Muscle Shoals, Alabama
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|Muscle Shoals, Alabama|
Location in Colbert County and the state of Alabama
|Established||March 31, 1923|
|Incorporated||April 24, 1923|
|• Mayor||David H. Bradford|
|• City||15.55 sq mi (40.27 km2)|
|• Land||15.53 sq mi (40.22 km2)|
|• Water||0.02 sq mi (0.05 km2)|
|Elevation||499 ft (152 m)|
|Population (2013 est.)|
|• Density||846/sq mi (326.8/km2)|
|• Metro||147,317 (US: 281th)|
|Time zone||Central Time Zone (UTC-6)|
|• Summer (DST)||CDT (UTC-5)|
|ZIP codes||35660(obsolete), 35661, 35662|
|Area code(s)||256, 938|
|GNIS feature ID||0152574|
Both the city and the Florence-Muscle Shoals Metropolitan Area (including four cities in Colbert and Lauderdale counties) are commonly called "the Shoals". Northwest Alabama Regional Airport serves the Shoals region.
Muscle Shoals was a part of the Cherokee hunting grounds dating to at least the early eighteenth century, if not earlier. After the American Revolution, the Cherokees were divided over attitudes toward the new U.S. republic. An anti-American faction, dubbed the Chickamauga, separated from more conciliatory Cherokees, and moved into present-day south-central and southeastern Tennessee, most of them settling along the Chickamauga River. They claimed Muscle Shoals as part of their domain, and when Anglo-Americans attempted to settle the region in the 1780s and 1790s, the Chickamaugas bitterly resisted them. Upper Creeks, residing in what is now north and central Alabama, also resented any European or Euro-American presence in the region. A major incident occurred in 1790, when U.S. President George Washington sent an expedition under Major John Doughty in an attempt to establish a fort and trading post at Muscle Shoals. This expedition was nearly annihilated by a Chickamauga and Creek party sent to destroy it, and the project was abandoned by Doughty and the administration.
Anglo-American settlers in Tennessee continued to agitate for control of the region. The site was particularly desirable, as it controlled access to fine cotton-producing land immediately to its southward. In 1797, John Sevier, the first governor of Tennessee, complained to Andrew Jackson that "The prevention of a settlement at or near the Muscle Shoals is a manifest injury done the whole western country." At Sevier's behest, Jackson attempted to persuade Congress and President John Adams to fund a new expedition to take control of the site, but to no avail. U.S. officials finally took control of the region in the wake of the U.S. invasion of Creek Country during the War of 1812. Jackson and General John Coffee obtained cession of the land from both the Cherokees and Creeks (who had continued to dispute possession) by treaty, without permission to do so from the federal government. Secretary of War William H. Crawford refused to recognize the cession, and reconfirmed Cherokee ownership, leading to personal enmity between him and Jackson, and causing a political struggle over the lands which Jackson and his backers eventually won. When Jackson, as president, implemented the policy of Indian Removal, Muscle Shoals was used as a site from which to ship Upper Creeks out to Oklahoma (then Indian Territory).
During World War I President Wilson authorized a dam just downstream of Muscle Shoals to help power nitrate plants for munitions. The first plant started producing nitrates two weeks after the armistice, but the dam was not completed until 1924. Meanwhile in 1922 Henry Ford tried to buy the nitrate works and the unfinished dam. Congress rejected Ford's offer as too little money. The project languished until the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration created the Tennessee Valley Authority in 1933.
Southgate Mall opened in Muscle Shoals in 1968.
Muscle Shoals is known for recording many hit songs from the 1960s to today at two studios: FAME Studios, founded by Rick Hall, where Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding and numerous others recorded; and Muscle Shoals Sound Studio, founded by the musicians known as The Swampers, which developed work for Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, the Rolling Stones and countless others. While the music from the area is often referred to as the "Muscle Shoals Sound", all four of the Quad Cities have significantly contributed to the area's musical history.
In addition to being home to country music band Shenandoah, a number of artists have made successful pilgrimages to Muscle Shoals in an effort to escape the limelight, and write and record their signature works. Both FAME Studios and Muscle Shoals Sound Studio are still in operation in the city. While famous for classic recordings from Rod Stewart, Aretha Franklin, Eric Clapton, Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Rolling Stones and The Allman Brothers, recent hit songs such as "Before He Cheats" by Carrie Underwood and "I Loved Her First" by Heartland continue the city's musical legacy. George Michael recorded an early, unreleased version of "Careless Whisper" with Jerry Wexler in Muscle Shoals in 1983.
Fans of Muscle Shoals music frequently make trips to the area to visit local landmarks. While most of the city's recording studios are still active, the majority will allow tours with an appointment. Further, a number of rock, R&B and country music celebrities have homes in the area surrounding Muscle Shoals (Tuscumbia), or riverside estates along the Tennessee River, and often perform in area nightclubs, typically rehearsing new material to an audience of locals.
