Muscle Shoals: The hits kept coming

by William E. Badgley,
The Documentary Center

What eventually became known as the “Muscle Shoals Sound” sparked the interests of musicians such as The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Jimmy Cliff, The Allman Brothers, Lynyrd Skynyrd and many more, begins with the story of one man.
Rick Hall, who founded the aptly named FAME Studios in the late 1950s, was literally raised in the dirt of Muscle Shoals, Alabama… a small town situated along the Tennessee River that Hall would end up making synonymous with fame and fortune in the music industry.
The son of poor but hardworking parents, Hall was deeply affected by the childhood death of his brother that ultimately led to the destruction of what little stability Hall had as a youngster.
Events such as these began what can be defined as one man’s struggle to escape his own existence, fueled by a diehard work ethic, and ultimately exacerbated by the death of his wife, alcoholism, and depression. But still no matter what happened to Rick Hall the hit records kept on coming.
Greatness had already come from the Muscle Shoals area, Sam Phillips founder of Sun Records, the first record label to sign such great as Elvis and Johnny Cash had come from Muscle Shoals and so had Helen Keller.
But where others had left Muscle Shoals in their quest for greatness Hall chose to stay and fight his battle on the banks of the Tennessee River where he was born.Armed with a die hard work ethic and a group of teenage musicians, which would later be referred to the world over as the “Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section,” Hall took an original composition by a local bellhop and cut his first track at his new studio.
Luckily for Hall the track went straight to the top inspiring covers by both The Rolling Stones and The Beatles in their early careers.
Because Rick Hall and his rag tag band of merry misfits had little recourses, they did what they could with what they had and they also weren’t that particular about who they played with when it came to race.
The composers and musicians who recorded hit tracks at FAME Studios were both black and white and often described the studio as a place to escape the rampant racism of the day. At FAME Studios only one thing was important… the music, and the world over seemed to agree that whatever they were doing down in Muscle Shoals was working.
This is a beautiful documentary that does an incredibly artful job of delivering a lot of information while telling a very emotional story about the struggles inherent in the music industry. And it’s just absolutely packed with high profile celebrities telling the story… and that doesn’t hurt any either.
Muscle Shoals is showing at the Pickford Film Center this month.