Today we got a peek of Spring. Since we have arrived here in Red Bay, Alabama, the weather has been mostly wet and cold. We have had an isolated day or two where the sun was shining and the temperatures snuck into the mid-60s. However, this only happened during brief hiatuses between cold fronts that were bearing down on us, one after another after another. Sigh!
This week is going to be different. The forecast for the week is sun, sun and more sun, with temperatures building toward the 80s as the week matures. There is another cold front coming toward us but it should not arrive until this coming weekend.
To celebrate the arrival of Spring, we hopped into our little Fiat and drove about an hour north to Florence, near the Tennessee border. We wanted to visit the Helen Keller home, a Frank Lloyd house, and the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio.
I will write about the Helen Keller home tomorrow, along with our brief visit to the Frank Lloyd house (it was closed so we could not go inside) tomorrow. Today, I am focusing on our visit to the sound studio.
It was kind of odd for us to go to a sound studio for a tour. We love music but are not real music aficionados. However, we thought that since we were in the area and there really is not much up here to see, we would take the chance and drive over to the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio because so many great artists have cut recordings here, especially in our hey days of the late 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.
To put this in better perspective, you need to understand that this studio was created way back in the hippy era, when drugs, booze and free love was the credo. Back then, young people were a bit more willing to take a risk and start up something that was their dream. In this case, there were four musicians, who played backup at the FAME (Florence Alabama Music Enterprises) studio. They were Barry Beckett (keyboards), Roger Hawkins (drums), David Hood (bass), and Jimmy Johnson (guitar) and they called themselves the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section. Their nickname, “The Swampers”, was given to the group by the music producer Denny Cordell during recording sessions for Leon Russell because of their “funky, soulful Southern “swamp” sound”.
When the owner of FAME offered the foursome, a longer contract locking them to both the studio and a major New York music label, they decided it was not for them so they refused the contract and left to form their own studio. With no money and a pipe dream, they leased a little building that was a former casket sales room which was located right across from a cemetery. A minister had renovated the old building into a little music studio so he could practice and record his church’s choir.
When Jerry Wexler of Atlantic Records heard that the Swampers were trying to open up their own studio, he offered to invest in their enterprise as well as bring them some up and coming artists. And, as they say: “The rest is history”. Through the years the Muscle Shoals Music Studio recorded such music giants as The Rolling Stones, Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, Willie Nelson, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Joe Cocker, Levon Helm, Paul Simon, Bob Seger, Rod Stewart, Cher and Cat Stevens. Over 75 gold and platinum songs were recorded there. The studio at this location closed in 1979, and the recording facility was moved to new premises at 1000 Alabama Avenue.
To give you examples of what songs were recorded, I have put together some samples below. Just in case you are not familiar with the titles, you can click on the audio bar below the listing and listen to the song.
- “Brown Sugar” The Rolling Stones;
- “I’ll Take You There” Staple Singers;
- “Wild Horses” The Rolling Stones;
- “Respect Yourself” The Staple Singers;
- “Sitting in Limbo” Jimmy Cliff;
- “”Night Moves” Bob Seger;
- “Loves Me Like a Rock” Paul Simon;
- “Kodachrome” Paul Simon;
- “Gotta Serve Somebody” Bob Dylan;
- “Valotte” Julian Lennon;
- “Torn Between Two Lovers” Mary MacGregor;