Muscle Shoals was a city with a population of approximately 6,000 people in the 1960s, where blacks and whites lived uneasily together during the period of racial segregation in the cotton belt of rural Alabama. The town is located on the south bank of the Tennessee River. The local Native Americans called the river the “Singing River”.
Music was the main outlet for creativity and enjoyment because there was only one big industry, Reynolds Aluminium Corporation, located in that area during the 1960s, when Muscle Shoals was beginning to come of age as a creative music centre. The sound that emerged was a synergy of Soul and R&B, with musical elements connected to the Memphis Soul sound of the 1960s and the 1970s. There were also Country music influences related to Nashville.
Picture in your mind a triangle shape, consisting of Memphis Soul on one side and Nashville Country on the other, with Muscle Shoals’ R&B/Country/Soul completing the third element of a powerful and dynamic trio. The music that was created here could not be duplicated on the East or West coast in any form whatsoever!
The addition of the Memphis Horn Section gave many of the records a raw yet refined sound, similar to the Memphis Soul and R&B sound. But the Muscle Shoals Sound Rhythm Section was the foundation, the main element that made the sound different from other regional sounds. The powerful original quartet became the studio band for Rick Hall’s FAME studios in Florence, Alabama, the original home of the Muscle Shoals Sound. In the 1970s there was a sign located next to the highway at the city limits of Muscle Shoals which greeted visitors by saying “Welcome to the City of Muscle Shoals, The Hit Recording Capital of the World”.
Map: National Parks
Photo: Carol M. Highsmith