Muscle Shoals Sound Studio
Original studios at 3614 Jackson Highway, Sheffield
|Location||3614 Jackson Hwy., Sheffield, Alabama|
|Architectural style||Early commercial|
|NRHP reference #||06000437|
|Added to NRHP||June 2, 2006|
Muscle Shoals Sound Studio at 3614 Jackson Highway in Sheffield, Alabama was formed in 1969 by four session musicians called The Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section (and affectionately called The Swampers) who had left Rick Hall's nearby FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals to create their own recording facility. The group closed the Jackson Highway studio in 1979, moving the operation to 1000 Alabama Avenue. The old studio has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since June 2006. It was partly restored in the early 2000s and was sold to the Muscle Shoals Music Foundation in 2013. This group completed a major restoration and the location reopened on January 9, 2017. The Alabama Avenue location ceased operations in 2005 when it was sold to a record label.
The concrete block building at 3614 Jackson Highway in Sheffield was built around 1946 and was previously a coffin show room. It was converted to a recording studio in 1969 when a group of musicians called the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section decided to start their own operation in competition with the FAME Studios owned by Rick Hall. Over the years, artists who recorded at Muscle Shoals Sound Studio included The Rolling Stones, Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, Willie Nelson, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Joe Cocker, Levon Helm, Paul Simon, Bob Seger, Rod Stewart, and Cat Stevens. Cher's sixth album was titled 3614 Jackson Highway (1969) and this became the informal name for the studio in 1969. The studio at this location closed in 1979, and the recording facility was moved to new premises at 1000 Alabama Avenue.
The Jackson Highway building had been partly restored and open for tours in 2013 when the documentary Muscle Shoals raised public interest in a major restoration of the studio. The Muscle Shoals Music Foundation was formed in 2013 to raise funds to purchase the building and to complete major renovations. In June 2013, Noel Webster sold the property to the Muscle Shoals Music Foundation, without the historic recording equipment. The foundation praised the contribution made to the project by Sheffield resident and attorney Gene Hambey. A large grant from Beats Electronics provided an essential $1 million. (Beats Electronics is a manufacturer of headphones and similar devices owned by Apple inc. and founded by Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine.) State tourism director Lee Sentell told the media in August 2015 that the 2013 Muscle Shoals film had significant influence. "The financial support from Beats is a direct result of their film." Additional donations were made by other groups and individuals. In 2015, foundation Board member Rodney Hall reminded fans of the value of the additional donations. "The foundation was able to purchase the building through the generosity of private investors like Gene Hamby, who understand the importance of preserving the legacy of Muscle Shoals music."
As recently as August 2015, tours were visiting the partly restored studio on Jackson Highway. It was closed when major restoration work started in September 2015. Muscle Shoals Sound Studio reopened as a finished tourist attraction on January 9, 2017, owned and operated by the foundation. The interior is reminiscent of the 1970s, with relevant recording equipment and paraphernalia. There are plans to allow artists to record in the studio, as well.
The Alabama Tourism Department named Muscle Shoals Sound Studio as the state's top attraction in 2017, even before the Jackson Highway studio reopened.
The four founders of the studio, Barry Beckett (keyboards), Roger Hawkins (drums), Jimmy Johnson (guitar) and David Hood (bass), affectionately called The Swampers, but usually known as the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, were one of the best-known "house bands" or session musicians. (The nickname "The Swampers" was given to the group by the music producer Denny Cordell during recording sessions for Leon Russell because of their "funky, soulful Southern “swamp” sound".) They are referred to as "The Swampers" in the lyrics of "Sweet Home Alabama" (1974) by Lynyrd Skynyrd and appear on the cover of Cher's 1969 album 3614 Jackson Highway.
Initially they worked for Rick Hall, the founder of FAME Studios and they are recognized as having crafted the "Muscle Shoals sound" in conjunction with Hall. After leaving Rick Hall's FAME Studios, the four musicians partnered with Jerry Wexler who provided start-up funding to found Muscle Shoals Sound Studio at 3614 Jackson Highway in Sheffield. The first hit to the studio's credit was R. B. Greaves’ "Take a Letter Maria". By December 1969, the Rolling Stones were recording at this new location for three days.
The Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section was the first group of musicians to own a studio and to eventually run their own publishing and production companies. They provided musical backing and arrangements for many recordings, including major hits by Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin, and the Staple Singers; a wide range of artists in popular music also recorded hit songs and complete albums at the studio. They had first worked together in 1967 and initially played sessions in New York and Nashville before doing so at FAME. Their initial successes in soul and R&B led to more mainstream rock and pop performers who began coming to record at Muscle Shoals Sound Studios, including the Rolling Stones, Traffic, Bob Seger, Elton John, Boz Scaggs, Willie Nelson, Paul Simon, Bob Dylan, Dr. Hook, Elkie Brooks, Millie Jackson, Julian Lennon, and Glenn Frey.
The studio at 3614 Jackson Highway closed in April 1979, becoming an audio visual retailer and then an appliance store. A subsequent owner, Noel Webster, did some renovations and retained the old recording equipment, allowing for tours of the property.
The recording facility was relocated to updated and larger premises at 1000 Alabama Avenue in Sheffield in 1979. This location operated until it was closed and sold in 1985 to Tommy Couch's soul and blues label Malaco Records, based in Jackson, Mississippi, which also bought the publishing rights held by the Muscle Shoals Sound. Malaco used the Sheffield studios for its own artists, including Johnnie Taylor, Bobby Bland and Little Milton, as while continuing to operate its own facility in Jackson. The Rhythm Section, minus Beckett, worked with other studio musicians at Malaco Records and at other studios. In 2005, Couch decided to close the Malaco studio on Alabama Avenue because he was having difficulty competing with more technologically advanced studios.
After the 1000 Alabama Avenue location closed in 2005, ending the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio era, the building was taken over by a movie production company. In 2017, this location housed Cypress Moon Productions and the Cypress Moon Studio with functioning recording equipment, which was operating as a recording studio and was open for tours.
Although it was no longer a working studio in 2009 and 2010, the Jackson Highway location was rented for recording some or all of two Grammy-nominated albums. Band of Horses's third CD, Infinite Arms, recorded in part at that studio, was nominated for a Grammy Award in the category Best Alternative Album.
Ten tracks of Black Keys's sixth album, Brothers, were also recorded at 3614 Jackson Highway. The album was nominated for a 2011 Grammy Award for Best Alternative Music Album. Two songs from the album, "Tighten Up" and "Black Mud", were nominated for Grammys: "Tighten Up" for Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal and Best Rock Song and "Black Mud" for Best Rock Instrumental Performance. Rolling Stone magazine placed the album at number 2 on its list of the Best Albums of 2010 and "Everlasting Light" at number 11 on the its list of the Best Singles of 2010. The album was also featured on Spin magazine's Top 40 Albums of 2010.
The four members of the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section who had founded the Sound Studio were inducted into the Nashville-based Musicians Hall of Fame in 2008 and into the Alabama Music Hall of Fame in 1995, "as four of the finest studio musicians in the world", also receiving the Lifework Award in 2008. They had appeared on "more than 500 recordings, including 75 gold and platinum hits".
The original studio building on Jackson Highway was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in June 2006. In June 2013, the building was sold to the Muscle Shoals Music Foundation whose goal was to establish a music museum in the historic building . The foundation extensively restored the building and the studio. It was reopened as a tourist attraction, with plans for recording as well, on January 9, 2017.
According to a journalist who was a recent visitor, the restored studio is impressive: "Muscle Shoals Sound's interior appears much as it did in its prime. ... Some guitars and amps. A Hammond organ, Wurlitzer electric piano and black baby grand. The control room with recording console and analog tape machine ... There are isolation booths, for vocals, percussion and such..."