What is most unusual about the area, musically speaking, is the cross-pollination of musical styles that originated in Muscle Shoals. Black artists from the area such as Arthur Alexander and James Carr utilized white country music styles in their work, and white artists from the Shoals frequently borrowed from the blues/gospel influences of their black contemporaries, creating a distinct sound.
Sam Phillips, founder of Sun Records, lived in the area and stated in his autobiography that Muscle Shoals (primarily radio station WLAY (AM), which had both "white" and "black" music on its playlist) influenced his merging of these sounds at Sun Records with Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash.
Rolling Stone editor David Fricke wrote that if one wanted to play a single recording that would "epitomize and encapsulate the famed Muscle Shoals Sound", that record would be "I'll Take You There" by The Staple Singers. After hearing that very song, American songwriter Paul Simon phoned his manager and asked him to arrange a recording session with the musicians who had performed it. Simon was surprised to be told that he would have to travel to Muscle Shoals to work with the artists. After arriving in the small town, he was introduced to the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section ("The Swampers") who had recorded this song with Mavis Staples. Expecting black musicians (the original Rhythm Section consists only of white musicians), and assuming that he had been introduced to the office staff, Simon politely asked to "meet the band". Once things were sorted out, Simon recorded a number of tracks with the group, including "Loves Me Like a Rock", "Kodachrome" and "Still Crazy After All These Years".
Duane Allman, later of Allman Brothers Band fame, once pitched a tent and camped out in the parking lot of FAME studios in an effort to be near the recording sessions occurring there. He soon befriended the studio's owner, Rick Hall, and Wilson Pickett (who was recording at FAME at the time). During a lunch break, Allman taught Pickett The Beatles' song "Hey Jude". Duane and Wilson's version of the song was eventually recorded with Allman on lead guitar. On hearing the session, people at Pickett's label (Atlantic Records) asked who had played the guitar solos. Hall responded with a hand-written note that read "some hippie cat who's been living in our parking lot." Shortly afterward, Allman was offered a recording contract. Auditions for the Allman Brothers Band were later held at FAME Studios. Duane Allman loved the area, and frequently returned to The Shoals for session work throughout his life.
When Bob Dylan told his record label that he intended to record Christian music, the initially dismayed label executives insisted that if he planned to pursue the project, he must, at least, record the work in Muscle Shoals, as they felt it would provide the work "some much-needed credibility". (Dylan was not previously known for his overtly religious pronouncements, and many worried that his efforts would be taken as satirical; recording in the Bible Belt, it was thought, might avert a disaster.) Dylan was happy to oblige the label, and recorded not one, but two genuine Christian albums in The Shoals. The resulting albums (Slow Train Coming and Saved) were recorded at Muscle Shoals Sound Studios. The records were, at first, received poorly by critics (perhaps because of their sincerity).
"Muscle Shoals has got the Swampers
And they've been known to pick a song or twoThey pick me up when I'm feelin' blue."
Lord, they get me off so much
The Swampers, a local group of first-call studio musicians available for back-up, were given this name by jazz artist Leon Russell and pretty much constituted the Alabama version of The Wrecking Crew in Los Angeles.
When Lynyrd Skynyrd recorded at Muscle Shoals Sound Studios once early in their career, they saw the various gold and platinum records on the walls bearing the words "To The Swampers", and later included it in the song as a tribute. By definition, a "swamper" is a helper, such as a waitress or truck driver's assistant. The musicians were "hired guns", hence the nickname.
Muscle Shoals Sound was one of the hottest tracking rooms of the day, while FAME was a full production studio working on entire projects to completion.
More recently, Florence native Patterson Hood, son of "Swamper" David Hood, has found fame in his own right as a member of the alternative rock group Drive-By Truckers. The top two finishing finalists on the 2007 season of country-music singing competition Nashville Star, siblings Zac Hacker (second place) and Angela Hacker (winner), are from Muscle Shoals. In 2008, State Line Mob, a Southern rock duo group formed by singer and songwriters Phillip Crunk (Florence native) and Dana Crunk (Rogersville native), released their first CD, Ruckus, and won two Muscle Shoals Music Awards for 2008 for (Best New Artist) and Best New Country Album) of the year.
Although Muscle Shoals has receded somewhat from its 1960s and 1970s status as "Hit Recording Capital of the World" (as a sign near the airport once read), there is a group of young, local musicians that are making waves again in the musical world. These include Drive-By Truckers, The Civil Wars, Dylan LeBlanc, Gary Nichols, Jason Isbell, State Line Mob, Eric "Red Mouth" Gebhardt, Fiddleworms and BoomBox.
In 2006, the group Heartland recorded their number-one award winning song "I Loved Her First", produced and penned by Shoals' legend Walt Aldridge.
In 2007, Bettye LaVette's Grammy-nominated CD The Scene of the Crime was recorded at FAME Recording Studios, produced by Patterson Hood and Drive-By Truckers. The Truckers also backed Lavette on the record, with contributions from David Hood and Spooner Oldham.
