Sounding Off on Muscle Shoals

Sounding Off on Muscle Shoals

by Cheryl McMullen February 21, 2018

As we immersed ourselves in all things Muscle Shoals during the conceptualizing and creation of our spring catalog, we stumbled upon some great quotes, anecdotes, and descriptions that give a really intimate insight into what was happening in that unlikely source of iconic music. Here is a compilation of a few of our favorites:
 
"There is some soul in Alabama that you can't find in Los Angeles."
– Clarence Carter
 
"You can draw a triangle from Nashville to Memphis to Muscle Shoals, and while Nashville is the country center, Memphis is generally known as the blues center. Muscle Shoals, being between those two places, has been able to combine those two styles into a real Southern rhythm and blues that was very appealing."    
– George Lair, curator, Alabama Music Hall of Fame
 
“I never really liked recording in Nashville. They just did things a different way there. It was more cookie cutter type recording and I was never into that. I liked to get the musicians together and spend hours, even days working things out and getting them like WE wanted them, not the way some song factory's idea of how things were supposed to be done. In the Shoals, if you needed a hired gun to come in and knock out some part for your song, whether it be guitar, bass, drums, horns or whatever, you just pick up the phone and call one of your friends to come over and lay it down for you. It was a kind of community environment you can't get in the big recording centers.”
– Johnny Townsend, Sanford-Townsend Band
 
"I think they just got funkier records here than they did anywhere else. And it's a lot more laid back than any other music center in the country."   
– Rodney Hall, president of Fame Studios, and son of Rick Hall
 
“It sounded and felt like a gig, rather than a recording. It was everybody trying their best to get the job done. Now, let's go eat. Be back in an hour or see you tomorrow at 10:00.”
– Millie Jackson
 
“Musicians, when they play, have a sound just like somebody's voice has a sound. Just like when you hear your wife call your name, you know it's your wife. Well, the same with your musicians. You have a sound that's identifiable to some degree, even if you try not to have that, you can't help but have that. It's like your accent. And so I guess the sound as much as anything is just the deficiencies of the building and then the style of the players.”
– David Hood, bass player, Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section (aka The Swampers)
 
“When people would ask us, ‘Why do you sound so black?’, that was the greatest compliment you could give us.”
– Jimmy Johnson, guitarist, Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section (aka The Swampers)
 
“When you’re in a small town, you don’t have the potential to pick from that you would have in a big city, and I wondered how our records could possibly be going to No. 1 with the limited schooling I had in the music business. But we cut from the heart, not from the chart.”
– Rick Hall, founder of FAME Studios
  
“We were colorblind; we just loved good music.”
– Rick Hall
 
“We tried to do things that were impossible, and we accomplished what we set out to do.”
– Jimmy Johnson, guitarist, Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section (aka The Swampers)
 
“I always wanted to back there and cut more, but then sh*t happened, and we ended up in a basement in France and we cut ‘Exile on Main Street’ there. Otherwise, ‘Exile’ would probably have been cut at Muscle Shoals, but politically, it wasn’t possible. I wasn’t allowed in the country at the time. So there’s that.”
- Keith Richards, The Rolling Stones
 
 “People arrived at Muscle Shoals expecting to meet these black dudes, and they’re a bunch of white guys who looked like they worked at the supermarket around the corner.”
– Bono, on The Swampers
 
“[Jerry Wexler] said, ‘Roger, you’re a great drummer.’ And all of a sudden, I just kind of relaxed and became a great drummer, just like he said I was.”
– Roger Hawkins, drummer, Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section (aka The Swampers)
 
And we simply couldn’t omit one of the most vivid and comical visual images/stories that was shared out of the FAME Studio:

“It just so happened that the roof leaked in our studio right over the recording console, and as a short term fix, we taped sanitary pads across the ceiling just to absorb the water so it wouldn't drop down on the recording console. So we had Paul Simon, who's got hit record after hit record walking in and seeing this place with Kotex on the ceiling. He must have thought, what in the world have I gotten myself into?”
– David Hood, bass player, Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section (aka The Swampers)
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Cheryl McMullen
Cheryl McMullen

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