Muscle Shoals Alabama Intrigues With Southern Music, Charm, Culture

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A lone musician sits by the edge of the Singing River; it's serenely flowing pace and lush, green surroundings inspire him to write a song. he is awaiting his recording session in the famous studio located behind him. Julian Lennon walks back to the Sheffield, Alabama studio and goes on to record his melodic 1984 debut album, Valotte that would eventually go platinum.

Lennon is just one of the celebrated musicians to record in the legendary Muscle Shoals Sound Studio. Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, Jimmy Buffet, Bob Segar, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Paul Simon and Rod Stewart are among the numerous musicians who have all recorded albums and tracks in this venerated studio that opened in 1969 on 3614 Jackson Highway.

The Muscle Shoals area, located in Northwest Alabama, includes the towns of Florence, Sheffield and Tuscumbia. This area has garnered the distinction of "Hit Recording Capital of the World" and is the location where the Muscle Shoals Sound developed.

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History of Muscle Shoals Sound

In 1959, the Shoals area was little more than small towns and cotton fields. However, Rick Hall decided that it was a perfect location to establish his recording studio and publishing company FAME, an acronym for Florence Alabama Music Enterprises. Hall needed studio rhythm sections for FAME and he contracted talented local musicians that would include many different band members.

Ultimately, these incredible musicians and Hall's powerhouse hit-making studio would produce in the recording industry what is known as the Muscle Shoals Sound. Among these rhythm sections, the most eminent were bassist David Hood, guitarist Jimmy Johnson, keyboardist Barry Beckett and drummer Roger Hawkins. These four renowned musicians, who helped FAME record countless hits over the years, went on to establish their own recording studio, the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio.

Today, the Shoals boasts countless famous and talented musicians, songwriters, recording studios and production companies that keep the music and movie industry spinning with Grammy winners and hits! It is also the home of the Alabama Music Hall of Fame and where the "Father of Blues" W.C. Handy was born.

For visitors, the Shoals area in Alabama offers unparalleled tours and insight into music, recording studios, music history and southern culture that is deeply fascinating and intriguing. In fact, most Shoals recording studios offer free tours and a simple call ahead will garner visitors admission to the actual studios where past and present artists record their music. Who knows, you may even run across famous musicians.

The New Muscle Shoals

In addition to the long established studios, exciting new state-of-the-art studios are creating a name for themselves as well.

Noiseblock Music Group

Located in downtown Florence, Noiseblock is owned and run by Grammy Award Winner Gary Baker. Baker, who wrote the smash hit I Swear in 1994, is an enormously talented singer, songwriter who has produced and performed numerous hits for himself, as well as countless other top artists.

His studio, Noiseblock, is a beautiful, high-tech recording studio, production facility and publishing company that is fast becoming a coveted studio for today's musical artists. Baker works with his son Shane, (also a recording artist/songwriter) and a stable of studio musicians and top-notch engineers who thoroughly comprehend digital bleeding-edge recording technologies and produce amazing soundtracks. From honky tonk, country and pop, to ghetto-slam, Noiseblock is a standout studio that will impress. Call first before visiting.

The NuttHouse

The NuttHouse-Recording Studio, located in downtown Sheffield, is owned and run by enigmatic yet genial Jimmy Nutt. The studio opened in March of 2006 in a rather unusual location, a former bank complete with a steel vault and a drive-up teller window. The NuttHouse studio has been completely remodeled and possesses the largest studio recording space in the Shoals. Nutt, a Louisiana native and musician, played in several bands over the years, but his interest ultimately delved into recording.

In 2000, Nutt, with his wife and son, moved to Muscle Shoals, where he honed his recording skills at FAME studios and finally made the jump to create and run The NuttHouse. Nutt's client list runs the gambit from musical artists Jason Isbell, The Ugly Stick, Sons of Roswell, The Fiddleworms, Shelley King and Lenny LeBlanc to name a few. His studio is just plain cool and it still has the steel vault and teller window for atmosphere. Nutt produces and engineers using digital and analogue, and no doubt pushes Pro Tools to the max. For a visit, call first.

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FAME studios, located in Muscle Shoals, is still going strong but Hall's son Rodney now oversees the studios operations, although Hall is still involved and working on his biography. The studio's walls are covered with celebrated artists from Aretha Franklin, Etta James, the Osmonds, to Alabama and many more.

Call ahead and take time to visit this incredible icon of studios and explore the music that put Muscle Shoals on the Map and turned this small town into the hit recording capital. For additional information go to

Muscle Shoals Sound Studio Reborn as Cypress Moon Production

he Muscle Shoals Sound Studio, on Alabama Avenue in Sheffield, is now Cypress Moon Productions. The studio was sold in '85, and then sold again in 2005 and is now owned and operated by husband and wife Kelvin and Tonya Holly.

