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The Muscle Shoals Sound
February 24, 2008 6:18 AM   Subscribe

The Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section was comprised of four session musicians operating out of the tiny northern Alabama town of town Muscle Shoals. Just four unassuming crackers who happened to have provided the funky underpinning for a huge number of hit songs by, among others, Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, Paul Simon, Joe Cocker, The Staple Singers , Jimmy Cliff and many, many others. Hey, they were the house band to the greats. Big respect to the men from 3614 Jackson Highway! [note: see hoverovers for link descriptions]

Recommended reading:
Glory Days: Muscle Shoals 1967 - 1972
Glory Days: Muscle Shoals 1972 - 1980

This short article has a few things to say about the unexpected racial dynamic at work in the Muscle Shoals story: "Apart from all the pop, rock and country hits produced at Fame Studios, Muscle Shoals Sound and the others, the scene's contribution to soul music, specifically, is fascinating in the way that it demonstrates interracial exchange in the creation of music that was soulful, funky, and very conscious, even celebratory, of its blackness." --- "...recordings made by this weird and wonderful group of musicians, who damn near created new ways to talk about race and music, and did it at the height of the Civil Rights/Black Power Movements, in the heart of Dixie".

Muscle Shoals Sound Studio: YouTube montage of images and snippets of songs recorded there. Warning: contains abrupt, spirit-jarring segue from Staple Singer's "I'll Take You There" to Bob Seger's "Down On Main Street". Ouch.

What's missing from today's music.

Working with Duane Allman.

Muscle Shoals Horns.

Curious historical anecdote concerning Lynyrd Skynyrd.

The studio's obituary. And another.
posted by flapjax at midnite (27 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite

 
Audio or video links to Muscle Shoals-recorded songs are, of course, welcomed and encouraged!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:23 AM on February 24, 2008


Muscle Shoals has also got the Swampers, and they've been known to pick a song or two.
posted by Faint of Butt at 6:40 AM on February 24, 2008


Saw them perform as part of Elton John's band during the 1973 Goodbye Yellow Brick Road tour. There was a neon light with their name over their heads, and I never forgot the name for some reason.

i r old
posted by The Deej at 6:40 AM on February 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


Some of Duane Allman's session work in Muscle Shoals appear on his Anthology Volume 1, including some of the tracks mentioned in that short piece.
posted by tommasz at 6:40 AM on February 24, 2008


Muscle Shoals has also got the Swampers, and they've been known to pick a song or two.

The Swampers are the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section: Jimmy Johnson, Barry Beckett, David Hood and Roger Hawkins.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:45 AM on February 24, 2008


Saw them perform as part of Elton John's band during the 1973 Goodbye Yellow Brick Road tour.

I believe that was just the Muscle Shoals Horns, and not the rhythm section guys, but I could be wrong about that.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:47 AM on February 24, 2008


Meet Patterson Hood son of David Hood.
posted by Sailormom at 7:10 AM on February 24, 2008


You are correct flapjax: The neon read Muscle Shoals Horns.
posted by The Deej at 7:10 AM on February 24, 2008


3614 Jackson Highway

Which was believe it or not, the title of an album by Cher (!), recorded with the Muscle Shoals crew. It's not bad. She does a decent version of 'I Walk On Gilded Splinters.'
posted by jonmc at 7:19 AM on February 24, 2008


Great post, great music. Listening to "Sitting in Limbo" now. Thanks, flapjax!
posted by languagehat at 8:20 AM on February 24, 2008


Let's not forget Spooner Oldham, who's played with everyone from Aretha Franklin and Janis Joplin to Frank Black and Neil Young. His keyboards and song-writing skills were a signature part of that "deep soul" sound that bubbled up from Muscle Shoals and Memphis in the late '60s.

And the tradition continues. The fabulous and fierce Bettye LaVette released a great R&B record last year called The Scene of the Crime. Nominated for a Grammy, the record was produced by Pat Hood at FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals and features Spooner on keyboards and the Drive-By Truckers as the backing band.

As an Alabama native, reading this thread reminds me of a quote from a much lesser band that nonetheless nails it: "We've got blues and jazz and country and western too -- we oughtta ask for 'em back after what y'all put 'em through."
posted by BitterOldPunk at 8:38 AM on February 24, 2008


Ah, The Real Shit. Thanks.
posted by Rykey at 8:39 AM on February 24, 2008


Fabulous post, flapjax. Thanks!

