"Muscle Shoals" tells the story of how one small Alabama town became a hotbed of musical innovation in blues, soul, and rock. The documentary, which played the Seattle International Film Festival earlier this year, opens in Seattle at the Harvard Exit on October 18.
The story begins with produced Rick Hall who founded FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, then expanded when the FAME studio house band, dubbed “the Swampers,” split off to set up their own studio, Muscle Shoals Sound.
An extraordinary array of talent recorded at both of these studios, and "Muscle Shoals" director Greg “Freddy” Camalier has assembled an impressive list of interviewees. Most important, of course, are interviews with Hall and the Swampers (guitar/producer Jimmy Johnson, bassist David Hood, and drummer Roger Hawkins). But you also hear from plenty of artists who recorded at one of the two studios: Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Aretha Franklin, Percy Sledge, Gregg Allman, and Alicia Keys, among others. There’s great archive footage too (though more captions identifying who’s who would’ve been welcome).
And Camalier doesn’t just stick to the studio. More than one interviewee rhapsodizes about the “Singing River,” the Tennessee river that some believe gives the region its musical power. Race relations are also a big part of the story, especially during FAME’s rise in the 1960s. Black artists like Percy Sledge were surprised to arrive at the studio and learn that the funky sound on records coming out of Muscle Shoals was being created by a bunch of white guys. It was integration at its best; working together on the basis of skill and talent, rather than race.