We all want to keep up with the latest and greatest music news. But sometimes, it’s great to look back on all of the fantastic (and not-so-fantastic) events in music that got us to where we are now.
On this day in 2006, the original 3614 Jackson Highway Muscle Shoals Sound Studio was added to the National Registry of Historic Places.
There are a few legendary American recording studios outside of Los Angeles: Motown in Detroit, Electric Lady Studios in New York, Sun Studios in Memphis, Chase Park Transduction in Athens, RCA Studio B in Nashville…and the two major recording studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama.
Muscle Shoals, Alabama became something of a musical hotspot in the 1960s because it was home to FAME Studios. Classic FAME artists included Otis Redding, Etta James, Bobbie Gentry, and Aretha Franklin. Today, the studio is still in use, with artists like The Revivalists and Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit recording at FAME. Alabama native Duane Allman camped out at FAME back in the day just so he could be near the music being made there.
In the ’60s, it was fairly common for studios to have something of a house band. FAME had a house horn section named Muscle Shoals Horns and a rhythm section called Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section. You probably know the rhythm section better by their nickname: The Swampers. The nickname of “The Swampers” was forever immortalized in Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama.” The Swampers also forever immortalized themselves by opening up their own studio: Muscle Shoals Sound Studio.
Funnily enough, Muscle Shoals Sound Studio was located just outside of Muscle Shoals, in Sheffield, Alabama. But it wasn’t long before it became a big part of recording history. Cher’s 1969 album 3614 Jackson Highway was among the first albums recorded at the new studio, and it features the address of the studio as the title, while the cover of the album is a photo of Cher and most of the other folks who worked on the album (including the Swampers) in front of the studio.
From 1969 until 1979, Muscle Shoals Sound Studio fired out many classic albums and singles. Boz Skaggs, Wilson Pickett, and Bob Seger were among the artists to record multiple albums at the studio, while other groups recorded a smaller selection of their work at Muscle Shoals. The Rolling Stones recorded all of Sticky Fingers at Muscle Shoals, Paul Simon recorded There Goes Rhymin’ Simon, Cat Stevens (Yusuf) recorded Izitso. Bob Seger recorded both “Night Moves” and “Old Time Rock and Roll” at Muscle Shoals.
Just as Muscle Shoals Sound Studio was not technically in Muscle Shoals, Lynyrd Skynyrd immortalized The Swampers without having yet recorded with them. Lynyrd Skynyrd are not from Alabama, and only recorded “Sweet Home Alabama” as a response to Neil Young’s “Alabama” and “Southern Men.” Thanks to the mention, however, Skynard fans take an interest in Muscle Shoals Sound Studio to this day. In 1977, Lynyrd Skynyrd finally made themselves an honest band and recorded Street Survivors at Muscle Shoals.
In 1979, the original Jackson Highway location was shuttered and an updated studio opened at 1000 Alabama Avenue. The new facility allowed albums to be recorded and mixed in one place, rather than having tracks finished at another location. Eddie Rabbit, The Oak Ridge Boys, Helen Reddy, Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, Julian Lennon, and Carlos Santana all recorded at the studio’s new location. The studio was sold in 1985 to Malaco Records.
Meanwhile, the Jackson Highway location became an A/V store, then an appliance store. In 1999, the ownership of the building shifted to someone who was interested in preserving the history of the building. The new owner made some renovations while retaining the old recording equipment. They began to allow tours of the building. As previously stated, it was added to the registry of historic places on this day in 2006.
Band of Horses and Black Keys both recorded Grammy-nominated albums at the Jackson Highway building in 2009/2010, even though it wasn’t really open as a recording studio.
In 2013, a documentary entitled Muscle Shoals generated public interest in restoration of the studio. In June, the owner sold the studio (but not the original recording equipment) to the Muscle Shoals Music Foundation, which sought to establish a music museum in the building. Beats Electronics
donated $1 million for the project. From 2015-2017, renovations and restorations were made. The building reopened as a tourist attraction in 2017 with replacement recording equipment similar to what would have been used originally.
The building operates as a recording studio again at night. Chris Stapleton recorded his Grammy-winning song “Cold” there in 2018, making the studio the home for Grammy-winning music yet again.
Even before the studio reopened as a tourist attraction in 2017, The Alabama Tourism Department named 3614 Jackson Highway the top tourist attraction in the state. It’s estimated to have drawn in 62,000 visitors from fifty different countries and all U.S. states since 2013.
Editor’s note: Muscle Shoals Sound Studio is on my musical tourism bucket list, but I also cannot recommend enough that you make the short trek out to Motown in Detroit if you haven’t already. It is truly moving to be in that space, to see the snack machine that Stevie Wonder memorized the feel of, to sing into the echo chamber groups would use to rehearse, and to see what a tiny space all the Motown greats worked in. It sounds silly or cliche, but it truly fills me with awe to be in spaces where so much great music has been created.
–Just Emma (JustEmma@CD929FM.com)
Written by: Emma Sedam
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