Thursday, August 30, 2012


First a geography lesson. I’m currently in the northwest corner of Alabama in an area that could be called the quad cities. They are located on both banks of the Tennessee River running through this northern Alabama country and adjacent to the Wilson dam, part of the TVA, built back in 1918-1924, which provided the electrical power for an industrial revolution here attracting automobile plants and aluminum mills amongst other industries.

The four cities are Florence, Tuscumbia, Sheffield, and Muscle Shoals. We’re listening to stories from my dad and his niece about the family driving up from Haleyville to fish and to sell flowers. (My grandfather raised cotton, but he was also a well known florist that specialized in Chrysanthemums. At one point, right after my dad was born, they lived in New Orleans, and my grandfather was a very successful florist, but a series of hurricanes drove him back to a cotton farm in Alabama.)

This may not seem like a likely spot for a famous musical site, but it is part of what is called the "Music Triangle." Memphis, Nashville, Florence / Muscle Shoals. This was ground zero for much of the music that the sixties scene was based on, and the source of a lot of sixties music and beyond.

I know modern music aficionados and apreciados are familiar with the recording studio in Muscle Shoals started in 1969 and home to many a southern rock album, but that studio was predated by over ten years by the Florence Alabama Musical Enterprise or FAME recording studio.

Founded by Rick Hall, Billy Sherrill and Tom Stafford in the late 1950s, the studio was first located above the City Drug Store in Florence, Alabama. The facility was moved to a former tobacco warehouse on Wilson Dam Road in Muscle Shoals in the early 1960s, when Hall split from Sherrill and Stafford. Hall soon recorded the first hit record from the Muscle Shoals area, Arthur Alexander's "You Better Move On."

Hall took the proceeds from that recording to build the current facility on Avalon Avenue in Muscle Shoals, and in 1963, Hall recorded the first hit produced in that building, Jimmy Hughes' "Steal Away."

As the word about Muscle Shoals began to spread other acts began coming to Muscle Shoals to record. Nashville producer Felton Jarvis brought Tommy Roe and recorded Roe's song "Everybody." Atlanta Music Publisher Bill Lowery, who had mentored Hall through his early days, sent The Tams. Nashville Publisher/Producer Buddy Killen brought Joe Tex, while Atlantic Records' Jerry Wexler brought Aretha Franklin and Wilson Pickett to record.

The session musicians who worked at the studio became known as the "Muscle Shoals Horns" and the "Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section," and ultimately as the "Swampers." In 1969, members of the rhythm section left to found a rival studio, the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio. That story next, but today we’ll just focus on FAME.

Here’s a partial list of artists who recorded hit records at FAME

  • Wilson Pickett
  • Aretha Franklin
  • Otis Redding
  • Joe Tex
  • Duane Allman
  • The Hour Glass
  • Clarence Carter
  • Candi Staton
  • Mac Davis
  • Paul Anka
  • Tom Jones
  • Etta James
  • Andy Williams
  • The Osmonds
  • Shenandoah
and many others.

The studio was added to the Alabama Register of Landmarks and Heritage on December 15, 1997. The Alabama Music Hall of Fame is logically also located here in Muscle Shoals, and it’s on my list to visit. But first I’m working on getting into FAME. (As the pictures show, I got a very personal tour latter in the week.)

As a side note, we spent last evening with my cousin Joyce and her husband Dennis and Joyce is the archivist of the Cheatham and Wilson family history. (Wilson was my grandmother’s maiden name.) Among the relatives, we spoke of Happy Wilson who was a very successful country singer and radio personality. Expect to see a note about him soon, as well as a discussion of the other great recording studio here in Muscle Shoals. Now it’s off to visit family.

Here's a few pictures. If you click on the picture, you will get a larger view and be able to navigate between pictures.

If you want to see all my pictures from the FAME studio, go to my Flickr page and view this set:

The famous studio A. There's also a B and C.

Look on the lower right and you'll see a Mac Pro running the ProTools SW. the Protools input hardware is in the middle of the pictures and analog tape machines on the left. Old school mixes with new school to do the "mixing."

FAME still runs analog for those that want the original sound

Lenny, the engineer at the console.

Mickey and Lenny enjoying some great chops recorded the night before.

Sixteen track analog on 6 inch tape

Another journey of the Blue Bus

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