Muscle Shoals, Alabama

Muscle Shoals, Alabama
Muscle Shoals
—  City  —
Location in Colbert County and the state of Alabama
Coordinates: 34°45′3″N 87°39′1″W / 34.75083°N 87.65028°W / 34.75083; -87.65028Coordinates: 34°45′3″N 87°39′1″W / 34.75083°N 87.65028°W / 34.75083; -87.65028
Country United States
State Alabama
County Colbert
Established March 31, 1923[1]
Incorporated April 24, 1923[1]
 - Type Mayor/Council
 - Mayor David H. Bradford
 - Total 12.2 sq mi (31.5 km2)
 - Land 12.2 sq mi (31.5 km2)
 - Water 0 sq mi (0 km2)
Elevation 499 ft (152 m)
Population (2007)
 - Total 12,846
 - Density 977.4/sq mi (378.5/km2)
Time zone Central Time Zone (UTC-6)
 - Summer (DST) CDT (UTC-5)
ZIP codes 35660(obsolete), 35661, 35662
Area code(s) 256, 938
FIPS code 01-53016
GNIS feature ID 0152574

Muscle Shoals is a city in Colbert County, Alabama, United States. As of 2007, the United States Census Bureau estimated the population of the city to be 12,846.[2] The city is included in The Shoals MSA. It is famous for its contributions to American popular music.



Muscle Shoals is located at 34°45′03″N 87°39′01″W / 34.750788°N 87.650278°W / 34.750788; -87.650278.[3]

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 12.2 square miles (32 km2), all land.[2]


As of the census[2] of 2000, there were 11,924 people, 4,710 households, and 3,452 families residing in the city. The population density was 979.7 people per square mile (378.3/km²). There were 5,010 housing units at an average density of 411.6 per square mile (158.9/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 83.88% White, 14.16% Black or African American, 0.38% Native American, 0.56% Asian, 0.31% from other races, and 0.70% from two or more races. 1.16% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race.[2]

There were 4,710 households out of which 34.7% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 59.4% were married couples living together, 11.3% had a female householder with no husband present, and 26.7% were non-families. 23.8% of all households were made up of individuals and 8.2% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.48 and the average family size was 2.95.[2]

In the city the population was spread out with 24.8% under the age of 18, 8.6% from 18 to 24, 29.6% from 25 to 44, 23.9% from 45 to 64, and 13.1% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 37 years. For every 100 females there were 88.9 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 86.1 males.[2]

The median income for a household in the city was $40,216, and the median income for a family was $48,113. Males had a median income of $38,063 versus $21,933 for females. The per capita income for the city was $21,113. About 5.4% of families and 7.3% of the population were below the poverty line, including 8.1% of those under age 18 and 7.2% of those age 65 or over.[2]


The city is one of four municipalities known as the Quad Cities, the others being Florence, Sheffield and Tuscumbia, all of them in Alabama. Muscle Shoals is known for recording many hit songs from the 1960s through today at FAME Studios, where Aretha Franklin recorded, and Muscle Shoals Sound Studio which developed work for Bob Dylan, Paul Simon and countless others. While the music from the area is often referred to as the "Muscle Shoals Sound," all four of the Quad Cities have significantly contributed to the area's musical history.

In addition to being home to country music band Shenandoah, a number of artists have made successful pilgrimages to Muscle Shoals in an effort to escape the limelight, and write and record their signature works. Both FAME Studios and Muscle Shoals Sound Studios are still in operation in the city. While famous for classic recordings from Rod Stewart, Aretha Franklin, Eric Clapton, Lynyrd Skynyrd and The Allman Brothers, recent hit songs such as "Before He Cheats" by Carrie Underwood and "I Loved Her First" by Heartland continue the city's musical legacy. George Michael recorded an early, unreleased version of "Careless Whisper" with Jerry Wexler in Muscle Shoals in 1983.

Additionally, fans of Muscle Shoals music frequently make trips to the area to visit local landmarks. While most of the city's recording studios are still active, the majority will allow tours with an appointment. Further, a number of rock, R&B and country music celebrities have homes in the area surrounding Muscle Shoals (Tuscumbia), or riverside estates along the Tennessee River, and often perform in area nightclubs, typically rehearsing new material to an audience of locals. Among the musical celebrities with homes in the area are George Strait, Tim McGraw and Faith Hill.