And speaking of musical cross-pollination: The Staple Singers' "I'll Take You There" is not just a soul song in which the instrumental solos that appear to be played by the black gospel group are actually played by some white studio musicians. It is also a soul song in which the instrumental solos that appear to be played by the black gospel group are actually played by some white studio musicians, who in turn lifted a lot of the groove from the Harry J All Stars' ska/reggae song, "Liquidator."
posted by googly at 8:59 AM on February 24, 2008


My own favourite Muscle Shoals track -- Luther Ingram - If Loving You is Wrong
posted by PeterMcDermott at 9:13 AM on February 24, 2008


And Millie Jackson's cut of the same song. Also by Muscle Shoals.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 9:15 AM on February 24, 2008


Millie's cover (the studio one, not the one in the video) is better than the original, especially with the "rap" after the song concludes, which in the studio version features a musical backing that is something I can only think to describe as serio-comic film noir funk. The production (from Caught Up) was among the top of the line for its day and still sounds fantastic. It's hard to tell who's pushing who more on the song, though, which is an indicator of not just chemistry between the band and singer (they certainly had that, at least at the time this was recorded), but the rhythm section's intuition and musical ... oh, empathy, for lack of a better word. I have no doubt that they found Millie great to work with and entertaining, which helped, but their longevity was in no small part a tribute to knowing what singers wanted and being able to deliver it quickly, but not cheaply.

p.s.: An overlooked gem from the catalog of this studio house band, one more identified with R&B/soul and rock among casual fans and many critics, is Willie Nelson's Phases and Stages. They did many more country records in years to come, but that's probably the greatest. (It's also produced by Jerry Wexler, who of course helmed the Aretha Franklin records with the core of the same group.)
posted by raysmj at 9:43 AM on February 24, 2008


Many of the Osmonds' early hits ("One Bad Apple," "Yo-Yo," "Down by the Lazy River") were recorded at the Muscle Shoals studios.
posted by Oriole Adams at 9:50 AM on February 24, 2008


I grew up across the river from Muscle Shoals in Florence. For kicks we'd hang out at Tourway Inn at 2am to catch famous people coming in for pancakes...

The Stones recorded Wild Horses in Muscle Shoals. Footage from thier arrival at our little crappy airport, with my oldest brother is in the crowd scene, is in the documentary Gimme Shelter.
posted by Marianne at 10:01 AM on February 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


It's worth pointing out here that, at its commercial peak, the Florence/Muscle Shoals area was host to a dozen or so studios. The Osmonds' hits were recorded at FAME with a different rhythm section than the one discussed here. The Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section was the second FAME studio band (with rhythm guitarist Jimmy Johnson and drummer Roger Hawkins at the core) for owner/producer Rick Hall.

The guy who wrote "One Bad Apple," however, wrote later for the Muscle Shoals Sound publishing arm: George Jackson, who also wrote "Old Time Rock N Roll" (recorded by Bob Seger over a demo cut by Jackson with the rhythm section) and ZZ Hill's "Down Home Blues." His "Aretha, Sing One for Me" is covered by Chan Marshall on her recent Cat Power album, Jukebox.
posted by raysmj at 10:03 AM on February 24, 2008


My god, what a good haul, flapjax.

(Stupidly enough, even after picking through this FPP and listening to some good'uns, my brain still plays "Pulling Mussels from a Shell" when reading the words "Muscle Shoals")

(Also, the Joe Cocker YT led me to 116 Karaoke Boulevard)

posted by not_on_display at 10:20 AM on February 24, 2008


Excellent!

Watched this last week flapjax -Tom Dowd & the Language of Music. Highly recommended.
posted by vronsky at 12:47 PM on February 24, 2008


Millie's cover (the studio one, not the one in the video) is better than the original, especially with the "rap" after the song concludes

I still listen to both versions fairly regularly and usually back to back. While Millie's version is fantastic -- I'd be hard pressed to say that it's better. It's Luther's song, and Millie's is everything a great cover version should be, but aside from the rap, she doesn't really bring anything to it that Luther hadn't already given it. It's really just a note for note, phrase for phrase copy.

It's an unusual line for me to take as I usually prefer the histrionic female covers, but on balance I still think Luther's restraint owns this one. The band are definitely better on Millie's version though.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 2:06 PM on February 24, 2008


I was just listening to The Drive-By Truckers' Southern Rock Opera on the weekend, and the quite-heavily-rockin' song Ronnie and Neal talks about all this too, in the context of the old Skynyrd/Neil Young back-and-forth. Go rock history synchronicity!
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:51 PM on February 24, 2008


stav: DBT played a show at the Alabama Theater in Birmingham a little over a year ago. When they did Ronnie and Neal, it was quite moving to hear a couple thousand fellow Alabamans shout along, "...and they met some real fine people, not no racist piece of shit!"

The duality of the Southern thing.

/fanboy
posted by BitterOldPunk at 7:50 PM on February 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


Renee Geyer - If Loving You Is Wrong
posted by emf at 2:15 AM on February 25, 2008


I recommend Jerry Wexler's decent memoir for a slew of Muscle Shoals-related anecdotes. (Yes, it's out of print but I bet your local library either has it or can get it through ILL.)

Also, any Muscle Shoals-related thread needs a little Clarence Carter and Etta James.
posted by joseph_elmhurst at 11:08 AM on February 25, 2008


WHOA! Great post, thanks.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 6:40 PM on February 25, 2008


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