Sunday, January 17, 2016

Muscle Shoals Has Got The Swampers

Have you ever wondered about that cryptic third verse of “Sweet Home Alabama?”

The music industry of Muscle Shoals, Alabama is almost a perfect encapsulation of the Southern experience – Yankees can’t figure out where it came from, and Southerners know exactly where it came from.

Of course, “Muscle Shoals” refers to the entire quad-city area of northwest Alabama along the Tennessee River, including Muscle Shoals, Florence, Sheffield, and Tuscumbia. In the 1960’s, the soul sounds of Motown in Detroit were sweeping through the American pop music charts as an answer to the chart dominance of The Beatles and the rest of The British Invasion. Motown was represented as the authentic sound of American soul music. The only problem is that it wasn’t.

The recording studios in Memphis, Tennessee and Florence, Alabama were busy producing some seriously competitive soul music, and it sounded a LOT more authentic than what was coming out of Detroit. Booker T. & the MG’s out of Memphis were providing backup to the spine-tingling vocals of Sam & Dave, and Otis Redding, and a separate group of musicians called The FAME Group in Florence were kicking butt behind Percy Sledge and Wilson Pickett .

In 1967, New York record executive Jerry Wexler brought newly-signed Aretha Franklin to FAME Studios in Florence to start recording some authentic soul music with some authentic soul musicians.

Aretha was wary of the fake-sounding soul coming out of Detroit, and she specifically wanted to do some authentic work with the same guys who were kicking butt with Wilson Pickett. When she walked into that Alabama recording studio in 1967 and saw a bunch of white guys plugged in and ready to play, she nearly quit.


  1. Great documentary on NetFlix I highly recommend:

  2. Alabama is a place with many surprises. :)

    Central Alabamaian