In 2010, two Grammy-nominated albums were recorded in the Shoals at Muscle Shoals Sound Studios. Band of Horses' third CD, Infinite Arms, was recorded in part at the studio. The album was nominated for a Grammy Award in the Best Alternative Album category. The Black Keys' sixth album Brothers was also recorded at 3614 Jackson Highway. The album was nominated for a 2011 Grammy Award for Best Alternative Music Album. Two songs from the album, "Tighten Up" and "Black Mud", were nominated for Grammys; "Tighten Up" for Grammy Award for Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal and Best Rock Song, and "Black Mud" for Best Rock Instrumental Performance. Rolling Stone magazine placed the album at #2 on the Best Albums of 2010 and "Everlasting Light" at #11 on the Best Singles of 2010. The album was also featured on Spin (magazine)'s Top 40 Albums of 2010.
The second Muscle Shoals Sound Studios, located at 1000 Alabama Avenue in Sheffield, closed in 2005 and now houses a movie production company.
The original Muscle Shoals Sound Studio building at 3614 Jackson Highway is now open daily for tours as a historic museum. It has been restored to its 1970s state.
Sister city Florence, Alabama, is frequently referred to as "the birthplace of the Blues". W. C. Handy was born in Florence and is generally regarded as the "Father of the Blues". Every year since 1982, the W. C. Handy Music Festival is held in the Florence/Sheffield/Muscle Shoals area, featuring blues, jazz, country, gospel, rock music and R&B. The roster of jazz musicians known as the "Festival All-Stars", or as the W. C. Handy Jazz All-Stars, includes noted musicians from all over the United States, such as guitarist Mundell Lowe, drummer Bill Goodwin, pianist/vocalist Johnny O'Neal, vibraphone player Chuck Redd, pianist/vocalist Ray Reach and flautist Holly Hofmann.
Muscle Shoals is located on the south bank of the Tennessee River at . There are a few explanations on how the city got its name. Some say the city gets its name from a former natural feature of the river, namely a shallow zone where mussels were gathered. When the area was first settled, the distinct spelling "mussel" to refer to a shellfish had not yet been fully adopted. Others say that the name comes from the bend of the Tennessee River around the area which shape looks like someone flexing an arm muscle.
As of the census of 2000, there were 11,924 people, 4,710 households and 3,452 families residing in the city. The population density was 979.7 per square mile (378.3/km²). There were 5,010 housing units at an average density of 411.6 per square mile (158.9/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 83.88% White, 14.16% Black or African American, 0.38% Native American, 0.56% Asian, 0.31% from other races, and 0.70% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 1.16% of the population.
There were 4,710 households out of which 34.7% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 59.4% were married couples living together, 11.3% had a female householder with no husband present, and 26.7% were non-families. 23.8% of all households were made up of individuals and 8.2% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.48 and the average family size was 2.95.
In the city the population was spread out with 24.8% under the age of 18, 8.6% from 18 to 24, 29.6% from 25 to 44, 23.9% from 45 to 64, and 13.1% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 37 years. For every 100 females there were 88.9 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 86.1 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $40,210, and the median income for a family was $48,113. Males had a median income of $38,063 versus $21,933 for females. The per capita income for the city was $21,113. About 5.4% of families and 7.3% of the population were below the poverty line, including 8.1% of those under age 18 and 7.2% of those age 65 or over.
The Muscle Shoals City school system enjoys a reputation for its rigorous academic standards. In March 2008, after an intense evaluation, Muscle Shoals High School and Howell-Graves Preschool were awarded the Lighthouse Award by the Blue Ribbon Schools of Excellence. The system is currently led by Superintendent Dr. Jeff Wooten. There are seven schools in the district:
- Muscle Shoals High School
- Muscle Shoals Center for Technology
- Muscle Shoals Middle School
- McBride Elementary School
- Highland Park Elementary School
- Webster Elementary School
- Howell Graves Preschool
- Jason Allen, former University of Tennessee and current NFL player
- Boyd Bennett, rockabilly singer
- Casey Bonfield, American diplomat, Consulate General of the United States, Jerusalem
- John Carter, CEO Carter Oil Co.
- Levi Colbert, Chickasaw Bench Chief 
- Rece Davis, ESPN commentator (QB for the Trojans' football squad)
- Alecia Elliott, country music singer
- Dennis Homan, Alabama All-America wide receiver and Dallas Cowboys' player
- David Hood, musician
- Patterson Hood, singer-songwriter, co-founder of the Drive-By Truckers
- Ozzie Newsome, American football player, General Manager & Executive VP for the Baltimore Ravens
- Gary Nichols, country music singer
- Leigh Tiffin, American football placekicker
- Chris Tompkins, songwriter
- Steve Trash, magician, environmental activist, children's entertainer
- Kim Tribble, country music songwriter
- John Paul White, musician, The Civil Wars
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- Article about Muscle Shoals written by Ernest Hemingway
- City of Muscle Shoals official website
- Muscle Shoals City Schools
- FAME Recording Studios
- Shoals Music Magazine, publication dedicated to covering the Muscle Shoals Sound