Hit Capital of the World
From the first hit recorded by local artist Arthur Alexander, “You Better Move On”, FAME is one of those recording studios that made Muscle Shoals “The Hit Recording Capital of the World” and the music world started talking about the “Muscle Shoals Sound.”
Aretha Franklin’s “I Never Loved A Man” was a FAME record as were Wilson Pickett’s “Mustang Sally” and “Land of 1000 Dances”. FAME studios was just one of many recording studios in the four adjacent cities of Florence, Tuscumbia, Sheffield and Muscle Shoals. In the music industry, this area is known collectively as Muscle Shoals.
Quin Ivy’s Sound Studios in Sheffield recorded “When a Man Loves a Woman.” Later renamed Broadway Sound Studios, under ownership by David Johnson, the studio recorded The Supremes, The Commodores, Clarence Carter and Percy Sledge, as well as Lynyrd Skynyrd’s first records. Muscle Shoals Sound Studio recorded hits include “Brown Sugar” and “Wild Horses” by The Rolling Stones, “Kodachrome” by Paul Simon, “I’ll Take You There” by The Staple Singers, and “Old Time Rock n Roll” by Bob Seger. The first location of Muscle Shoals Sound Studios was on Jackson Highway in Sheffield, a location made famous by Cher’s “3614 Jackson Highway” album cover. Later Muscle Shoals Sound Studio would move to a larger building next to the Tennessee River in Sheffield. Recording sessions can be booked at Fame and the original Muscle Shoals Sound Studio.
Tours are offered at both Fame and the Jackson Highway Studio (Muscles Shoals Sound’s 1st location). Call ahead as tours must be booked in advance because both still operate as recording studios.
Music has always defined this area of Alabama.
Alabamian Sam Phillips of Florence, the world-renowned record producer, not only recorded many blues legends, including Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters and blues rocker Ike Turner, but also rock and roll icon Elvis Presley. The Sam Phillips display at The Alabama Music Hall of Fame in Tuscumbia contains the Elvis contract from Phillips to RCA. This is just one of the interesting exhibits showcasing Muscle Shoals music history and the contributions of Alabama artists to the music world.
The Sam Phillips Suite at the Marriott Shoals Hotel contains the Les Paul Gibson guitar that the “Father of Rock N Roll” was given to honor his 50 years of rock ‘n roll and Sun Studios. The guitar hangs in an alarmed glass enclosure in the suite. While guests in the suite cannot play the guitar, they can play the jukebox in the suite that has the recordings of Phillips’ artists. A framed picture of the suite’s namesake is also located in the room. Muscle Shoals memorabilia is located in the hotel’s bar, Swampers, named after area studio musicians and made famous by the line in Lynyrd Skynyrd’s song “Sweet Home Alabama.” The annual Sam Phillips Music Celebration is held annually in Florence.
This area of Alabama has an important place in the story of the blues, most notably with Florence native W. C. Handy, the “Father of the Blues.” Handy played a unique role in jump-starting the Roaring 20s and helped to bring the blues to international audiences. Tour the W.C. Handy Home and Museum year-round and attend the annual W.C. Handy Festival in Florence each summer.
Travel Note: The largest of the four adjacent cities that make up Muscle Shoals is Florence, Alabama. Florence, AL is located 2 hours southwest of Nashville, TN; 2 ½ hours southeast of Memphis, TN; and less than 2 hours east of Tupelo, MS. You can get a connecting flight from Atlanta, GA to Florence, AL.