Filmmaker Greg Camalier premiered his documentary film Muscle Shoals at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2013. It is about Muscle Shoals sound, and features Rick Hall, FAME Studios, and the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section (Swampers) who had founded the Muscle Shoals Sound Studios. The film includes interviews with Percy Sledge, Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin, Etta James, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Steve Winwood, Bono, Alicia Keys and many others.
|Album or song||Artist||Date||US Pop chart||Notes|
|3614 Jackson Highway||Cher||1969|
|Boz Scaggs||Boz Scaggs||1969||features Duane Allman on guitar (Loan Me a Dime)|
|"Take a Letter, Maria"||R. B. Greaves||August 19, 1969||#2|
|Muscle Shoals Nitty Gritty||Herbie Mann||(Released 1970)|
|"Brown Sugar"||Rolling Stones||December 2–4, 1969 (Released 1971)||#1|
|"Wild Horses"||Rolling Stones||December 2–4, 1969 (Released 1971)||#28|
|"I'll Take You There"||Staple Singers||1972||#1|
|"Loves Me Like a Rock"||Paul Simon||1973||#2|
|One More River to Cross||Canned Heat||1973|
|Atlantic Crossing||Rod Stewart||1974–1975 (released 1975)|
|"Night Moves"||Bob Seger||1976||#8|
|"Mainstreet"||Bob Seger||1976||#24 (in 1977)|
|Izitso||Cat Stevens||1976||#7 (in 1977)|
|"Torn Between Two Lovers"||Mary MacGregor||1976||#1 (in 1977)|
|Street Survivors||Lynyrd Skynyrd||1977|
|"Old Time Rock and Roll"||Bob Seger||1978||#28 (in 1979)||ranked number two on the Amusement & Music Operators Association's survey of the Top 40 Jukebox Singles of All Time in 1996|
|Skynyrd's First: The Complete Muscle Shoals Album||Lynyrd Skynyrd||1971–1972 (Released 1978)|
|"Gotta Serve Somebody"||Bob Dylan||1979||#24||1980 Grammy winner|
|Pleasure and Pain||Dr. Hook & the Medicine Show||1978|
|Sometimes You Win||Dr. Hook & the Medicine Show||1979|
|Take What You Find||Helen Reddy||1979 (released 1980)|
|Brothers||Black Keys||2009 (Released 2010)||2011 Grammy winner|
Muscle Shoals Sounds moved from its original location in 1978, converting this former Naval Reserve building on the Tennessee River to a multi-studio complex. Many internationally known artists recorded gold and platinum records here. The 1000 Alabama Avenue building now houses a film production company with the historic recording studio still in use.
they called Noel Webster and blocked off two weeks at Muscle Shoals Sound Studios, arriving with a truckload of Neill's gear in August.
has been revamped with a 1970s feel that includes bright colors, retro chairs and a metal ashtray; the sign over the front door is once again bright blue. Vintage recording equipment fills the production booth.
When we were closed down during renovations, people would just show up from all over the world.
often affectionately called "the Swampers") are widely regarded as one of the most important American recording studio "house bands" emerging in the golden age of rock and soul.
At its heart is Rick Hall who founded FAME Studios. Overcoming crushing poverty and staggering tragedies, he brought black and white musicians together to create music that would last for generations while also giving birth to the unique 'Muscle Shoals sound' and the rhythm section 'The Swampers'.
In 1969 Rick Hall’s house band, the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, left FAME and partnered with Jerry Wexler to found Muscle Shoals Sound Studio at 3614 Jackson Highway in Sheffield..
Rolling Stones arrived for an impromptu three-day session in December and proceeded to put the renegade studio on the map.
Noel Webster, who has owned the property the last 10 to 15 years
the last four years saw a sharp decline in outside projects. When computer and hard-disk recording really got cheap and better at the same time, it just knocked the socks off a lot of studios, [Muscle Shoals] included," he says. It was just a very difficult thing to compete with.
they called Noel Webster and blocked off two weeks at Muscle Shoals Sound Studios, arriving with a truckload of Neill's gear in August.
Muscle Shoals Sounds moved from it's [sic] original location in 1978, converting this former Naval Reserve building on the Tennessee River to a multi-studio complex. Many internationally known artists recorded gold and platinum records here. The building now houses a film production company with the historic recording studio still in use.
truckload of period gear culled from Neill’s personnel collection
appeared on classic recordings by top-name artists in virtually every musical genre.
Hours: 10am – 4pm Monday-Saturday
Recording at the studio will be offered on a limited basis
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