Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama turns 50 this year.
A few years back, Debbie and I were in a 8th row center Nashville Symphony Hall seat to watch The Swampers, along with Booker T. & the MGs, Buddy Holly’s Crickets, and Dwayne Eddy inducted into the Musicians Hall of Fame.
What a night it was including surprise introductions by Keith (small and twitchy) Richards and Kid (shockingly good) Rock.
At The Wall Street Journal, Matthew Kronsberg explains the history of the studio, writing:
IN DECEMBER OF 1969, four days before they’d take the stage at California’s Altamont Raceway, the Rolling Stones traveled to the small northwest Alabama textile town of Florence and checked into a Holiday Inn. From there, they shuttled back and forth across the Tennessee River to the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio, where over the course of three nights, they cut the songs “You’ve Got to Move,” “Brown Sugar,” and “Wild Horses,” which Keith Richards wrote while sequestered in the studio’s tiny bathroom. In his autobiography, “Life,” Mr. Richards reminisced that the studio “was the crème de la crème, except it was just a shack in the middle of nowhere.”
Keith had a point. This corner of Alabama could feel like the middle of nowhere. Florence, surrounded by cotton fields, was an hour’s drive from the nearest interstate. Sheffield, where the studio was, had a Ford plant that cast aluminum auto parts. Adjacent to Sheffield was the studio’s namesake, Muscle Shoals, home of the powerhouse for the massive Wilson Dam. Then there was Tuscumbia, famous as the birthplace of Helen Keller. Collectively, the group of towns is known as the Shoals.
What made the studio the crème de la crème was the reputation of the men who opened it—a group of studio musicians that became known as the Swampers. As the mid-60s house band at Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, they played on everything from Aretha Franklin’s “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You,)” to Etta James’s “Tell Mama” to Wilson Pickett’s “Land of 1,000 Dances.” When the musicians left Fame in 1969 to open Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in a former casket showroom in Sheffield, artists followed. Beyond the local musicians’ skill, record labels favored the Shoals because they knew the artists they sent there could work without distraction, temptation or notice. Even into the ’80s, these were dry towns in dry counties; you had to drive up to Tennessee (or know a bootlegger) to buy booze. “When people came here to record with us, all they could do at night was go home to the hotel, because there was nothing else to do,” remembers David Hood, the Swampers’s bassist.
This year, as the still-active studio celebrates its 50th Anniversary, it looks much as it did when its stone facade was immortalized on the cover of the first album recorded there, Cher’s “3614 Jackson Highway.” A legend that still manages to be obscure, the studio draws about 12,000 visitors a year, with about a third hailing from overseas, said Judy Hood, David’s wife, who leads private “Swampette” tours of both Muscle Shoals Sound and Fame studios.
Read more here.
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