Mister engineer, please turn your train around I believe to my soul, my man is ’bama bound. —Ida Cox, “Bama Bound Blues,” 1923
Today we drive from Nashville to Muscle Shoals, Alabama. Why Muscle Shoals I hear you nonmusic nerds ask? It just happens to be the home of two of the most prolific music studios in the world, FAME and Muscle Shoals itself.
Bernie and Hoff left about 8 o’clock to pick up our new hire car that will see out the road trips until we reach New Orleans. We have a number of overnight stays ahead of us before we reach my favorite city in the world. Today we head toward Muscle Shoals, Alabama. We are ‘bama bound, baby. We are aiming to stop off first at Ethridge. Why Ethridge, you ask. Because it is an Amish county.
The desert landscape is now a distant memory. It is nothing but green grass and trees. I love looking at the road signs that wizz past. We just went past the Historic Site of the 1964 Battle of Spring Hill. Now for all you Chain fans out there, you may recall that Chain sang the old classic Spring Hill at the last WOW gig. Not sure if Chain were at the Battle of Spring Hill! Check out this bit of Confederate War history:
We turn right onto State Route 66 and head toward Columbia. We decided not to stop at the Amish welcome center but we did see three Amish driving their horse and cart. We must be in critter/varmint country as we just passed a Rabies Clinic! I wish I had my “Coon” cap in the car with me as we are nearing David Crockett’s State Park Restaurant. We stopped at a funky cafe Co-Works Cafe for a very nice coffee.
There seems to be a church every mile or so. At 12:45 we crossed into Alabama. Lunch is needed and we decided on Rick’s BBQ est. 1979.
The next stop was to visit the historic W.C.Handy birth home and museum. We don’t have a lot of time as we need to be at FAME Studios for our guided tour. The self-guided tour is $12 but there is also an hour video to watch. We just do not have enough time, so just take a few photos of the outside of the home. W.C.Handy is celebrated as the father of the blues.
We are back on the road and cross the magnificent Tennessee River. When we get to FAME we are greeted by the widow of Rick Hall, Miss Linda. Down south all the ladies are called Miss accompanied by their first name no matter their age. She gave us a little background history on what it was like being married to such a driven man. There are about twenty people on the tour. Our young tour guide is informative. He said something I found very interesting about the state of the recording industry at present. ‘In the old day, tours were done to promote a new record, nowadays it is about making a record to promote a tour’. With Spotify and other streaming programs recorded music is not selling the volumes it once did, so it is not as lucrative. That is why bands like Kiss and the Stones continue to tour.
The studio is still active making music, up to 3 to 4 days a week. We had a look through Rick Hall’s office and also into the break room. The county we are in used to be “dry” but you could always get a drink in the break room. The musicians referred to it as their own little Speakeasy. Duane Allman was a session musician at FAME and would often just sleep on the studio floor. The number of hit records that came out of here is astounding. We first visit Studio A. Mr. Terry Smith, Mustang Sally was recorded in this room! The Hammond B3 used by Greg Allman to record his last album before passing is in the room.
We then head to Studio B which is a little smaller. There is the Steinway that Little Richard played and Aretha Franklin. The Swampers were the backing band for all these incredible artists. I encourage you to do some research. I cannot give but a very brief introduction of why this studio is so important. If you have not yet seen the 2013 documentary, Muscle Shoals then you should be able to find it on most streaming channels and YouTube. Even those that do not follow music a great deal will know a song or two that emanated from this magic studio. http://www.famestudio.com
So we finish the amazing tour at 5 PM and drive the short distance back to Florence. Hoff notices that there are a lot of large trees down and one tree had demolished the roof of a house. We found out later that a tornado went through here not that long ago. Our host greets us at the door, he and his partner live in the next-door house. The accommodation is first class. He recommended a restaurant for dinner, Odette. We took his advice and the food was excellent as was the service. Downtown Florence is a great happening scene. So ends another day. Tomorrow we head to Memphis for a three-night stay, but before we leave we will visit the Muscle Shoals studio nearby. FAME Studios had a falling out with their musicians the Swampers and those young boys left and went on to open their own studio. Hence FAME Studios is in the town of Muscle Shoals and Muscle Shoals Studio in Sheffield. The music business is a funny one at times.