and Willie Nelson
On my way into and out of town, I saw signs for places I’ve been hearing about in Truckers and Isbell songs for years: Russellville, Tuscumbia, Seven Mile Island; Lauderdale, Colbert, and Franklin counties. Wilson Dam, immortalized in a pair of Truckers songs by Cooley (“Uncle Frank“) and Isbell (“TVA“), respectively.
“all that backed up water had to have someplace to go”
I’ve seen some birds, particularly around the dam: American white pelicans, great blue herons, Canada geese, a few Eastern bluebirds, and throughout the area, lots and lots of American robins.
I am now exhausted and reeling from this brush with greatness. How will I recover? I just feel so lucky that there’s such good music in the world, and that I get to know about it.
If I have not entirely killed my audience with these two gushy posts, let me leave you with a Jason Isbell Tiny Desk Concert that you will not regret.