Sweet Home Alabama

Muscle Shoals documents the history of one of the world's most famous recording studios.

By Michael Hardy November 26, 2013

Rick Hall and Clarence Carter

Most people’s knowledge of the Muscle Shoals recording studio comes through its mention in Lynryd Skynyrd’s 1974 mega-hit “Sweet Home Alabama”:

Muscle Shoals
Nov 26, 29, & 30 at 7
$9; students & seniors $7
The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
1001 Bissonnet St

Well Muscle Shoals has got the Swampers
And they’ve been known to pick a song or two
Lord they get me off so much
They pick me up when I’m feeling blue
Now how ‘bout you?

The Swampers originated as the rhythm section at FAME studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, a scrappy outfit in a small town that eventually attracted some of the greatest musicians in the world to record there: The Rolling Stones, Aretha Franklin, Etta James, Paul Simon and, more recently, Bono and Alicia Keys. FAME studios was founded by white Muscle Shoals native Rick Hall, who overcame a wretched upbringing and, amidst one of the most turbulent periods in American race relations, created a place where white and black musicians could interact mostly without prejudice.

The documentary Muscle Shoals tells the story of FAME studios and of the Swampers, who, in an unprecedented move, soon broke away to form their own studio, the Muscle Shoals Sound. Featuring interviews with Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Bono, and others, the film examines the question of how such an out-of-the-way studio gave birth to such enduring music. Although the film premiered at Sundance in January, and was given a special screening at the MFAH in October, for many Houstonians this week’s three screenings will be their first chance to see the much-acclaimed film.

“It’s definitely the kind of film that you want to see in a theater,” said MFAH film curator Marian Luntz. “At the October screening people were dancing, people were talking back to the film, stamping their feet, all that stuff.”

So if you’re feeling blue and need a pick-up from one of the greatest pick-up bands of all time, check out the Swampers this week at the MFAH. I certainly will—now how 'bout you? 

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