Music stars who have recorded at Muscle Shoals in recent years include Chris Stapleton, Alicia Keys, Jack White, Hanson, Stephen Tyler, and heartfelt singer Ann Wilson. This is just for beginners.
But here’s the thing, says Rodney Hall, co-owner and president of FAME Studios, Shoals’ storied recording facility. “Yes, we do all these records. But we do it for other labels and other interests. They come in and we’re like a hotel room. They pay us to stay there on those days, but that’s the end of that story. We need an outlet to release our music.”
Which is why FAME has renamed its recording, FAME Records. The imprint that released that day records for soul music talents such as Clarence Carter, Candy Staton, Jimmy Hughes, and Willie Hightower.
More about culture:
Ann Wilson talks about Heart, Muscle Shoals’ new album, Led Zeppelin
This Alabama Singer And Producer Has Breakthrough Potential
20 Great Female Guitarists And Their Basic Recordings
The general perception is that FAME is making their money in studio time. “But that’s not the case at all,” Hall says. “It’s just a drawing card really, for our publishing companies, our production companies and now our record company,” which are the studio’s main sources of income. Hall is the son of Rick Hall, FAME founder and producer and father of the country funk sound known as Muscle Shoals, whether on essentials like Wilson Beckett’s “Mustang Sally” at FAME or Rolling Stones tracks like the “brown sugar” cut at Muscle Shoals Sound, which she founded Former studio band The Swampers by Rick Hall.
Rodney Hall says, “Most people don’t know this, but when my dad left Atlantic[Records, which FAME worked closely with]Capitol[Records]hired him to start the soul music department. And FAME Records was the label, and the outlet to do it.”
In 2013, the documentary “Muscle Shoals” rekindled interest in the music of Muscle Shoals. This movie featured legends like Mick Jagger and Aretha Franklin singing the praises of local studios like FAME Studios and Muscle Shoals Sound, telling the stories behind the classic recordings made there and the local musicians who helped make them.
Now, FAME is partnering with the Nashville-founded Project 8 Track Entertainment for the “FAME 60th Anniversary And The Muscle Shoals Sound” album. The album is currently in production and due for release later this year, featuring Shoals classics covered by artists including Demi Lovato, Chris Stapleton, Candy Staton, Willie Nelson, Alison Krause, Alan Jackson, Anderson East, Michael MacDonald and others, including In it standout. Local singer Billy D.
“There aren’t many companies out there for 60 years,” Hall says. “We’re still here and we’re still doing it as always, if not more. To be honest, it’s just an exciting time at Muscle Shoals. Everything has been growing since the documentary in 2013, and it really looks like it’s peaking now.”
Among the founders of 8 Track is Noah Gordon, who is a Grammy Award-winning recording engineer, producer, and songwriter who has worked with heavyweights such as Keith Urban, Winona Judd, Brad Paisley, and Darius Rucker. Since launching 8 Track Entertainment last year — initially focusing on publishing and production, the Money Makers Hall itself has reported — they’ve recorded their number one country song, “Am I the Only One” by ex-stay singer Aaron Lewis.
More about music
Prince Patrons, Collaborators, and Thinkers: 15 Essential Pathways
The Top 20 Muscle Shoals Recorded Songs
Brittany Howard’s high school band roots
Last fall, the Muscle Shoals Music Association brought a group of Nashville music industry professionals to town, including Gordon. “There was a feeling that I was different from any other music center I’ve been to before,” Gordon says while visiting Shoals, a low-key area in North Alabama far from the big city’s distractions. My anxiety level decreased, and my love for music (made there) increased, My creative juices flowed.”
After 30 years in Nashville — “a city that was good to me,” Gordon says — Gordon and 8 Track are working to create a country label at Muscle Shoals, called 8 Track Records. They signed Shenandoah, the group founded by Shoals that hit chart tops in the ’80s and ’90s, including “Two Dozen Roses” and “Next to You, Next to Me.” Shenandoah, led by singer Marty Raypon, is set to be among the artists on “60th Anniversary of Fame and The Muscle Shoals Sound.”
“We’re not going to alienate Nashville,” Gordon says. “I hope we can rebuild a bridge that increases the number of artists, producers, and talents that make the trip here to Muscle Shoals.” Notably, the Grammy for Best Country Song of the Year went to Chris Stapleton’s “Cold”, which was cut at Muscle Shoals Sound in Sheffield. With Florence-founded Single Lock Records garnering three Grammy nominations this year—including winning Best Traditional Blues Album for Cedric Burnside’s “I Be Trying”—Muscle Shoals-based labels look viable once again.
More about muscle shoes:
Magician Studio Muscle Shoals On Recording Jason Espel, Alabama Shake
The Musical Secrets of FAME Studios Legend Rick Hall
The story of Greg Allman’s Muscle Shoals album
In addition to the old projects, FAME and 8 Track will be signing new artists. The labels will collaborate on some projects, with distribution via Warner Music Group, and work separately on others. “There are a lot of things we’ll be announcing over the next six months,” Gordon says.
Hall is especially elated about film and television production plans based on Muscle Shoals: “We’ve got some great ideas. And it’s all going to be music-based and more than likely Southern music, whether it’s something to do with the Allman Brothers, Muscle Shoals itself, or Wilson Beckett. There’s a lot more. From the stories that have never been told.”
Even after the 2013 ‘Muscle Shoals’ documentary? Yes, says Hall. “There’s more to this story. You can only learn a lot in 90 minutes, and a lot of people were left out, other studios. I can definitely see the second volume of that.” Muscle Shoals-based stories work visually. For example, Aretha Franklin’s recent biopic “Respect”, which is partially set in Shoal.
According to Hall, certain aspects of 2020’s life made Muscle Shoals more attractive to music industry professionals. Overpopulation in Nashville, for one person. Then there is the pandemic-inspired exodus from the big cities and back to rural ways of life. “We fit that bill for people who want to work in music,” Hall says. “There have probably been a dozen or so people related to the music industry who have moved here in the last year or two. And there is more research and there is more to come.”
Hall says he’s excited about the entire Muscle Shoals music scene — and the growing music presence in nearby Huntsville — taking advantage of the energy generated by FAME and 8 Track. This means other studios, as well as recording engineers, producers, songwriters, and musicians. “We’ll look for songs. We’ll look for artists,” Hall says.
Hanson talks about how their new album was made at FAME for Muscle Shoals
The swamp drums to the rhythms of hot legend and cold winter
Aretha Franklin’s Deep Musical Connections in Alabama