Muscle Shoals Sound Studio
Muscle Shoals Sound Studio
Original studios at 3614 Jackson Highway, Sheffield
|Location||3614 Jackson Hwy., Sheffield, Alabama|
|Architectural style||Early Commercial|
|NRHP Reference #||06000437|
|Added to NRHP||June 02, 2006|
|Oral History, Jimmy Johnson talks about the Rolling Stones coming to the studio to record. Interview date July 13, 2015, NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) Oral History Library|
Muscle Shoals Sound Studio was formed in Sheffield, Alabama, in 1969 when a group of four session musicians called The Swampers decided to leave the nearby FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals to create their own recording set-up.
The four, Barry Beckett (keyboards), Roger Hawkins (drums), Jimmy Johnson (guitar) and David Hood (bass), then became known as The Muscle Shoals Sound Rhythm Section and were the first rhythm section to own a studio and eventually run their own publishing and production companies. Their backing and arrangements have been heard on many recordings, including major hits from Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin, and the Staple Singers, but a wide range of artists in popular music recorded hit songs and complete albums at the studio. They are referred to as "the Swampers" in the lyrics of "Sweet Home Alabama" (1974) by Lynyrd Skynyrd.
The group first came together in 1967 and initially played sessions in New York and Nashville, as well as on recordings made at Rick Hall's FAME facility. The initial successes in soul and R&B led to the arrival at the Muscle Shoals Sound studios of more mainstream rock and pop performers, including The Rolling Stones, Traffic, Elton John, Boz Scaggs, Willie Nelson, Paul Simon, Bob Dylan, Dr. Hook, Elkie Brooks, Millie Jackson, Julian Lennon and Glenn Frey.
The studios at 3614 Jackson Highway were relocated to an updated and larger facility on Alabama Avenue in Sheffield in the late 1970s, but the original building still sees occasional use as a recording studio. The Black Keys album, Brothers, was recorded there in 2009 and achieved Grammy Award success in 2011. Producer/Engineer Mark Neil brought recording equipment into the former studio to make the album.
The Alabama Avenue studios were sold in 1985 to the Jackson, Mississippi based soul and blues label, Malaco Records, which also bought the MSS publishing rights. Malaco used the Sheffield studios for their own artists, including Johnnie Taylor, Bobby Bland and Little Milton, as well as continuing to operate their own facility in Jackson. The building was bought by a film and television production company in 2005 after Malaco decided to close the studios, selling the two Neve sound desks to studios elsewhere in the U.S, according to an article in Billboard magazine.
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.
Original studio fate
The original Muscle Shoals Sound Studios building is listed on The National Register of Historic Places. In June 2013, it was sold by Noel Webster, who kept the building maintained, to the Muscle Shoals Music Foundation. Their goal is to eventually make the historic building a music museum. 
Filmmaker Greg Camalier premiered his documentary film Muscle Shoals at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2013. It is about Rick Hall, FAME, and the Swampers foundation of the Muscle Shoals Sound Studios. The film includes interviews with Percy Sledge, Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin, Etta James, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Steve Winwood, Bono, Alicia Keys and many others.
- National Park Service (2008-04-15). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service.
- McMillen, Lynn (20 June 2013). "3614 Jackson Highway, the deal is done". The Quad-Cities Daily.
- Berry, Lucy (20 June 2013). "Foundation purchases original Muscle Shoals Sound Studios, which recorded Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan and more". The Birmingham News. Advance Publications.
- Whitburn, Joel (1992). The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits. Billboard Books. ISBN 978-0823082803.
- The Muscle Shoals Sound: 3614 Jackson Highway, CD, Rhino Records Inc., 1993, liner notes