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The Music of Muscle Shoals

by Barry Walters

The Music of Muscle Shoals


About this playlist

When Rosa Parks refused to relinquish her bus seat to a white man in 1955, Alabama became a locus for the Civil Rights movement. But even as Governor George Wallace fought integration in the streets, the musicians of Muscle Shoals brought the races together in their recording studios. Muscle Shoals, a new documentary currently making its way through theaters, tells the improbable story of Rick Hall, a poor country boy whose FAME Studios recorded some of the greasiest, most soulful R&B of the '60s. Hall and most of his musicians may have been white, but their grooves and many of the singers who recorded at FAME were most definitely black.

When Aretha Franklin recorded her landmark hit "I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)" at FAME, a dispute between Franklin's then-husband and one of Hall's musicians meant that visiting producer Jerry Wexler completed subsequent sessions in New York with several of Hall's key players, later nicknamed the Swampers by Leon Russell and name-checked by Lynyrd Skynyrd in "Sweet Home Alabama." Those musicians created the rival Muscle Shoals Sound Studio, where many of the greatest albums of the '70s were recorded, often featuring the Swampers' impeccable musicianship. Back at FAME, Hall created another even more integrated house band, and blurred the lines between pop, country and soul. This playlist features just some of Muscle Shoals' biggest and best.

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