When people think of America’s most notable music cities, several Southern cities come to mind. There’s New Orleans, the birthplace of jazz; Memphis, where rock ‘n’ roll got its start; and Nashville, our nation’s country music capital. But there’s one more place that should be added to the list of legendary music towns, and it’s Muscle Shoals, Alabama. Located in North Alabama, the Florence-Muscle Shoals metropolitan area includes Florence, Muscle Shoals, Tuscumbia, and Sheffield. Together, the four cities make up The Shoals, an area with rich music traditions dating to the 1960s and extending into present day.
Between the 1960s and the 1980s, some of the most groundbreaking artists of their time traveled to The Shoals to create and record new music. Artists like Aretha Franklin, The Rolling Stones, and Otis Redding all recorded many of their most popular songs in The Shoals. American music across so many genres wouldn’t be what it is today without Muscle Shoals.
Discover the History
There are several spots you must visit to get a full picture of the incredible impact Muscle Shoals had on the music industry. Start at FAME Recording Studios, the recording studio that’s credited with creating the signature “Muscle Shoals Sound” via the studio’s in-house band, the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section. Over the years, artists including Etta James, Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, Alicia Keys, Demi Lovato, and Jason Isbell have recorded songs at FAME. In addition to continuing to welcome artists from all over the world today, FAME also offers daily tours for those looking to get up close and personal with its incredible history.
Just a few miles down the road in Sheffield, visit another legendary recording studio that was created by musicians who got their start at FAME. In 1969, members of the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, also known as the Swampers, set out to create a recording studio of their own. The result was a nondescript building at 3614 Jackson Highway in Sheffield that ended up producing music for some of the biggest artists of all time including The Rolling Stones, Rod Stewart, Paul Simon, and Cher. In 2013, the Muscle Shoals Music Foundation partnered with Apple and Beats to restore the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio to its former glory. Now tours, as well as recording, both take place in the iconic spot.
In nearby Tuscumbia, visit the Alabama Music Hall of Fame to learn how contributions from Alabama musicians changed the course of musical history. Visit the museum Tuesday through Saturday to learn all about artists like Lionel Richie, Jim Nabors, Emmylou Harris, and more. You can even add to Alabama’s music history by making an appointment to record your own song at the museum’s recording studio. Music, accompanying vocals, and lyrics are all provided.
Round out your music history tour of The Shoals at the W.C. Handy Museum & Birthplace. In Florence, you’ll find the cabin where W.C. Handy, known as the Father of Blues, was born in 1873. The modest cabin where he was born has been turned into a museum hosting the largest collection of the musician’s personal papers, memorabilia, and artifacts including original sheet music for some of his biggest hits.
Modern Day Music
The music has far from faded in The Shoals today. Once you’ve honored the area’s incredible music history, it’s time to experience its equally impressive modern-day music scene. Venues across the four cities host live music several nights of the week, welcoming local, regional, and national artists alike. For a delicious meal and nightly live music, visit Swampers Bar & Grille. In Florence, FloBama offers a true Shoals experience with a 10,000-square-foot restaurant and music venue featuring a 30-foot professional stage run by an in-house sound engineer. Down the road at High Ridge Spirits Distillery, you can get a true taste of The Shoals with locally made spirits and live music from local artists. The local distillery serves up cocktails made with in-house vodka, gin, rum, moonshine, and barrel shine, and live music happens every Tuesday through Saturday.
Want to learn more about The Shoals incredible music scene? Head to visitflorenceal.com.