In the 1960s and 70s, the course of popular music history ran through a remote corner of northwest Alabama. Beginning with early R&B and soul cuts from the likes of Percy Sledge and Wilson Pickett, the music created in the now legendary F.A.M.E. and Muscle Shoals Sound Studio—located in the towns of Muscle Shoals and Sheffield, Alabama—came to define the sound of an era.
Behind countless hits, you’ll find producer Rick Hall, and one of the most famous house bands of all time: the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, also known as the Swampers. They are bassist David Hood, guitarist Jimmy Johnson, drummer Roger Hawkins, and Spooner Oldham along with Barry Beckett on keyboard. You’ll also find a bevy of Alabama songwriters including Dan Penn, Mickey Buckins, Donnie Fritts, and Oldham.
Johnson, Hood, Penn, and Oldham, along with many other musicians who passed through the Shoals, will play a rare New York City show as part of Lincoln Center Out of Doors on July 22.
In anticipation of their visit, the Muscle Shoals All-Stars shared some of their favorite recording memories with us.
Wilson Pickett - Land of 1000 Dances
"It's hard to single out a most memorable session we played on but one that comes to mind is when Jerry Wexler brought down Wilson Pickett for the first time and we cut ‘Land of 1000 Dances.’ That was pretty memorable!" —Jimmy Johnson, guitarist
The Rolling Stones - Brown Sugar
"The Rolling Stones come to Muscle Shoals at the end of 1969 to record a few tracks. Their producer Jimmy Miller didn’t show up so I ended up engineering ‘Brown Sugar,’ ‘Wild Horses’ and ‘You Gotta Move’ that ended up on their Sticky Fingers album." —Jimmy Johnson, guitarist
Ray Charles - We Had It All
"I wrote the song ‘We Had it All’ with Troy Seals. Dobie Gray originally recorded it and many others including Waylon Jennings, the Rolling Stones, Tina Turner, Willie Nelson, and Dolly Parton cut it as well. But my favorite version is by Ray Charles. It was the thrill of a lifetime when I got to hear Ray Charles sing it. The first time I listened to it, I got tears in my eyes." —Donnie Fritts, keyboardist & songwriter
Eddie Hinton - Build Your Own Fire
"Eddie Hinton was multitalented, an R&B icon, the blackest white guy I ever met, especially his singing. Eddie just adored Otis Redding and he could emulate that sound. Eddie was also a great guitar player, songwriter, and producer. He left this earth before his time, but he left us with quite a legacy." —Jimmy Hall, singer & songwriter
Percy Sledge - Warm and Tender Love
"My first session was for The Mystics, a band I played in. We recorded two songs that day and it sparked my love for recording. It was two or three years later when I got called to play on Percy Sledge’s tune ‘Warm and Tender Love,’ the follow up to ‘When A Man Loves A Woman.’ We cut three or four sides that day, two of them became gold records, and that was the first session I got paid to play bass on." —David Hood, bass
Paul Simon - Kodachrome
"Paul Simon heard ‘I’ll Take You There’ by the Staple Singers and called Al Bell at Stax Records wanting the same band. He thought that the players on ‘I’ll Take You There’ were black guys from Jamaica. He booked four days to cut one song, ‘Take Me to the Mardi Gras’, and we got the track on the second take. That just blew him away because he was a perfectionist and would take months to record. So, when he saw that he booked and paid for the studio time, he figured he might as well record something else. One of these songs ended up being the hit ‘Kodachrome’.” —David Hood, bass
The Staple Singers - I'll Take You There
"The Staple Singers' Be Altitude: Respect Yourself album is one of my favorites of all time. The Staple Singers were fun, too. Three sisters and Pops. We just had a good time with them!" —David Hood, bass
Otis Redding - You Left the Water Running
"Being in the studio with Otis Redding was one of my favorite moments of my career. I was singing all these Otis Redding songs with my bands, and here I am in the studio with Otis. Just to be in a room with Otis Redding was just more than I could hardly stand, it was just an unbelievable experience!" —Mickey Buckins, arranger-producer
Eddie Hinton - Everybody Needs Love
"I would describe Eddie Hinton's music as if Otis Redding met Howlin' Wolf somewhere in the middle. Back in the 60s and 70s, Eddie lived and recorded in my hometown of Muscle Shoals, Alabama where he was a part of the thriving music scene that was based there. A triple threat (singer, guitar player, and songwriter), Eddie participated in hit music by Percy Sledge, Bobby Womack, Aretha Franklin, Boz Scaggs, Dusty Springfield. Later he made several incredible albums as a solo artist. He passed away in 1995 and has since amassed a small but devoted cult following that includes the members of the Drive-By Truckers. His albums are very difficult to find but they are more than worth the effort to track them down. I consider them to be no less than treasures and my life is much better for having his music as a soundtrack to so much of it."
Aretha Franklin - I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You)
"I've been blessed with opportunities. There's a lot of hit recordings. In ‘I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You),’ the first song we recorded with Aretha Franklin, people give me a lot of credit for that Wurlitzer electric piano part that I played on that. It sort of helped set up the framework for the rhythm section to jump in there with it." —Spooner Oldham, keyboardist & songwriter