Thursday, August 11, 2011

Way Down South - the Muscle Shoals Story

Interesting programme on Radio 2 last night about the fantastic music that has come out of the small town of Muscle Shoals, Alabama, over the years. Narrated by Craig Charles (who plays the soul music loving taxi driver Lloyd in Coronation Street), the show told the story of how Rick Hall set up FAME (Florence Alabama Music Enterprises) in nearby Florence before establishing the FAME studio in Muscle Shoals in 1962. To a background of great soul sides by the likes of Arthur Alexander (Hall's first big success - pictured), Jimmy Hughes, Percy Sledge and Wilson Pickett, Charles outlined the studio's early successes (all of the above), the deal with Atlantic's Jerry Wexler which really put them on the map, and the problems with Aretha Franklin's husband, Ted White, which led to only one song being recorded in Muscle Shoals, with musicians being called up to New York to complete the session.

Despite losing his first backing band, who decamped to Nashville,and a later split, which saw musicians Barry Beckett, Roger Hawkins, Jimmy Johnson and David Hood set up the rival Muscle Shoals Sound Studios in 1969, Hall continued to have big success throughout the seventies. Sadly, though, by this time the soul movement of the sixties had evaporated and it was to pop acts such as the Osmonds and Tom Jones that Hall turned his attention.

Craig Charles's programme covered the arrival of Duane Allman in Muscle Shoals, Wilson Pickett's Hey Jude session and work for Chess with acts such as Laura Lee, Etta James and Solomon Burke. Other artists to record at Muscle Shoals included Cher, Lulu, the Rolling Stones, Traffic, Jimmy Cliff, Rod Stewart, the Staple Singers and some wonderful tracks by Candi Staton. In the words of Rick Hall it wasn't the money that was important - "The music is what it's all about it."

*** A final word on Marshall Grant, original bass player in Johnny Cash's Tennessee Two, who has died aged 83. Grant played with Cash from 1954 to 1980 until they fell out and also managed the Statler Brothers who had a mid sixties hit with Flowers on the Wall. He died in Jonesboro, Arkansas, attending a Johnny Cash festival aiming to raise money to restore Cash's childhood home. Hopefully I will be passing through Jonesboro on my Stompin' USA 2011 road trip next month, which kicks off in St Louis and takes us through Springfield and Memphis enroute to New Orleans for the Ponderosa Stomp.
A word, too, about country singer Billy Grammer, best known for his 1958 hit Gotta Travel On, who has died aged 85.


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