Kelvin Holly, a brilliant musician, has performed with every musical star under the sun and been on numerous TV shows performing as well. Tonya Holly has 17 films to her credit and is currently working on many more. The Holly's have kept the wall photos of all the stars and more importantly, the essence of Muscle Shoals Sound and its amazing history. Call first if you'd like to visit.

Alabama Music Hall of Fame

The Alabama Music Hall of Fame, located in Tuscumbia, is open to the public and a remarkable interactive and music museum. The AMHF was established to honor Alabama's music achievers and opened in 1990. Today the hall continues to grow with Phase 2 and 3 that will include the Alabama Research Library of Southern Music and the Hall of fame Educational Outreach Program.

The memorabilia in the AMHF is fantastic with statues of Nat King Cole, Lionel Ritchie, Alabama and Hank Williams and more. The band Alabama even donated their tour bus to the Hall and visitors can stroll through and see what it's like to live and travel like the music stars. In addition to all of the cool memorabilia and music history, the Alabama Music Hall of Fame even has a recording audio and video studio where guests can make their own recording.

Moreover, every two years, the AMHF present the Induction Banquet and Awards Show. New inductees are added to the Alabama Music Hall of Fame at this fabulous black-tie event that is open to the public. Past inductees include Tammy Lynette, Clarence Carter, Tommy Shaw from Styx and Emmylou Harris and a host of additional Alabama musical artists.

Although the Alabama Music Hall of Fame was recently shuttered, it reopens on October 17th, 2013 revamped and newly funded.

More Music

W.C. Handy is known as the Father of Blues and he was born in Florence in a tiny log cabin in 1873. He became famous for his blues compositions Memphis Blues and St. Louis Blues. Handy's birthplace cabin is now a museum and the adjunct museum contains his piano and trumpet , as well as memorabilia and the history of this important musician and band conductor who contributed so much to blues music. For additional information and museum hours, visit VisitFlorenceAL

Helen Keller, Tom's Wall, and Frank Lloyd Wright

Music isn't the only attraction in the Muscle Shoals area. There is history and architecture, and inspiring stories.

Ivy Green and Helen Keller

Helen Keller's birthplace is located in Tuscumbia and is called Ivy Green. The house has been turned in to a loving memorial and museum to honor this incredible woman who overcame an illness that caused her to become deaf and blind as an infant. Helen's home is filled with all of the family's furnishings and possessions and display what it was like in Helen's time to have to live in a world that had not yet learned how to educate and reach a severely handicapped child. The inspirational museum is astonishing and each year, the play the Miracle Worker is performed in the back of the property for the public. The ground are beautiful and the famous well-pump where Helen spoke her first words after becoming deaf and blind is still there.

Tom's Wall

Tom's Wall is probably one of Alabama's most amazing tributes that weighs 7 million pounds and took 32 years to build. Tom Hendrix's grandmother was a Euchee Native American who was forced to walk the Trail of Tears, yet managed to escape and the journey took her 5 years to walk back to Alabama. Hendrix built this astounding five-foot wall that stretches almost a mile on two sides, by hand. It is the largest un-mortared rock wall in the United States and the setting is one of the most beautiful in northern Alabama; the tale is one of heartbreak and ultimate triumph. This wall is unique and people from around the world come to visit, pay tribute and bless this special and spiritual place. It is even rumored that there lies a certain stone on the wall that, once held, will make a woman fertile. For additional information, visit listed under early Southern Culture.

Frank Lloyd Wright and the Rosenbaum House

For those interested in architecture, visit the Frank Lloyd Wright Rosenbaum House, located in Florence, Alabama. It is the only Frank Lloyd Wright architecture in Alabama and was built in 1939 for $12,000. The house is Wright's purest example of Usonian design and is a marvel to walk through. Each room is designed for maximum utilization of space and simplicity. The house is remarkable and Wright's attention to detail is fascinating, especially for the era.

If You Go


For an excellent accommodations in Muscle Shoals, consider the Marriott Shoals Hotel and Spa. As with all of the Marriott Hotels in Alabama, this Marriott is marvelous. The hotel is beautiful with great views, yet the prices are reasonable. The hotel is also located on the golfer's haven the RTJ Golf Trail.

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Patrice Raplee is an experienced travel photojournalist and editor of Travel Excursion and Seattle Spotlight for Positively Entertainment magazine. In addition, she writes a monthly travel column for the award-wining site Offbeat Travel. She is a member of North American Travel Journalists Association (NATJA), International Travel Writers Alliance (ITWA) and the Recording Academy. Her photographs and articles have appeared in numerous international publications, as well as NW newspapers such as the Seattle Times, the Stranger, Seattle Weekly and the Oregonian. As a freelance photojournalist, she has also worked with acclaimed musical entertainers, such as Santana, Billy Joel and Steven Tyler. Patrice travels the globe to cover destinations that feature fascinating culture, art, culinary, history and soft adventure.

Unless otherwise indicated, all photos by the author

July 23rd, 2015

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