What is most unusual about the area, musically speaking, is the cross-pollination of musical styles that originated in Muscle Shoals. Black artists from the area such as Arthur Alexander and James Carr utilized white country music styles in their work and white artists from the Shoals frequently borrowed from the blues/gospel influences of their black contemporaries, creating a distinct sound.

Sam Phillips, founder of Sun Records, lived in the area and stated in his autobiography that Muscle Shoals (primarily radio station WLAY (AM), which had both "white" and "black" music on its playlist) influenced his merging of these sounds at Sun Records with Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash.

Muscle Shoals has received attention from the lyrics in Lynyrd Skynynd's "Sweet Home Alabama," stating "Muscle Shoals has got The Swampers, and they've been known to pick a song or two." This is an example of a line in a song that is well known, but little understood. The Swampers are a session band in Muscle Shoals.

On January 6, 2010, Muscle Shoals was added to the Mississippi Blues Trail.[4]

In music

FAME Recording Studios in Muscle Shoals by Carol M. Highsmith

Sister city Florence, Alabama is frequently referred to as "the birthplace of the Blues". W.C. Handy was born in Florence and is generally regarded as the "Father of the Blues." Every year since 1982, the W. C. Handy Music Festival is held in the Florence/Sheffield/Muscle Shoals area, featuring blues, jazz, country, gospel, rock music and R & B. The roster of jazz musicians known as the "Festival All-Stars," or as the W. C. Handy Jazz All-Stars, includes noted musicians from all over the United States, such as guitarist Mundell Lowe, drummer Bill Goodwin, pianist/vocalist Johnny O'Neal, vibraphonist Chuck Redd, pianist/vocalist Ray Reach, flautist Holly Hofmann, and many others.

Rolling Stone editor David Fricke wrote that if one wanted to play a single recording that would "epitomize and encapsulate the famed Muscle Shoals Sound," that record would be "I'll Take You There" by The Staple Singers.

Upon hearing that very song, American songwriter Paul Simon phoned his manager and asked him to arrange a recording session with the musicians who had performed this song. Simon was surprised to be told that he would have to travel to Muscle Shoals to work with the artists. After arriving in the small town, he was introduced to the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section ("The Swampers") who had recorded this song with Mavis Staples. Expecting black musicians (the original Rhythm Section consists only of white musicians), and assuming that he had been introduced to the office staff, Simon politely asked to "meet the band." Once things were sorted out, Simon cut a number of tracks with the group, including "Loves Me Like a Rock", "Kodachrome" and "Still Crazy After All These Years."

Duane Allman, later of Allman Brothers Band fame, once pitched a tent and camped out in the parking lot of FAME studios in an effort to be near the recording sessions occurring there. He soon befriended the studio's owner Rick Hall and Wilson Pickett (who was recording at FAME during this time). During a lunch break, Allman taught Pickett the Beatles song "Hey Jude." Duane and Wilson's version of the song was eventually recorded with Allman on lead guitar. Upon hearing the session, people at Pickett's label (Atlantic Records) asked who had played the guitar solos on the record. Hall responded with a hand-written note that read "some hippie cat who's been living in our parking lot." Shortly afterward, Allman was offered a recording contract. Auditions for the Allman Brothers Band were later held at FAME Studios. Duane Allman loved the area, and frequently returned to The Shoals for session work throughout his life.

When Bob Dylan announced to his record label that he intended to record Christian music, the initially dismayed label executives insisted that if he planned to pursue the project, he must, at least, record the work in Muscle Shoals, as they felt it would provide the work "some much-needed credibility." (Dylan was not previously known for his overtly religious pronouncements, and many worried that his efforts would be taken as satirical; recording in the Bible Belt, it was thought, might avert a disaster.) Dylan was happy to oblige the label, and recorded not one, but two genuine Christian albums in The Shoals. The resulting albums ("Slow Train Coming" and "Saved") were recorded at Muscle Shoals Sound Studios. The records were, at first, received poorly by critics (perhaps because of their sincerity).

In the song "Sweet Home Alabama" by Lynyrd Skynyrd, a verse states that "Muscle Shoals has got the Swampers/And they've been known to pick a song or two/Lord, they get me off so much/They pick me up when I'm feelin' blue." The Swampers were a group of studio musicians who were available if backup was needed. They were given this name by Leon Russell. Lynyrd Skynyrd saw gold and platinum records bearing the words "To The Swampers" when they recorded at Muscle Shoals Sound Studios, and later included it in the song as a tribute. By definition, a "swamper" is a helper, such as a waitress or truck driver's assistant. The musicians were "hired guns," hence the nickname.

