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FAME Studios and its Muscle Shoals

It happened a few times in the ’60s and ’70s that a major star descended on Muscle Shoals, Alabama, seeking to tap into all the mysterious forces that spawned classics like Percy Sledge’s “When a Man Loves a Woman” and Jimmy Hughes. “Dodge.” For some reason, this little corner of the world was producing world-class hits, seemingly out of nowhere.

The studio behind the magic was the all in wall Rick Hall, FAME Studios. The glamorous, unfettered establishment was home to a gang of top-notch session musicians, The Swampers (of Lynyrd Skynyrd fame), who put an unmistakable spin on everything they touched. The heavy production of Swampers and Hall, coupled with the virtually distraction-free zone, won gold several times throughout the 60s.

Rick Hall, founder of FAME Recording Studios, inside the FAME studio in Muscle Shoals, Alabama (Photo by Carol M. Highsmith/Buyenlarge/Getty Images)

After a disagreement spawned an offshoot at the head of Swampers called Muscle Shoals Sound Studio, the two studios shared the vast wealth of talent coming to the area, both becoming the backdrop for far too many great songs to focus on one. Below we review 10 of the best songs recorded at FAME Studios and Muscle Shoals Sound.

1. “Mustang Sally”—Wilson Pickett

Although this R&B classic was originally recorded by Mack Rice in 1965, it enjoyed greater popularity when Wilson Pickett covered it the following year.

Once FAME Studios caught the eye of Jerry Wexler at Atlantic Records, he sent Pickett there to record “Mustang Sally” along with another of his classic hits, “Land Of 1,000 Dances.” Pickett’s session of “Mustang Sally” almost ended on the cutting room floor – literally. After Pickett completed his last take, the tape flew off the reel and shattered into pieces. Session engineer Tom Dowd then cleared the room and painstakingly pieced together the tape, saving what would become one of the biggest soul hits of the 60s.

2. “When a man loves a woman” – Percy Sledge

Pretty green for the recording process, Percy Sledge was a hospital nurse by trade when he stepped in front of the microphone to record “When a Man Loves a Woman” at Muscle Shoals Sound.

“At that time, Percy had never sung on a record before,” says Jimmy Johnson, who recorded the session. “And the performance he gave was so perfect and so good it was almost hard to believe it was his first time. I think he was scared to death when he came that day, but he feels quite lonely when you look at some people in the control room because you have a microphone in front of you. But I’ll tell you what, that voice over there…”

3. “I’ll Take You There” – The Core Singers

Producer Al Bell signed The Staple Singers to Stax Records in 1968. By then, The Staples had moved away from protest songs and into what they called “message music”. The first two albums under the Stax contract, Soul folk in action and We will overcomesaw a lackluster response.

Bell decided to take The Staples to Alabama and let them record with the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, aka The Swampers. It was during these sessions that the band found the sound that would make them stars and in August 1971 they recorded their hit ‘I’ll Take You There’.

4. “I’d Rather Be Blind” – Etta James

Etta James recorded both “Tell Mama” and “I’d Rather Go Blind” at FAME Studios. Her sessions came at a time when the powerhouse singer was trying to curb heroin addiction. The move to the Muscle Shoals studio both took her away from the temptations of city life and provided her with new musical inspiration.

R&B singer Etta James recording with the house band Fame Studios circa 1967 in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. On guitars, Jimmy Ray Jenkins and Albert Lowe. Her arm is around her 1st husband Billy Foster who is uncredited on the recording. (Photo by House Of Fame LLC/Michael Ochs Archive/Getty Images)

One of the Swampers, David Hood, recalled James nailing “I’d Rather Go Blind” in one take, saying, “It was a pretty simple song, but his performance was great and apparently our performances were good. too.”

“I’d Rather Go Blind” and “Tell Mama” became one of the most acclaimed double-sided singles of the era and enduring hits.

5.Old school rock and roll” – Bob Seger

Bob Seger recorded many of his signature tunes with the Swampers to back him up. The session musicians sent Seger a demo of what would become “Old Time Rock and Roll” in the middle of the recording sessions for his 1984 album. stranger in town.

Although the song was recorded, in part, in Detroit, it has that signature rhythm section of the Swampers from their time at Muscle Shoals Sound, which amps up the groove.

6.”preacher’s daughter

As any Lynyrd Skynyrd fan knows, their debut album, Pronounced ‘Lĕh-‘nérd’ Skin-‘nérdwas released in 1973. However, diehards will know that an entirely different album was to be their first album – an album full of songs recorded at Muscle Shoals.

The first demos were recorded between 1971 and 1972 and were eventually scrapped in favor of what would become pronounced. For years, fans knew nothing about the recordings until a plane crash claimed the lives of vocalist Ronnie Van Zant and guitarist Steve Gaines. After the tragic accident, the surviving members released the Muscle Shoals recordings in their entirety on First and… last of Skynyrd.

One of those songs was the lamenting “Preacher’s Daughter,” which showcases all the best of Skynyrd’s original lineup. Not to mention, they enjoyed their time at Muscle Shoals so much that they felt compelled to champion the state in what is arguably one of the greatest anthems of all time, “Sweet Home Alabama” – Now Muscle Shoals got the Swampers / And they’re known to pick a song or two

7. “The first cut is the deepest” – Rod Stewart

Rod Stewart recorded his version of Cat Stevens’ classic “The First Cut Is the Deepest” at Muscle Shoals Sound Studio.

Released as a double A-side single with “I Don’t Want to Talk About It”, the cover became a hit on both sides of the Atlantic. As with many other artists who visited the two Muscle Shoals studios, the sessions transformed Stewart’s sound in the mid-60s.

8. “Kodachrome” – Paul Simon

According to the Swampers, Paul Simon wanted to come to the Muscle Shoals Sound studio to record a song – “Take Me To The Mardi Gras” – after hearing the Staple Singers’ “I’ll Take You There”. After nailing the song in one take, Simon and the Swampers were stuck figuring out what to do with the next four days he blocked out.

Simon finally sat down in the middle of the floor and started playing guitar riffs. “If you hear something you want to record, let me know,” he said. Together they ended up choosing the honky-tonk flavored “Kodachrome” with over two-thirds of what would become his 1973 album, He go rhymin’ Simon.

9. “Wild Horses” – The Rolling Stones

The Rolling Stones headed to Muscle Shoals for a three-day recording session that would result in three of Sticky fingers’ most iconic pieces. Channeling the area’s swamp music, the Stones wrote and recorded “Brown Sugar,” “You Gotta Move,” and our chosen track for this list, “Wild Horses.”

“Muscle Shoals Studio was in this pretty interesting place. Being there makes you do it slightly differently,” Jagger said, crediting the studio. sticky fingers‘ its now iconic. Deviating from their usual blues-tinged material, on “Wild Horses,” the Stones took a left turn into classic country music. With a simple acoustic riff in “Nashville tuning,” it seems the trip down south was worth it because it’s hard to imagine this song would have come from the Stones any other way.

10. “I’ve never loved a man (like I love you)” – Aretha Franklin

It’s hard to imagine a time when Aretha Franklin wasn’t at the top of the charts after charts. But that was the reality before she visited FAME studios in 1967. The old producers had the queen of soul sing jazzy, pop hits that dulled her. Hall and the Swampers let her voice free, which allowed Aretha to finally find the sound that would take her to the top.

A song from the FAME sessions was “I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You)”. Despite a disagreement between Hall and Franklin’s husband, Ted White, ending the sessions early, the slow-burning number became the title track of his breakthrough album and gave the world a first taste of what was to come with Franklin. – pulsating, heart-shaking soul.

Photo: Atlantic Records