Muscle Shoals Sound was one of the hottest tracking rooms of the day, while FAME was a full production studio working on entire projects to completion.

The members of the Muscle Shoals Sound Rhythm Section were Pete Carr (lead guitar), Jimmy Johnson (guitar), Roger Hawkins (drums), David Hood (bass), and Barry Beckett (keyboards).

More recently, Florence native Patterson Hood, son of "Swamper" David Hood, has risen to fame in his own right as a member of the alternative rock group Drive-By Truckers. The top two finishing finalists on the 2007 season of country-music singing competition Nashville Star, siblings Zac Hacker (second place) and Angela Hacker (winner), both hail from Muscle Shoals. In 2008, State Line Mob,a Southern Rock duo group formed by singer & songwriters Phillip Crunk (Florence native) & Dana Crunk (Rogersville native),released their Debut Cd, Ruckus & Won 2 Muscle Shoals Music Awards for 2008 for (Best New Artist) & Best New Country Album) of the year.

Although Muscle Shoals has receded somewhat from its 1960s and 1970s status as "Hit Recording Capital of the World," (as a sign near the airport once read), there is a group of young, local musicians that are making waves again in the musical world. These include Drive-By Truckers, The Civil Wars, Dylan LeBlanc, Gary Nichols, Jason Isbell, State Line Mob, Eric "Red Mouth" Gebhardt, Fiddleworms, Jamie Barrier and The Pine Hill Haints, Sons of Roswell, Lauderdale, Barrelmouth, Angela Hacker, Zac Hacker, Mike Pyle, The Ugli Stick, Jami Grooms, James LeBlanc, Scufflegrit, and BoomBox.

In 2006 the group Heartland recorded their number-one award winning song "I Loved Her First," produced and penned by Shoals legend Walt Aldridge.

In 2007 Bettye Lavette's Grammy nominated CD "The Scene of the Crime" was recorded at FAME Recording Studios, produced by Patterson Hood and Drive-By Truckers. The Truckers also backed Lavette on the record, with contributions from David Hood and Spooner Oldham.

In 2010, two Grammy nominated albums were recorded in the Shoals at Muscle Shoals Sound Studios. Band Of Horses third CD, "Infinite Arms" was recorded in part at the legendary studio. The album has been nominated for a Grammy Award in the Best Alternative Album category. Additionally, The Black Keys' sixth album "Brothers" was also recorded at 3614 Jackson Highway. The album has been nominated for a 2011 Grammy Award for Best Alternative Music Album. Two songs from the album, "Tighten Up" and "Black Mud" have been nominated for two and one Grammys, respectively. "Tighten Up" has been nominated for Grammy Award for Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal and Best Rock Song. "Black Mud" has been nominated for Best Rock Instrumental Performance. Rolling Stone magazine placed the album at #2 on the Best Albums of 2010 and "Everlasting Light" at #11 on the Best Singles of 2010. The albums was also featured on Spin (magazine)'s Top 40 Albums of 2010.

The second Muscle Shoals Sound Studios, located at 1000 Alabama Avenue in Sheffield, closed its doors in 2005 and now houses a movie production company.

The original Muscle Shoals Sound Studios building at 3614 Jackson Highway is now open daily for tours as a historic museum. It has been restored to its 1970s state.


The Muscle Shoals City school system enjoys a reputation for its rigorous academic standards.[5] In March 2008, after an intense evaluation, Muscle Shoals High School and Howell-Graves Preschool were awarded the Lighthouse Award by the Blue Ribbon Schools of Excellence.[6] The system is currently led by Superintendent Dr. Jeff Wooten. There are seven schools in the district:

  • Muscle Shoals High School.........Principal H.L. Noah
  • Muscle Shoals Center for Technology...Principal Sylvia Coleman
  • Muscle Shoals Middle School...........Principal Mary Ann Stegall
  • McBride Elementary School.............Principal Brian Lindsey
  • Highland Park Elementary School.......Principal Hal Horton
  • Webster Elementary School.............Principal Dan Starkey
  • Howell Graves Preschool...............Principal Sheneta F. Smith

Famous Past and Current Residents Alabama All-America wide receiver and Dallas Cowboys' standouts Dennis Homan ESPN commentator Rece Davis (QB for the Trojans' football squad) Carter Oil Co. CEO John Carter


External links

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